A Displaced Armenian

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is holding a hearing today in the case of Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan (Application no. 40167/06). The case concerns an Armenian refugee’s complaint that he was forced to flee from his home in 1992 during the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which at the time was an autonomous province landlocked within the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic.

In September 1991 the Regional Council of the NKAO announced the establishment of the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” (“NKR”), consisting of the territory of the NKAO and the Shahumyan district of Azerbaijan. The “NKR” reaffirmed its independence from Azerbaijan in January 1992. Today’s hearing will further examine the merits of the case and other preliminary matters.

The Armenian national, who has since passed away in 2009, alleges in his complaint that he was forced to flee from his home in 1992 during the above-mentioned conflict. The conflict escalated into a full-blown war and by the end of 1993, ethnic Armenian forces had gained control over almost the entire territory of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (“NKAO”) as well as adjacent Azerbaijani regions.  As a result, hundreds of thousands people and refugee were internally displaced. Sargsyan’s two children are pursuing his application.

Mr. Sargsyan, an ethnic Armenian, claims that due to the Nargorno-Karabakh conflict, he was forced to flee in 1992 from Gulistan of the Shahumyan region.  He was refused access to his property and home. He is relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8(right to respect for private and family life) of the Convention, Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention, in conjunction with the other complaints, that there were no effective remedies available to ethnic Armenians who were forced to leave their homes in Azerbaijan due to the unresolved status of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In particular, Mr. Sargsyan complained about the reports of alleged demolition or vandalism of Armenian cemeteries in Azerbaijan. He submitted that his not being able to visit the graves of his close relatives and not knowing what had happened to them– but being aware that they were at risk of destruction – caused him severe suffering and distress, visiting and maintenance of cemeteries being one of his religious customs. He also makes a claim under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), in conjunction with the other complaints, that only ethnic Armenians living in Azerbaijan were the target of violence and that the Azerbaijani Government failed to investigate such attacks against Armenians or to provide redress for illegal occupation of their properties as well as destruction of Armenian cemeteries.

In 1994, the parties to the conflict signed a cease-fire agreement, which is still in effect today.  But, no final political settlement of the conflict has been reached.

How do you think the Grand Chamber will decide this case? What type of remedy is appropriate if the Grand Chamber rules in favor of Mr. Sargsyan? What violations of the Convention do you think will be sustained, if any? Do you have any solutions for a quicker response to situations like this in the future?



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