The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has handed down its first rulings on lawsuits filed by scores of Armenians and Azerbaijanis displaced during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In two separate verdicts announced late on Tuesday, the Strasbourg-based court said both Armenia and Azerbaijan violated property rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. But it stopped short of ordering any material compensation to any of the plaintiffs for now.
One of the lawsuits was filed in 2005 by six former residents of Azerbaijan’s Lachin district straddling Armenia and Karabakh. They fled their homes in the face of advancing Armenian forces that occupied the district in May 1992.
The other case was brought in 2006 by Minas Sargsyan, a former resident of the Shahumian district just north of Karabakh which the Azerbaijani army seized from the Karabakh Armenians in June 1992. Sargsyan, who died in 2009, his family as well as Shahumian’s entire Armenian population were driven out of their homes as a result.
Hundreds of thousands of other Armenians and Azerbaijanis were displaced in similar circumstances during the 1991-1994 war. “There are currently more than one thousand individual applications pending before the Court which were lodged by persons displaced during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh,” the ECHR said on Tuesday.
In both cases, the court found violations of the articles of the convention relating to protection of property and an “effective remedy” for its loss. In particular, it faulted Azerbaijan for denying the Sargsyan family access to a village house where it used to live.
The ECHR also held Armenia responsible for the displacement of the six Azerbaijani plaintiffs, all of them ethnic Kurds, and the loss of their homes in Lachin. Significantly, it dismissed Armenian officials’ assertions that the area is controlled by the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), rather than Armenia.
The ECHR said “numerous reports and public statements … demonstrated that Armenia, through its military presence and by providing military equipment and expertise, had been significantly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from an early date.” “Armenia thus exercised effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories,” it said.
The Azerbaijani government seized upon this conclusion in its official reaction to the Strasbourg rulings. “The court decision put an end to Armenia’s nonstop denial of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands and the presence of its troops there,” the Foreign Ministry in Baku said on Wednesday.
But one of Armenia’s representatives at the Strasbourg litigation, Emil Babayan, disputed this claim. “They are talking about not occupation but assistance provided by Armenia [to the NKR,]” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
In both cases, the ECHR awarded no damages to the plaintiffs, saying that the question of material compensation is “not ready for decision” yet. Still, it gave Sargsyan’s relatives and the Azerbaijani government one year to “submit their observations on this matter and to notify the Court of any agreement they might reach.” The court issued no such order in its ruling on the Azerbaijani suit.