May 8, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the occupation of Shusha, a predominantly Azerbaijani city within the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. On this very day in 1992, the armed forces of Armenia seized Shusha, killing and disabling hundreds of innocent Azerbaijani civilians, expelling the entire population of the city, and destroying, burning and looting numerous cultural, religious and historical monuments.
Considered the cradle of Azerbaijani music, culture and literature, Shusha was established by Panah-Ali Khan Javanshir in the mid-18th century as the capital of the Karabakh khanate of Azerbaijan. Prominent Azerbaijani cultural figures originating from Shusha include, among others, Uzeyir Hajibayov (composer of the first Muslim opera and musical comedy); Bul-Bul (founder of Azerbaijani opera vocal); Jabbar Garyaghdy (Azerbaijani Mugham Art virtuoso); singer Rashid Behbudov; composers Ashraf Abbasov, Suleyman Aleskerov, Fikret Amirov, Farhad Badalbeyli, Seyid and Khan Shushinski, writers Abdurrehim bey Haqverdiyev and Najaf bey Vezirov; and poetess Khurshudbanu Natavan.
Shusha’s seizure was an essential stage in the implementation of Armenia’s policy of military occupation and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijan. As a result, around 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts, were occupied, and almost 750,000 Azerbaijanis were expelled. Coupled with over 250,000 Azerbaijani refugees expelled from Armenia, the number of Azerbaijanis forcefully displaced from their ancestral lands reached over 1 million. The occupation and expulsion were condemned by the international community, including by the United Nations Security Council, which demanded the “immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories” of Azerbaijan. However, backed militarily and economically by certain external forces, Armenia ignored these demands, and concentrated its efforts on consolidating the consequences of the occupation.
The continued illegal occupation of Shusha and other territories of Azerbaijan, as well as the plight of Azerbaijani civilians expelled from them serve as yet another reminder for the international community to effectively push for justice, which can only be restored once the occupation is ended and the displaced people are allowed to return to their homes.
For the sake of Armenia’s own future, it is high time for the country’s leadership to demonstrate statesmanship, and seriously and constructively engage itself in peace talks with Azerbaijan”.