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Forced displacement in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict: return and its alternatives

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Introduction

This publication addresses policy-related issues arising from displacement as a result of the Nagorny Karabakh (NK) conflict. Its purpose is to promote awareness of possible societal responses to Track 1 outcomes on this issue, to discuss broadly possible modalities and likely obstacles, and to shape policy to make it more responsive to on-the-ground realities.

The forced displacement of some one million people is a key legacy of the NK conflict. Although a universal right of return will be central to legitimating any eventual Armenian-Azerbaijani framework agreement, after 20 years of protracted displacement refugees and internally displaced persons are likely to exercise a range of choices.
This reflects a paradox at the heart of debates on return, which lies in the fact that no return process can recreate or restore the pre-conflict demography and settlement pattern, yet any peace agreement that fails to create a realistic basis for some degree of return is unlikely to be seen as legitimate by all conflict parties, or by the international community.

This publication addresses this paradox by bringing an overview of international thinking and experience on forced displacement together with a selection of local perspectives by Armenian and Azerbaijani authors. Together, these papers provide evidence of significant gaps between emerging international standards and local rhetoric on return, of the wide distance between the different conflict parties’ entry points into these debates, and yet also of how international experience can provide, should the conflict parties accept the challenge, models for a broad range of approaches addressing the justice issues posed by forced displacement.