UK faces backlash for urging firms to rebuild Azerbaijan’s disputed lands

UK faces backlash for urging firms to rebuild Azerbaijan’s disputed lands

The UK government has been accused of ignoring the plight of ethnic Armenians who fled the Nagorno-Karabakh region after Azerbaijan’s military takeover last year. Officials from the UK Foreign Office and the business department held an online meeting with British business leaders in November, encouraging them to seize the “great opportunity” to support Azerbaijan’s rebuilding plans.

Damage to buildings and vehicles in Stepanakert in September 2023 after Azerbaijan launched local ‘anti-terrorism’ measures against the Armenian military in Nagorno-Karabakh. Photograph: Sargysan/OC Media handout/EPA

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The meeting took place six weeks after the Azerbaijan state captured the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which triggered the exodus of an estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians to neighbouring Armenia. The Armenian side claimed that Azerbaijan was conducting “ethnic cleansing”, a charge that Azerbaijan denied.

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The UK government had publicly condemned the Aliyev regime’s “unacceptable use of force” in Nagorno-Karabakh and warned that it had “put at risk efforts to find a lasting peaceful settlement” in the region. However, a recording of the online meeting, shared with the Guardian by campaigners at Global Witness, revealed that one senior UK government official praised the “great opportunity” for the 700,000 internally displaced Azerbaijanis to “return to Karabakh”. The official also said that there was “a huge western chunk of the country that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up”.

Another government official told business leaders: “[There’s] a great opportunity here actually. [It was] just an empty land that was ready to be built over from scratch.”

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The UK’s apparent call to firms to rebuild the disputed areas of Azerbaijan has sparked criticism from human rights groups, who said that it was insensitive and irresponsible. They also questioned the legality and ethics of such business activities, given the unresolved status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region.
The UK government has been criticised for appearing to urge British firms to help rebuild the disputed areas of Azerbaijan, where ethnic Armenians fled after the military takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh



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