Chris Heaton-Harris is a Conservative Member of the UK Parliament and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Azerbaijan.
In February 2012 he was quoted as saying to the European Azerbaijan Society
“I have visited Azerbaijan twice, and can confirm that Baku is a beautiful city, bustling with energy. The UK has very strong links with the country that date back to World War I. My colleagues in the APPG for Azerbaijan and myself want to do all that is possible to bring about resolution to this conflict, which has continued for over 20 years.”
and in the last week:
“As somebody who has visited the region I know how the tragic events which occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh still resonate and that peace negotiations are delicate. That is why the proposal to re-open the airport at Khojaly is so damaging.It not only ignores international law, it also conjures up memories of the civilians who died when forced out of their homes in that town just twenty years ago. Any plans to re-open the airport at Khojaly would be counterproductive unless part of a wider settlement,”
This statement was also made to the European Azerbaijan Society
This is my letter to him in response to his most recent statement.
Dear Mr Heaton-Harris
I noticed that last week that you were quoted throughout many Azerbaijani news websites for your comments on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the events in Khojaly in 1992.
You are quoted as saying “As somebody who has visited the region I know how the tragic events which occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh still resonate and that peace negotiations are delicate”. I think I am correct in saying that you have visited Baku twice, at least one on a funded visit. I think it is presumptuous to suggest that such visits to the capital of Azerbaijan constitute an understanding of the region. How many times have you been to Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh, or had the opportunity to discuss the issues from an Armenian/Artsakhian perspective?
You are also quoted as referring to the “civilians who died when forced out of their homes in that town (Khojaly) just twenty years ago”. I am sure that you are aware that during this war, sadly, many people were forced out of their homes as part of the overall ethnic movements, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. There were many tens of thousands of Armenians who had to move from Baku, and Sumgait, before the war started as a result of Azerbaijani intimidation; you will have heard of the Sumgait pogroms?!
The civilians who had to leave Khojaly for their own safety were directed to proceed down a land corridor ( essentially the route of the Khojaly-Askeran-Aghdam road) to get to Azerbaijani controlled territory. The records of the people who died as part of the Khojaly event did not die in Khojaly, or along the corridor, but in Azerbaijani controlled territory after having been diverted away from the entrance point into Aghdam. The location of these deaths is not in dispute.
The Armenians provided for the safe evacuation of the Azerbaijani civilians given that Khojaly was strategically important, militarily. It was one of the bases that constantly bombarded Stepanakert with GRAD missiles ( illegal under international convention). With the daily attacks from Khojaly and Shushi on the west side, the 80,000 civilians were under siege with no meaningful access to food, water and electricity. The route back to Armenia through the Lachin corridor was blocked completely. Where is the international recognition of this action by the Azerbaijanis which was a humanitarian tragedy on a massive scale? A Russian journalist was reported to have compared it to “Nazi-blockaded Leningrad”.
Following the events of February 26th 1992 the documentary video footage and photographic evidence raises questions as to why the bodies were tampered with after their death( removing of clothing and scalping). Also in the Azerbaijani propaganda that has been published since, it is clear that photographs are used which were taken from other events in Turkey and Bosnia.
With respect to the opening of the airport you state that it “ignores international law”. Can you confirm which laws these are?
Article 3 of the Chicago Convention states “The contracting States recognize that every State must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight and that, in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of aircraft must not be endangered.” The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have basic human rights under UN conventions and one of those is around freedom of movement. At present there is only one route into Nagorno-Karabakh so it is entirely understandable that the use of the airport would improve that situation. It is the threat of military action that will disturb the balance in the region, not the flight of a 20 seater civilian aircraft into the airport. Serbia does not threaten flights into Pristina airport, even though Kosovo is not recognised by most states as a legitimate country, or Cyprus against flights into Northern Cyprus.
