1 A THREAD about Kelbajar. Today was billed as a momentous day for Kelbajar region with Armenian forces scheduled to withdraw from lands they have held since April 1993 + control restored to Azerbaijan. However the timetable has been extended, perhaps to ease potential trouble
2 Personally I think of my friend photographer Khalid Asgarov from Kelbajar. I used several of his pictures in my book (where I spelled his name Halid Askerov.) He had come to rescue his father and was there as Armenians moved in. Here is a picture by Khalid of the mass flight.
3 In 2017 @bbcwitness interviewed Khalid. He tells the story of how the only escape route for thousands was by foot across the Murov Mountains. Livestock perished and people froze. Listen to the story of how he walked with his father for two days. bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0…
4 The Askerovs' house burned-- and also Shamil Askerov’s priceless library of Kurdish history. Thomas Goltz was also in Kelbajar in 1993, but got out by helicopter. This is his unforgettable account in Azerbaijan Diary.
5 The elder Askerov died in 2005 in Baku. In exile he tried but mostly failed to keep Kurds and their heritage alive after the loss of Kelbajar. This area was briefly “Red Kurdistan” in the 1920s before the USSR persecuted Kurds and erased their culture.
6 More than a million people have been displaced by the NK conflict since 1988. Now the people of Kelbajar (1989 pop, 57,800) are given an unlikely hope of return. But let's be realistic—the occupied territories were basically levelled in the '90s. Rebuilding will take years.
7 Kelbajar will be the most difficult region to resettle. It has Armenia to the west, NK to the east, the Lachin Corridor to the south. The Murov mountains to the north into the rest of AZ are impassable for much of the year. It's a massive challenge. Many will not return.
8 For Armenians reading: As you may ask, yes, I also pray that it will be possible for Armenians displaced in this war somehow to return safely to homes in Hadrut, Talish, Mataghis etc--although that looks incredibly difficult in current circumstances.
9 I also share grave concerns about what the Azerbaijani authorities could do to the 12th century Dadi Vank monastery in Kelbajar region and its many khachkar stone-crosses and inscriptions. (I’m working on a separate piece about cultural heritage issues, more on that soon).
10 The false theory that Karabakh’s churches are “not Armenian but Albanian,” has entered the mainstream political discourse in AZ and has bad implications for inscriptions like these. Here is a picture I took of Dadi Vank in 1998, with an ironic caption.
11 One more point about the handover of Kelbajar today. It was the capture of Kelbajar in 1993, followed by the first UNSC resolution on NK, that caused Turkey to close the border with Armenia.
12 In 1993 Turkish PM Demirel told negotiator Jirair Libaridian that they had closed their eyes to other Armenian military actions hitherto, but the capture of Kelbajar was a step too far. This is Libaridian’s description of their conversation in my book Great Catastrophe.
13 The return of Kelbajar to AZ control removes the formal impediment to reopening the border and then normalization of ARM-TR relations. Of course, that prospect is unthinkable in Armenia at the moment, given Turkey’s role in the recent war. No Armenian leader will think of it.
14 But the promised handover does open up possibilities in the future of ARM-TR normalization -- most likely with a new government in a post-Erdogan Turkey. So not something for today, but a glimmer of hope for the future. ENDS

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More from @Tom_deWaal

9 Nov
1 Conflict continues deep inside #Karabakh. It seemed today that Shusha/i had fallen. Picture not fully clear.
Let me focus on the humanitarian situation in Karabakh. Yesterday I spoke to Artak Beglaryan, local human rights ombudsman. He said I could share the information.
2 Beglaryan told me the following: Bombardment continues. Thousands of civilians left Karabakh over the weekend for Armenia mainly women and children. They mainly left on the northern route, as the road through Lachin was too dangerous.
3 He estimates that 100,000 Karabakh Armenians have been displaced by the conflict, mainly to Armenia, but also within Karabakh itself. (That is probably more than two thirds of the local population.)
Read 9 tweets
8 Nov
6 Yet hard to predict a pause. Fighting continues on multiple fronts. Armenians say they cannot afford to lose Shusha/i. With more civilians removed from Stepanakert, Azerbaijani forces could attack the town even more intensely.
7 Also today, a leaked report of a purported Russian-Turkish peace plan offering a mixed PK operation (Russians on Arm. side, Turks on Az. side), Armenian withdrawal from occupied territories around NK, two corridors across Lachin and Meghri.
8 Plan reported here has a Turkish spin, was rumoured in mid-October. Nothing here on the big issue, the status of NK itself. But one more sign that the “Basic Principles” framework is crumbling. Instead an "enforced peace" plan by latter-day authoritarian Sultan and Tsar.
Read 4 tweets
8 Nov
1 A fateful day in the #Karabakh conflict. Pres. Aliyev announced to his nation that the hilltop city of Shusha, the former main Azerbaijani town in the heart of Karabakh, had fallen. No visual evidence given. Armenians (who call the town Shushi) said fighting continued.
2 Still, Pres. Aliyev's speech sparked scenes of jubilation in Azerbaijan. Shusha has a huge meaning for Azerbaijanis and its loss in May 1992 to the Armenians was felt as a moment of national humiliation.
3 Also, reports today of columns of cars evacuating thousands of Armenian women and children from Karabakh, amidst new bombardment of Stepanakert and fears that the battle for Shusha/i could spread next to this town, down in the valley. Read here eurasianet.org/fears-of-civil…
Read 5 tweets
5 Nov
1 For those distracted by news elsewhere: the war in #Karabakh may be moving towards a potentially bloody battle for the city of Shusha (which Armenians call Shushi) deep inside the territory. Azerbaijani forces are reported to be no more than 3-4 km away.
2 A week ago the push was towards Lachin between Armenia and NK. A switch to Shusha may make less sense militarily but has political significance. To see their flag over the high citadel of Shusha appears to be the No. 1 objective of Pres. Aliyev and the Azerbaijani public.
3 Shusha has great meaning in Azerbaijan as the birthplace of poets and composers. It was their town in Karabakh before the war, with an 85 percent Azerbaijani population. See this patriotic video released today.
Read 7 tweets
23 Oct
1 From Putin's comments yesterday on #Karabakh war at Valdai Club: First, worth noting that he talked about several other issues, such as cyber-security and the START treaty, before the war came up. War wasn’t the first item on the agenda. kremlin.ru/events/preside…
2 Second, Putin wanted to come across as absolutely even-handed: “For us Armenia and Azerbaijan are equal partners.” That will obviously infuriate Armenians as the Az. military advance continues. No mention of CSTO commitments, only of shared Christianity.
3 Third, Putin expressed frustration with both sides that they were not flexible enough and never agreed to Russian peace plans. This is a common Putin theme on this conflict: that is up to the parties and not Russia to "take responsibility” for NK conflict.
Read 4 tweets
22 Oct
THREAD 1/ Read @cavidaga's story here to understand the huge emotions in Azerbaijan riding on the war and the subject of return —and also the impossible conundrum that is the town of #Shusha.
2 Shusha is Karabakh’s city on the hill, a town of great meaning for Azerbaijanis, the birthplace of composers and poets, seat of khans. It was also home to many Armenians (who call it #Shushi) and to Karabakh’s cathedral, shelled by Az. forces in the recent fighting.
3 In the late Soviet era Shusha's population was 85 percent Azerbaijani, 13 percent Armenian. See my 2003 book cover, for view of both mosque and church. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41-e-…
Read 10 tweets

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