FLEX Alumni sends letter to attention of US Ambassador in Azerbaijan
BAKU, Azerbaijan, Oct. 20
FLEX Alumni sent a letter to the attention of H.E. Ambassador of the United States of America Mr. Lee Litzenberger
According to Trend, the letter goes as follows:
To the attention of H.E. Ambassador of the United States of America Mr. Lee Litzenberger,
Throughout its 27 years of existence, the FLEX Program has continued its mission of promoting the values of diversity, tolerance, cooperation and mutual understanding across its distinguished global alumni community. As FLEX Alumni, we have been taught to think of ourselves as global citizens, to go beyond our cultural mindsets and identities, to appreciate and respect opinions and values that may differ from our own.
Our experience as exchange students in the United States have also taught us the importance of treating others with kindness and tolerance, as well as encouraging meaningful and civil dialogue. As FLEX alumni fellows from Azerbaijan, we have taken great action to actively uphold these values in our own society. Perceived as ambassadors of American culture in Azerbaijan, we have worked steadily to fulfill our roles by driving positive and relevant change in our local communities through a variety of alumni initiatives and projects. However, due to the aggression against our communities, we are no longer able to continue our mission. Currently, a number of Azerbaijani communities, including the ones we live in, are subjected to regular shelling attacks carried out by the Armenian Armed Forces. Our families and friends - all of us remain under the threat of violent attacks.
We, the FLEX Alumni Community in Azerbaijan, call upon you, as the Ambassador of the United States to Azerbaijan, to address the irresponsible and unlawful use of missile attacks on Azerbaijan’s civilian settlements and infrastructures by the Armenian Armed Forces to the US Government and condemn the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijani civilians living outside of the active military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh. As of now, the Armenian Armed Forces have launched a series of long-range or ballistic missile attacks on the civilian population of Ganja, Mingachevir, Barda, Beylagan, Tartar, Aghjabadi cities, as well as the Goranboy and Shamkir districts, which are located tens of kilometers away from the internationally recognised occupied regions of Azerbaijan, where the military operations are taking place. We remind you that these attacks go against the fundamental rules of international humanitarian law, as well as core principles of ethical conduct and morality, which are followed and enforced by the US judiciary system, as well as international legal bodies.
As clearly stated in the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, governments should always distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, between civilian objects and military objectives. Civilian populations should never be the target of military operations. Following the precedent established by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, these principles have been recognized and accepted as customary international humanitarian law. International law also prohibits indiscriminate attacks that are not directed at a specific military object, as was the case with the Ganja City, and many other Azerbaijani cities, districts and villages that are still subject of regular shelling and missile strikes from the Armenian territory outside the Nagorno-Karabakh zone.
As has been confirmed by Azerbaijan’s military authorities and presented to the diplomatic corps, the Armenian Forces are using long-range SCUD missiles in their attacks on Azerbaijan’s civilian population. It should be highlighted that these missiles were used by Saddam Hussein’s regime during the Gulf War. This particular type of rocket was used during an overnight missile attack on
the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja, which lies approximately 60 kilometers away from the frontline. The attacks were carried out October 4, 11 and 17, 2020 killing 25 people and injuring more than 130 civilians, including minors and the elderly. Some children lost both of their parents, and some parents lost their children during the attacks. The missile strikes were also announced by the representative officials of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh separatist regime on Facebook, who claimed that “even archaeologists would not be able to find Ganja after the attack.”
We are both deeply alarmed and saddened by the Armenian authorities’ blatant disregard of the international humanitarian law and continuous refusal to abide by the fundamental values and moral norms that are endorsed by the majority of the civil world in the 21st century. Civilians, especially children should never be targeted.
Armenian Armed forces have been carrying out intensive attacks on the densely populated residential areas across the western and central part of Azerbaijan since October 4, when a series of missiles were launched on the cities of Ganja and Mingachevir. The rockets, which were fired from the territory of Armenia on October 4, 2020 have killed one civilian in Ganja and injured dozens in both cities, including Karina Grigoryan, a 77-year-old ethnic Armenian resident of Ganja.
We would also like to highlight that one of the ballistic missiles had struck, but fortunately did not explode near the strategically critical Mingachevir Reservoir and Azerbaijan Thermal Power Plant. The former targeted object is the largest water reservoir in the South Caucasus, while the Mingachevir power plant remains the primary source of electricity for the overwhelming majority of the country.
The deliberate targeting of the aforementioned objects and civilians demonstrates an alarmingly reckless and immoral conduct of the Armenian state authorities, as the destruction of these strategically critical objects could result in a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe, with the potential to affect areas far beyond the borders of Azerbaijan.
