Azerbaijani refugees: Exploiting the vulnerable for propaganda.

propagandaxIn 2014 the European Azerbaijan Society (EAS) re-invigorated their propaganda campaign amongst the ill-advised politicians, sport stars and celebrities about the plight of the refugees/IDP’s in Azerbaijan. To elicit sympathy and support, this “marketing strategy” concentrates on clear, and over-simplified messages which easily influences and manipulates the unsuspecting audience who are seduced by the over-stated tragedy of the situation. The EAS created the “Many Happy Returns” Campaign which neatly de-contextualises the facts into a one-sided fictionalized problem which only seems to affect Azerabaijanis. The level of “fact-laundering” is such that it would appear that oil-rich Azerbaijan is helpless in optimizing the human rights and living conditions of the refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

I addressed the issue of the numbers in my article “The Insidious Politicking with “875,000” Azerbaijanis” which, in summary, concluded:

360,000 Armenians displaced from Azerbaijan – now living in either NKR, Armenia or other countries. ( all refugees)

160,000 Azerbaijanis displaced from Armenia ( all refugees)

400,000 Azerbaijanis displaced from the land in current day NKR ( referred politically as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) due to them not crossing internationally recognised borders. Referred here as NKRefugees)

The campaign states :

“Many Happy Returns is an awareness campaign dedicated to highlighting the plight of around a million Azerbaijani Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Refugees forced from their homes during the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1990–94.”

It is a commonly held view amongst Armenian and Azerbaijani observers, as well as International organisations that the return of refugees ( exc NKrefugees) back to their original 1988 homes is highly unlikely. Most Azeris of Armenian origin have successfully integrated into Azerbaijani society.
To suggest that this population in Azerbaijan is desperately waiting for the opportunity to return is a gross misrepresentation of reality and is indicative of the scurrilous nature of this campaign.

In a report published by Conciliation resources, entitled “Forced displacement in the Nagorny-Karabakh conflict” Azer Allahveranov identifies a few interesting categorisations of the Azeri NK refugee population:

1. Integrated – settled into the large cities of Azerbaijan ( Baku, Sumgait, Ganja). Fully participates in social life and are largely from the surrounding regions of the Soviet NKAO. These represent about 47% of the population of NKrefugees

2. Assimilated – smaller populations of people who resettled spontaneously have married locals, and do not act as NKrefugees. These represent about 20% of the population of NKrefugees.

3. Isolated / returnees – groups who have maintained their original identity separate from mainstream Azerbaijan society. In some cases these are in townships close to the NK border. This is the balance of the population of about 33%. Approximately 140,000 people.

In 2007, Amnesty International produced a report called “Azerbaijan : Displaced then discriminated against – the plight of the internally displaced population”. The report emphasizes how the human rights of this population are severely affected. The internal registration system which gives them a fixed address drives them to remain in the location given to them when first displaced. The policy of trying to maintain communities “ready for return” impacts on their basic rights of freedom of movement.

“The right of displaced people to freedom of movement is restricted by an internal residence permit system, which requires a fixed address in order to receive aid and social services, despite the de jure abolition of this system in the Azerbaijani Constitution. Residence permits for more prosperous urban centres are difficult to obtain without the payment of bribes.

Practices of discrimination and segregation discourage and inhibit the integration of displaced people into local communities. This restricts their capacity to opt for integration or resettlement in another part of the country as an alternative to return if a peace settlement is reached. Government officials consistently emphasize the ‘temporary’ nature of measures instituted to assist displaced people, an emphasis which is increasingly at odds with the protracted nature of displacement”

A quote contained within the report from an NK refugee in Baku:

‘I don’t need benefits, I’d rather have my compensation and integrate into society here in Baku. I’d gladly lose my status as a displaced person. The government should stop deceiving me that I’ll be able to return. So many people have already died since being displaced – and they have nothing to leave to their descendents. It’s my choice whether to return or not.’

Vulnerable NKrefugees are subjected to corruption and theft which is undermining their fragile position.

“According to reports received by Amnesty International corruption affects the internally displaced through the siphoning off of funds allocated to IDP programmes. An example documented in this report is the theft of building materials allocated for the construction of settlements for the internally displaced and the partial theft of salaries payable to construction workers by firms contracted to build the settlements.

Internally displaced people also consistently report being compelled to pay bribes to state officials for services that by law they are entitled to receive without charge. For example, many reported having to pay ‘processing fees’ they are obliged to pay for basic and essential services, such as the receipt of identity documents, from state officials. Amnesty International is concerned that the petty corruption confronting ordinary citizens, including IDPs, in their everyday interaction with officials acts as a tacit, regressive tax on the most vulnerable strata of society and directly impedes their efforts to realise their human rights”

The reality behind the spurious propaganda of the 875,000 IDP’s /refugees is shattered by the simple facts of the situation.

Perhaps those who have a genuine interest in this subject, should encourage the Azerbaijani government to allow the non-integrated citizens freedom of movement, free access to the necessary financial benefits and freedom of choice as to how to live their future without condition. The campaign “supporters”, by riding a superficial band-wagon, which seems to be largely motivated by money and favours, are promoting a mythology about the true situation on the pretense of humanitarian concern and are unwittingly being complicit in protracting the misery of these displaced people.
Those Azerbaijanis that genuinely wish to return should be suitably housed, treated with respect, given their due financial benefits, not exploited for propaganda purposes and allowed to wait for peace – in peace.

Categories: War and its Legacy

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