You will be aware that 25 years ago, this week, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh democratically and peacefully voted to join with Armenia as part of their rights under Gorbachev’s policy of Perestroika. Before the end of February 1988, a matter of a few days later, gangs of Azerbaijani’s were committing violent acts against Armenians in Sumgait; the progress to war was inevitable with the continuing intimidation by the Azerbaijanis against the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The current regime in Azerbaijan is not recognised for its openness and ranks very low in the Press Freedom indices as well as on human rights issues. They are well known for promoting false propaganda about Armenia and its role in the war. This reputation is only emphasised by the way they are treating their “People’s Writer” Akram Aylisli and the international condemnation that they received over the Safarov case in September 2012.
I have visited Nagorno-Karabakh on 7 occasions in the last 3 years, as a self-funded, independent freelance journalist. I have no Armenian connection . I see the situation as a humanitarian issue and it should be addressed and resolved on that basis. It is clear that Azerbaijan has no interest in coming to a sensible compromise on this at all. In the UK we support the principle of self-determination whether that be with respect to our own direct interests in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar, or elsewhere, for example in Kosovo. In 1991 the people of Nagorno-Karabakh voted in a referendum for independence – I wonder why we do not recognise their inalienable right to determine their political status and future.
I don’t know enough about your background to understand why you support Azerbaijan in the way that you do, and I believe that you have unwittingly become a mouthpiece for their propaganda. This does not serve the UK well as a country which should be at the forefront of fairness and diplomacy on international events and not as a voice for countries with a questionable record. I am concerned that your comments ( coming from a UK Member of Parliament) just give credence to a contortion of reality which will frustrate this fragile peace process and potentially condemn the Karabakhi Armenians to a longer period of instability.
The pursuit by Azerbaijan to have the Khojaly event labelled as a Genocide is a deliberate provocation of the Armenian people ( given the patchy acceptance of the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as Genocide) and only lends to devalue the enormity of the term “Genocide”. There is nothing about the alleged events at Khojaly that constitutes “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”. I fail to understand why so many people are being hoodwinked by the Azerbaijani government on this?
If you are interested in understanding the Armenian/Artsakhian perspective on all of these issues then I would be more than happy to work with you in arranging suitable representations on these subjects.
Response from Chris Heaton-Harris 8th March 2013
Thanks for this. Sorry for the delay, but I have a rule that I always prioritise constituency correspondence.
Yes, I have visited Azerbaijan twice. Neither time was funded by the the Azerbaijan Government.
I appreciate and politely decline your offer, but I have heard and understand your views on this matter. Having only visited the region twice, I obviously do not have the wealth of knowledge or experience of an independent journalist who has visited the region seven times. However, like you, all I want to see is peace in this region.
Chris Heaton-Harris MP
My response dated 8th March 2013
Thank you for your response and I appreciate and accept that you prioritise your constituency work.
Your comments have given great support to a country that is overtly anti-Armenian ( in UK terms it would be considered to be very racist) and its policies support ethnic cleansing of innocent people who live in Artsakh. Most of these people were residents of Artsakh from before the war, or were born there as legitimate citizens since then , or were expelled from Azerbaijan following the pogroms. I know people in Artsakh who are desperately trying to make a life for themselves despite the legacy of the Azeri aggression in the early 1990’s. In our role as global citizens, ( and I always like to think that the UK represents fairness) we should take a stance, particularly where that is done on a personal level. The history of this conflict is around the Karabakhi Armenians defending themselves – this is nothing to do with unwarranted Armenian aggression.
You represent the UK political establishment, and the Azeris will make capital out of your support for their propaganda…as a UK MP. In view of this I would suggest that you have a responsibility to ensure that any comment you make on this delicately balanced situation must be unbiased and be mindful of how the people of Artsakh would interpret those comments. I recognise that the UK is, institutionally pro-Azeri, and that this is based around our petro-interests, however I appeal to people who have a global humanitarian interest that the innocent people of Artsakh who are free-living Christians, and whose self-determination is to be independent, should not be condemned to certain death or disadvantageous conditions, just because of the self-interests of people thousands of miles away.