We find it necessary to emphasize that the use of the environment as a means of warfare is also expressly prohibited by international law. This principle is reflected in the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, with concern to both the inadmissibility of use of prohibited methods or means of warfare, as well as the protection of the natural environment. As stated by Article 35.3 of the Protocol, to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment is considered prohibited. The protection of the environment is reflected in Article 55 of the Protocol. As stated by the aforementioned legal principle, due care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage. This protection includes a prohibition of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice the health or survival of the population. Armenia’s reckless endangerment of Azerbaijan’s natural environment and resources by way of reprisals should, therefore, be brought to light and expressly condemned as a blatant disregard and violation of existing international law.
The facts that we have described above serve as yet another testament of the continuous aggression demonstrated by the Armenian government against Azerbaijan’s civilian population. For almost three decades, Armenia has been occupying nearly 20% of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. These territories include the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, as well as the seven adjacent districts, which had a predominantly Azerbaijani population and were ethnically cleansed by the Armenian occupying forces. More than a million Azerbaijani civilians have become IDPs as a result of the occupation, including the families of many FLEX alumni.
We cannot disregard the salient fact that Azerbaijan has one of the highest rates of displaced persons per capita in the world. If we take into account that in 2015, 28 member states of the European Union had encountered severe difficulties in properly accommodating 1.3 million refugees, one can imagine how difficult it was for a newly formed republic to ensure proper social and economic aid for 1 million IDPs in 1991. We would like to remind you once again that in accordance with relevant international law, members of the international community have called upon Armenia to withdraw its troops from the internationally-recognized territories of Azerbaijan in a number of separate documents. The UNSC resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 adopted in 1993 have called for the complete, unconditional and immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. It brings us great displeasure and disappointment to note that none of the aforementioned resolutions have been taken into account and implemented by Armenia.
The efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group on producing an effective resolution of the conflict have also been continuously impeded and rejected by the Armenian side. Moreover, despite the conditions for peace highlighted by Azerbaijan’s state representatives on multiple occasions, the Armenian Government has been putting efforts to involve the illegitimate Nagorno-Karabakh separatist regime in the conflict resolution process, in violation of international law.
We note with great sadness and concern that despite the ceasefire agreement of 1994, Armenian Armed Forces have been actively targeting Azerbaijan’s civilian settlements not only alongside the line of confrontation, but also on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. The artillery attacks have now become a part of daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians living on the borderline. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan, up to 30 civilians have been killed between the ceasefire agreement of 1994 until September 27, 2020.
Unfortunately, the Armenian Government and their international lobby have now opened another “front” for their aggression against Azerbaijan. Since the escalation of the clashes in September, we have witnessed the active promotion of hateful rhetoric with regard to Azerbaijan by the Armenian lobby groups. Such rhetoric had been expressed through racially charged statements about our country and its people, as well as the distorted presentation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the American public.
We would like to emphasize that multiple statements issued by Azerbaijan’s state officials have clearly expressed that Azerbaijan does not intend to target Armenia’s internationally recognized territories and does not plan to expel ethnic Armenians out of Nagorno-Karabakh. As stated several times by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev “the liberation mission of Azerbaijani territories does not target Armenian civilians, and all civilians will be treated fairly according to
the humanitarian laws.” Moreover, the Azerbaijani Government has quite expressly relayed its readiness to accept ethnic Armenians living in the Armenian occupied territories as formal citizens of Azerbaijan. Despite this fact, we are faced with the continuous promotion of anti-Azerbaijani sentiments and growing calls to aggression from both the Armenian Government and the Armenian lobby in the US.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan, as of October 20, 61 Azerbaijani civilians, including children were killed, and 291 people had been heavily injured since the start of Armenia’s aggression on Azerbaijan in September 2020. Three children have lost both their parents during the most recent missile attack on Ganja City. The series of missile attacks have also resulted in massive destruction in the cities and villages across the western and central Azerbaijan. The official figures state that 1941 houses and 90 multi-apartment buildings have been partially or completely destroyed, and a total of 382 civil facilities have been damaged, which includes 37 schools. The coverage of these crimes against humanity have been a prior goal for a number of local and international media outlets, such as France24, Al Jazeera, CNN International, BBC News, TASS, TRT World. However, the indiscriminate attacks from the Armenian side have now also targeted the journalists for the Public Broadcaster of Azerbaijan and the Anadolu Agency of Turkey. A crew of media representatives from the aforementioned agencies have been targeted by the Armenian Forces while reporting from the area in late September.
It is with great disappointment that we observe that Armenia’s continuous violation of international legal norms remains largely overlooked within the U.S. media space and political leadership. Rather, we often witness biased, and factually incorrect statements by the U.S. state and media representatives on the nature of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the identification of the true aggressor.
In an interview with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, a CNN reporter had also admitted to being unaware of Armenia’s active and deliberate shelling of civilian cities in Azerbaijan, in contrast to her extensive knowledge of the unfortunate endangerment of ethnic Armenians in Khankendi, Nagorno-Karabakh. We would like to highlight the fact that unlike the civilian residents of Khankendi, who remain surrounded by illegally deployed military structures and have been given multiple warnings and chances to evacuate safely by the Azerbaijani state officials, the residents of Ganja and other Azerbaijani cities targeted by Armenia have no connection to the clashes between Azerbaijan’s military and the Armenian occupying forces. Unfortunately, this is just one of many examples of double standards and one-sided commentary on the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict that we witness regularly from the international media outlets and political leadership.
