“The problem, of course, exists and its its humanitarian significance cannot be diminished. There were pogroms, expulsions and, consequently, loss of property on both sides,” Gadirli said, commenting on recent remarks by the head of the “Our Home Armenia” NGO, Nikolay Babajanyan.
There was no private property according to Soviet law which was in effect in both Armenia and Azerbaijan during the pogroms and expulsions, he said.
“Formally, the majority of the housing stock was owned by the government while a much smaller portion was owned by cooperative and collective farm organizations.
“There was very little about ‘personal property’ in Soviet legislation. Of course, this does not rule out the question of possible compensation, but significantly complicates the legal procedures and financial evaluation.
“The Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia had no access to privatization in these countries during the years of independence,” the lawyer noted.
“Innocent refugees on both sides are hostage to the aggressive, historically and politically blind, irresponsible actions of the Armenian leadership,” Gadirli stated.
“The situation itself, generated by the war and subsequent occupation of Azerbaijani territory and complicated by the protracted negotiating process, makes the question of compensation inappropriate.”
According to the lawyer, the Azerbaijani side has no unilateral legal commitment to pay compensation for damage to Armenian refugees.
“Most Armenians sold or exchanged their flats before they left Azerbaijan. Certainly, had it not been for the conflict, they would never have left Azerbaijan. In this sense, it is possible to say that they were obliged to leave. But their departure with the sale and exchange of property makes the compensation issue not relevant.
“It is more difficult with those who really fell victim to pogroms and persecution. But their problem is based on the overall context of the conflict. The conflict is not between private citizens or groups from whom the state has to secure its citizens. The conflict is between states. And this conflict, despite inflicted stereotypes, is not ethnic but territorial.
“Civil law differentiates between principal and secondary notions. Secondary ones always follow the principal. In relation to real estate, land is the principal notion and a house on it is secondary. In analogy with civil law it is possible to say that the secondary issue can have no solution before the principal issue – the issue of land has been solved,” he said.
Gadirli also said that any attempts to view this important and sensitive humanitarian problem as an opportunity for compensation for damages suffered by the refugees means taking the problem beyond the overall boundaries of the conflict settlement.
“Since the conflict is directly between the states, the settlement of this problem can only be mutual. We should not forget that the context of the conflict is much wider than the frontal zone. The situation of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan cannot be viewed in isolation from the situation of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia, as well as the occupied part of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Thus, no party bears unilateral legal commitments. A serious attitude to the problem must be developed from the clear and mutually acceptable conditions of a final peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, rather than run ahead of the terms,” Gadirli said.