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Nagorno Karabakh

Human Rights Developments

Now in its fifth year, the war between Armenian forces and Azerbaijan over the disputed, Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno Karabakh in 1993 was marked by failed attempts to negotiate peace and by the capture by ethnic Armenians of at least five towns in Azerbaijan outside of the Nagorno Karabakh borders, including Kelbajar, Agdam, Fizuli, Goradiz, and Jebrail.

The towns' capture came at staggering human costs, creating 250,000 new Azerbaijani refugees. Civilians fled Kelbajar in April through high mountains still covered with snow. Refugees claimed that hundreds of people froze to death attempting to flee. Following the attacks on Fizuli, Goradiz and Jebrail, about 150,000 refugees flocked toward the Iranian border in August, where the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other relief organizations set up refugee camps. Hundreds of civilians were either killed or wounded in this offensive. The same Armenian offensive into towns in southern Azerbaijan, near its border with Iran raised fears that refugees would flood into Iran if attacks continued. The September 27 Armenian seizure of Gorodiz, near the Iranian border, would have cut off the population of that town from the rest of Azerbaijan had Iran not created a corridor to evacuate civilians. The U.N. announced a program of assistance to refugees and displaced persons who fled the war and the 1988 Armenian earthquake. The program provided $22.5 million to the displaced in Armenia and $12.5 million to Azerbaijan.

Ethnic Armenian forces developed a pattern of looting and burning villages after the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces and the evacuation of civilians. (When they were on the offensive in 1992, Azerbaijani forces did the same to Armenian villages in Karabakh). Some reports suggested that Azerbaijani forces also looted Azerbaijani villages as they retreated.

Azerbaijani forces continued their pattern of long-range shelling and aerial bombardments, which in the past had taken a heavy toll in civilian casualties. According to Armenian sources, long-range artillery rockets and aerial bombardments were used before the Azerbaijaini retreats from Agdam and Fizuli. On August 18, Azerbaijani forces bombed Kapan in southern Armenia, killing seven civilians.

On May 28, 1993, the mutilated remains of Armenian civilians killed during 1992 by Azerbaijani forces were found near Lachin. The civilians had attempted to flee Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia and were reportedly massacred by the Gray Wolves.

Both sides continued the widespread practice of seizing and maintaining hostages during 1993, although both the Karabakh authorities and the Azerbaijan government adopted decrees criminalizing the keeping of hostages in private homes. Ethnic Armenian forces seized about ninety-two hostages from Kelbajar, most of them children and the sick and elderly. Two months later they released four Kelbajar hostages, all infants. On August 24, Karabakh authorities released thirty-eight Azerbaijani detainees; several days later Azerbaijani authorities released twenty-eight Armenian detainees into the care of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In late September, Karabakh Armenians released five more civilians. President Aliev of Azerbaijan claimed in August that Karabakh Armenian forces held 320 women, seventy-one children, and 173 elderly people as hostages; Karabakh authorities admit to holding 150. Azerbaijan also released to Russia five Russian mercenaries who had been sentenced to death in May.

The ICRC reported that, on August 2, Azerbaijani forces intentionally shelled its humanitarian convoy traveling along Armenia's border with Azerbaijan. One passenger was killed as a result.

During the year the United Nations gave some limited attention to the war in Nagorno Karabakh. U.N. Security Council resolution 822 condemned the Armenian attack on Kelbajar, called on Armenian forces to withdraw, and urged all sides to return to mediation efforts. A resolution adopted on July 29 condemned the seizure of Agdam and other occupied areas of Azerbaijan and demanded an end to hostilities and the withdrawal of troops from all occupied areas.

A June agreemen, brokered by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and accepted by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh authorities, based on Resolution 822, would have provided for a sixty-day cease-fire, an end to the Azerbaijani blockade of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, and the deployment of CSCE monitors with a mandate to observe troop withdrawal from all occupied areas, disarmament, provision of humanitarian assistance, and the creation of secure conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons. It was disrupted when Azerbaijani President Elchibey was removed and ethnic Armenian forces captured Azerbaijani territory, but a September cease-fire enjoyed some success.

A buildup of Turkish troops in early September along the Turkish border with Armenia raised fears that the conflict might widen. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller added to these fears when she announced in September that any Armenian advance on Nakhichevan would trigger a declaration of war against Armenia.

The Right to Monitor

Helsinki Watch received no reports of infringement on monitoring efforts during 1993. According to one Western journalist, however, Nagorno Karabakh authorities began in September to restrict journalists' access to the Nagorno Karabakh area and captured territories.

U.S. Policy

Responding to new offensives by Armenian forces, the Clinton administration appeared to be grappling for a more balanced approach to the war over Nagorno Karabakh, a departure from the previous administration's pro-Armenian inclinations. On April 6, Secretary of State Warren Christopher issued a statement in Washington that condemned the ethnic Armenian attack on Kelbajar, acknowledged the increased suffering it caused civilians, and called for the forces' withdrawal. Other statements expressed deep concern over continuing fighting and support for CSCE efforts to negotiate an end to the war.

The State Department also urged Congress to reconsider the Freedom Support Act's ban on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan. While human rights violations within Azerbaijan were serious indeed, it should be noted that the Freedom Support Act's ban on aid to Azerbaijan was based solely on the latter's blockade of Nagorno Karabakh and its military activities in the region. The Act made no mention of Armenia's responsibilities in the conflict. Special Ambassador Strobe Talbott noted that a shift in policy had the goal of creating a role for the United States as "an honest broker in [the] conflict." Helsinki Watch considered that, rather than calling for a ban on Azerbaijan, the U.S. government could more effectively bring the war to an end by denying non-humanitarian assistance to both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch monitored the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh during 1993, as it had since 1991. In 1993, in addition to monitoring violations of the laws of war, we worked to bring needed attention to this much-ignored and lengthy war. Helsinki Watch's newsletter on the appalling 1992 Azerbaijani air bombardment campaign was released in Yerevan and Baky in June, where it generated significant media attention and debate. During high-level meetings in the region,Helsinki Watch raised the issue of the air bombardment campaign, prospects for a negotiated end to the war, blockades and the Armenian advances.

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