More can be said about the misleading and often biased nature of the media reports provided by independent European media outlets, such as Global Village Space (GVS), and BBC, with the former misrepresenting the mission of the ongoing military operations as a religiously-motivated war by painting Azerbaijan as a Muslim republic in its article on October 2, 2020, and the latter falsely implying a religious ground for the war by once again displaying our secular republic as a Muslim-majority country in its article on 28 September, 2020. A recent demographic study by Pew Research Center has clearly indicated Azerbaijan as a secular republic, with a notable 64% of the population identifying as "religiously unaffiliated". Furthermore, we would like to emphasize that
as a multinational country, Azerbaijan has long served as a home for numerous nations living under its roof, with Lezgi, Russian, Talysh, Jewish, Avar, Tsakhur, Tat, Georgian and even Armenian ethnic groups existing peacefully along with ethnic Azerbaijanis in various regions of Azerbaijan.
It is of great importance for us to draw your attention to the unique history of the Jews, Germans and Molokans (Spiritual Christians) in Azerbaijan, which dates back to many centuries. The Jewish population in Azerbaijan is primarily made up of three distinct groups (Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Georgian Jews), with Mountain Jews being the most sizable and most long-standing of the three communities. Despite the anti-Semitic attitudes often displayed by the Soviet government, the Jewish settlements in Azerbaijan have always been treated with utmost regard and respect, and were later able to manifest into a large Jewish Diaspora of Azerbaijan, made up predominantly of the Mountain Jew community. Most notably, the Gyrmyzy Gasaba (Red Village) which is a village and municipality in Quba District of Azerbaijan, is believed to be the world's only all-Jewish town outside Israel and the United States. As of 2017, there are seven synagogues in Azerbaijan, with three of them located in Baku (one for each community - Mountain, the Ashkenazi and Georgian), two in Gyrmyzy Gasaba (Red Village) and two in Oghuz.
As another pertinent example, the German settlements in Azerbaijan date back to the XVIII century, with two German colonies – Helenendorf (present day Goygol) and Annenfeld (present day Shamkir) - which later in 1819 became part of the Elisabethpol (Ganja) Uyezd. Lutheran churches were established in Helenendorf, Annenfeld, Ganja and a Lutheran church in Baku opened in 1899.
Molokans live across the northeastern part of Azerbaijan and have a unique community in the village of Ivanovka, which is the most prominent Molokan village in the South Caucasus. Since its foundation in 19th century, the village has been one of the symbols of coexistence in our country. Ivanovka is among dozens of Molokan villages located across Azerbaijan. The above examples only serve to emphasise Azerbaijan’s unfailing historical commitment to the values of multiculturalism and secularism, regardless of the ethnic identities, linguistic differences and the religious affiliation of its citizens.
For many centuries, Azerbaijan has served as a stronghold of cultural diversity and multiculturalism, a place where members of various cultures, nationalities and faiths were able to coexist in the atmosphere of peace, welfare, mutual understanding and dialogue. For these reasons, our community wishes to express its great disappointment and frustration from witnessing our country become a victim of highly offensive and spurious claims made on behalf of the Armenian political leadership and foreign lobbyists, with the intention to promote the absurd rhetoric of Azerbaijan’s unprovoked military aggression among the American and international communities. We want to emphasize that as both FLEX Alumni and Azerbaijani nationals, we support all efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, such an outcome could only be achieved through paying due attention to the perspectives of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and requesting the required commitment to the established norms of international law on both sides. We hope that one day, the ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh region would be able to live together peacefully under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Using the opportunity, we kindly request your help and support in addressing the continuous endangerment of civilian lives and refusal to comply with the relevant international law by the Armenian state officials, as well as presenting our position as Azerbaijani nationals before the U.S. State Department and Congress, as was outlined in the attached summary. We thank you in advance for your time, empathy and understanding, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
The letter is an individual initiative of FLEX Alumni and does not represent the opinion of the
American Councils and FLEX Alumni Program in Azerbaijan.
This letter is a joint initiative of the people who have lived through the difficulties mentioned in it and by no means associated with any organization. I, Gulnar Gurbanova, am and IDP from Jabrayil district. I have not been to my homeland for 27 years and several of my relatives were brutally killed in the war.
Other two authors are Suliddin Baghirov and Israyil Alakbarov from Ganja, where the aforementioned events took place a few days ago, having severely impacted their home community and resulted in the death of their neighbors. Our friends and fellows have been kind to leave their names under this letter as a sign of shared concern over the fate of our communities and the future of Azerbaijan. We hope that you will understand our concern and support us in our endeavor of sharing the truth with the world.
The letter was signed by: