LOS ANGELES, Oct. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following article is being released by Nasimi Aghayev, Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles:
The OSCE's Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States, has been tasked for the last 20 years with mediating a resolution to the protracted conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Group's most recent attempt to broker a solution came on September 27 when the co-chairs met with the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers in New York.
But the co-chairs' periodic calls for a peaceful solution, and their 'concern over the lack of tangible progress' ignore the real problem: Armenia's refusal to withdraw its troops from the illegally occupied territories of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts, and to enable the expelled population of these territories to return to their homes. To move forward, the Minsk Group must not simply keep issuing empty statements. It should make clear to Armenia's leadership that peace with Azerbaijan is not just a diplomatic priority: it is the only way to address the serious social, economic, and political problems of Armenia. To realise this, Armenian politicians must stop focusing on the past and look to the future of their country.
Armenia is undergoing a serious demographic decline. Tens of thousands of young people, seeing no opportunities at home, are moving abroad for a better life. An independent survey publicized last year by the Carnegie Endowment in Washington shows that 64% of Armenians want to emigrate. According to various figures, around 1.5 million Armenians - almost half of the country's population - have permanently moved abroad since 1991. Social infrastructure is gradually eroding. The economy is stagnant and reliant on foreign assistance and remittances; meanwhile Armenia is increasingly diplomatically isolated. The future, on current trends, looks bleak.
Azerbaijan, by contrast, is becoming ever more prosperous, developed, and confident on the world stage. Only 20 years after independence, Azerbaijan was elected last year to the UN Security Council. This election, by an overwhelming majority of 155 countries, is a testament to Azerbaijan's global stature and successful diplomacy.
Economically, Azerbaijan has become one of the world's great success stories. With an economy worth $65 billion, it already accounts for 80% of the economy of the whole South Caucasus region, and is fast becoming a significant foreign investor. This economic success is the result of Azerbaijan's smart and dynamic approach to its oil and gas wealth, providing for the prosperity of future generations whilst working to tackle current challenges. Poverty, for instance, has fallen from 49% in 2001 to just 7.6% today.
The government has invested billions of dollars of oil revenue into healthcare, education, and other services as part of its ambition to 'turn black gold into human gold.' Illustrating this vision, a new state-of-the-art campus has just been inaugurated for the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. This advanced facility, along with the Study Abroad Program, which helps young Azerbaijanis receive an education in the world's best universities, will help to create a new generation of dynamic, highly skilled professionals.
Just as important for current troubled times, Azerbaijan has proven itself to be a guarantor of ethnic and religious tolerance. As the first Muslim democracy during its 1918-20 independence and a firmly secular state today, where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together in peace, Azerbaijan is a role model for the Muslim world and a reminder that talk of a 'clash of civilisations' is misguided.
Thus peace with Azerbaijan would revolutionise Armenia's prospects by bringing stability and open borders, encouraging much-needed investments, and connecting Armenia to the region's growing network of transport and energy corridors. But the Armenian government seems not to understand this reality. Instead of pursuing the path of peace, the Armenian government continues the illegal occupation and does its best to preserve the unjust status quo.
The current leadership, many of whom took part in the occupation of Azerbaijani territories in the early 1990s, have apparently forgotten the confession of one of their own. In 1997, Armenia's former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan said that Armenians "won the battle, but not the war." The confusion between winning a battle and winning the war, he said, had "brought misfortune to many."
It continues to do so today. Armenia's occupation of almost 20% of Azerbaijan's internationally recognised territory has not brought power or prosperity to Armenia. Instead it has locked the country into diplomatic isolation, economic failure and demographic decline.
Peace with Azerbaijan is in the best interests of the people of Armenia. If the government in Yerevan fails to understand this reality, the OSCE's Minsk Group must make them do so.