Despite an ongoing escalation of tensions, Armenian and Azerbaijani communities may still live together after the nearly three decades of illegal Armenian occupation ends, according to an Azerbaijani official.
"Although we are currently living in a state of intense war, I still believe in the possibility of coexistence of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan," Tural Ganjaliyev, head of the Azerbaijani community in Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region, told Anadolu Agency (AA) in an exclusive interview.
Ganjaliyev, who is also a member of the Azerbaijani parliament, recalled that prior to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict nearly 30 years ago, the two communities "experienced a peaceful coexistence."
Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
Ganjaliyev underlined that today, Baku's goal is to liberate all occupied territories, adding his country will continue its military operations until all the lands occupied by Armenian forces are liberated.
Fresh clashes broke out on Sept. 27 and since then, Armenia has repeatedly attacked Azerbaijani civilians and forces, even violating three humanitarian cease-fire agreements since Oct. 10.
To date, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has announced that over 200 villages as well as several settlements and cities of Azerbaijan have been liberated from Armenian occupation.
Ganjaliyev stressed that the Azerbaijani government has a "special plan" for the repatriation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to their homeland in the liberated territories.
He highlighted that after the liberation of all territories from occupation, the implementation of this plan will begin in stages.
"Of course, all these will not happen in one day. These areas must first be cleared of mines, then critical infrastructure must be built there and then people must gradually return to their places," he added.
Azerbaijan currently hosts around 1 million refugees and IDPs who were forced to leave their homes due to the conflict initiated by the Armenian forces.
The Azerbaijani deputy reiterated that starting in the first days of the current ongoing conflict, Armenian forces have shelled civilians and settlements along the front line, adding they didn't shy away from firing ballistic missiles at large cities far from the conflict zone such as Ganja, Barda, Mingachevir and other regions.
"All this is a gross violation of international humanitarian law, especially the 1949 Geneva Convention, is a war crime," he said.
On Oct. 28, a deadly missile attack by Armenian forces on Azerbaijani civilian areas in the city center of Barda left at least 21 people dead and wounded 70 people, including eight children.
The two cluster Smerch missiles, which are prohibited by international law, were fired around 1 p.m. local time (9 a.m. GMT) targeting the densely populated area with commercial establishments in Barda, according to Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General's Office.
Noting that Armenia's political and military leadership bears the full responsibility for such crimes, Ganjaliyev said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) has confirmed the use of prohibited ammunition by Armenian forces against civilians in Azerbaijan.
"As you can see, Armenia's policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Azerbaijanis continues and in essence, there is no big difference between what happened 30 years ago and what is happening now."
Ganjaliyev went on to say that thanks to the Azerbaijani forces, the inhabitants of these lands are living "their happiest days" as their hearts fill with joy upon hearing of new villages and cities being liberated from occupation.
"Today, thousands of people sit in front of the television and eagerly await the news of the liberation of their occupied villages," he said.
Noting that these people are also "filled with anger" when they look at the footage from the liberated territories as the "beautiful places" where people used to live, walk and worship are now in ruins.
"Not only mosques but also sacred places of other faiths were either destroyed or altered by occupant armed forces of Armenia."
Earlier, a mobile phone video revealed that a historic mosque was turned into a pigsty in Zangilan, Azerbaijan, which was liberated on Oct. 20 from Armenian occupation.
The video, which was posted on social media, showed Azerbaijani soldiers entering the mosque and encountering pigs. The mosque had become a ruin.
Ganjaliyev said the main reason Armenian forces kept violating all three temporary humanitarian cease-fire agreements was that the Armenian political leadership "was not reconciled with the defeat on the battlefield."
He stressed that there is a "possibility" of a lasting truce, adding Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated the necessary steps to be implemented to reach it.
"If the implementation of the agreed basic principles is ensured, then a lasting cease-fire can be achieved and people will not lose their lives. To do this, Armenia must agree to adhere to these principles and withdraw its occupying forces from the territories of Azerbaijan," he said.
The latest U.S.-brokered temporary humanitarian cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia went into effect on Oct. 26. However, it was short-lived, as only a few minutes after it went live Armenian forces again violated the truce.
The first armistice, reached on Oct. 10, was violated within 24 hours as Armenian missile attacks on the Azerbaijani city of Ganja claimed many civilian lives.
In two separate missile attacks on Ganja, a major city with half a million people far from the front line, Armenia killed over two dozen civilians, including children, and injured scores of others.
Another truce on Oct. 17 was also violated by Armenia.
"Since Armenia has been defeated on the battlefield, it is making every effort to change the direction of the conflict and involve a third party," Ganjaliyev said, adding that all the steps taken in this direction by Armenia have been neutralized so far and Armenia's provocations have been exposed.
Azerbaijan is fighting in its internationally recognized territories against the occupying forces of Armenia, he said.
While Azerbaijan used to maintain open relations with many states, only a few countries voiced open support for the stance of Azerbaijan on liberating its occupied lands, while "a number of states have remained silent about this occupation," he said.
"But today, supporting Azerbaijan's rightful position does not mean choosing between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is a broader concept and is a choice between international law or occupation."
Ganjaliyev expressed his gratitude to "brotherly" Turkey for its "support of international law, justice and fairness" in the conflict.
World powers including France, Russia and the U.S. have called for a sustainable cease-fire. Ankara, meanwhile, has supported Baku's right to self-defense and demanded the withdrawal of Armenia's occupying forces.
Noting that there were "well-known principles" for the settlement of the conflict, Ganjaliyev said it should be settled in accordance with the norms and principles of international law.
Four U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and two from the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) as well as international organizations demand the "immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces" from the Azerbaijani territory.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) also refers to the territory as being under the occupation of Armenian forces.
"Hence, the occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan must end, (and) all displaced persons must return to their lands. In order to bring lasting peace to the region, Armenia must renounce its destructive mindset and make efforts to settle the conflict through dialogue in accordance with international law," he concluded.
About 20% of Azerbaijan's territory – including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions – has been under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.
The Minsk Group, set up in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and co-chaired by France, Russia and the U.S., was formed to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, but to no avail. A cease-fire, however, was agreed to in 1994.