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Azerbaijan offers amnesty to Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers, except for crimes during first war

22 September 2023
Image via MFA of Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan will offer an amnesty to members of the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh who lay down their arms, according to Azerbaijani presidential advisor Hikmat Hajiyev. However, Hajiyev said the amnesty would not include those who committed crimes during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.

In a statement on Friday, Hajiyev said that those who ‘voluntarily laid down their arms are free, as we have openly declared’.

On Thursday, the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said they needed a security guarantee before handing over their weapons.

Hajiyev said that the planned amnesty would not apply to crimes committed during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.

During the 30-year conflict, numerous war crimes have been documented on both sides. Neither side has pursued prosecutions of their own personnel for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The decision to pursue participants of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War could put a large proportion of the male population of the region who were of military age at the time at risk.

Since the surrender, there have been widespread reports that many of the region’s Armenian population was already planning to leave.

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Hajiyev claimed that those wishing to leave were mainly military personnel and members of their families.

He claimed Azerbaijan ensured the safety of civilian vehicles along the Lachin Corridor connecting Stepanakert with Armenia. The corridor has been closed to civilian traffic for months.

Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist based in Germany who participated in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, said that the amnesty did not go far enough.

‘It is commendable that the Azerbaijani side started discussions about an amnesty. However, the amnesty should not discriminate between the first and second wars’, Mukhtarli told OC Media.

He argued that those who had not committed ‘severe crimes’, such as participating in the Khojaly massacre, should not face prosecution.

‘During the war, there were people who did not volunteer but were forced into military service, and they joined the atmosphere of mass nationalism of the time.’

He added that the amnesty should not only cover military activities but ‘all other areas’.

In his speech following Nagorno-Karabakh’s surrender, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev vowed to hold ‘elements of the criminal regime’ — the government of Nagorno-Karabakh — responsible for war crimes committed during the conflict.

‘Some have already received their deserved punishment, and others still will’, he said, adding that ‘the Armenian people know that my word is my word.’

Anar Mammadli, a human rights activist and head of the Center for Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies, an Azerbaijani democracy watchdog, told OC Media that it would be up to the Azerbaijani parliament to decide on the criteria for an amnesty.

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.