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Key Issues


Diplomatic Background on Nagorno Karabakh         

Everyone familiar with Nagorno Karabakh should agree that the status quo— “no peace, no war” — is untenable. This conflict has caused needless suffering for all peoples involved. Peaceful coexistence between Armenian and Azerbaijani communities is vital to the stability of the region and is in the best interests of both countries.

The Alliance believes there must be concrete progress on this issue now, and seeks to engage all the relevant stakeholders to turn this vision into a reality.  We also believe the conflict can only be solved on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of countries and the inviolability of the internationally-recognized borders. 

There must be concrete prospects for a lasting resolution of the conflict.  Anything less would represent a direct threat to the security, independence and development of Azerbaijan as well as the entire South Caucasus region.

Attempts at Peace 

Progress towards peace in the Nagorno Karabakh region has remained slow despite the full efforts of the international community. The governments of Europe have worked hard to mediate the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1992, but to date the parties still remain at odds over fundamental issues. 

The process began in 1992 with the convention of the Conference for Security and Cooperation of Europe (CSCE), which gave both parties the opportunity to meet in Minsk and discuss their differences. When violence broke out between the parties again, it was the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) that stepped in to establish a ceasefire. 

Since the 1994 ceasefire, the parties have met repeatedly to resolve their disputes peacefully, but tensions remain. For example, in 1996 the OSCE Lisbon Summit was held and laid out basic principles for the resolution of the conflict:

  • territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic;
  • legal status of Nagorno Karabakh defined in an agreement based on self-determination which confers on Nagorno Karabakh the highest degree of self-rule within Azerbaijan;
  • guaranteed security for Nagorno Karabakh and its whole population, including mutual obligations to ensure compliance by all the Parties with the provisions of the settlement.

Of the 54 participating countries, only Armenia did not accept these principles. 

Armenia and Azerbaijan continued to meet in the following years. In 2004 direct talks between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan began within the “Prague Process.” In 2006 a joint Mission of Representatives of the Co-Chair countries at the Deputy Foreign minister level met in Nagorno Karabakh and recommended core principles for peace to the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

The so-called “Madrid Principles were originally presented to the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers at the OSCE ministerial conference in the Spanish capital Madrid in November 2007, and have subsequently been updated. In the most recent formulation drafted in 2010, the principles reportedly suggested a two-phased resolution:

In the first phase, the Armenian military would withdraw from territories it occupies in Agdam, Fizuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan and Qubadli Rayon, as well from thirteen villages in the Lachin Rayon region. A donors' conference aimed at raising funds for postconflict rehabilitation was proposed. Armenian-controlled territories would be demilitarized and demined.

In the second phase, the rest of the Armenian forces would withdraw from Lachin and Kelbajar and then the Azerbaijani population would return to Nagorno Karabakh. Peacekeeping observers would be deployed to ensure the security of Azerbaijani displaced persons returning to their homes. The geopolitical status of  the “Nagorno Karabakh Republic” within Azerbaijan would then be decided, and that status should not violate Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.

Senior Armenian and Azerbaijani officials have agreed on some of the proposed principles but differences still remain.

Among other diplomatic efforts, the Russian Federation acted as an arbiter between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2008, resulting in all parties signing the Declaration of Moscow, which declared that “the settlement of the conflict should be based on the norms and principles of the international law and the decisions and documents approved within this framework.” More recently, in June 2011, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Kazan in a summit hosted by the Russian president. The summit ended without agreement but both sides signed a joint statement indicating that progress had been made.

Thus, despite nearly two decades of meetings and forums, Azerbaijan and Armenia remain bitterly divided over the Nagorno Karabakh region. 

Position of International Organizations

Four key international bodies have offered assistance and opinions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While differing on minor points, they all agree that the current conflict must be resolved peaceably. 

The United Nations has issued many resolutions, both from the General Assembly and the Security Council, dealing with conflict. These resolutions have affirmed the U.N.’s willingness to act as an independent arbiter; they have reminded Armenia to at all times observe the norms of international law; they have stressed the need for peaceful dialogues between the parties; they have supported Azerbaijan’s position on the right to self-determination; and they have refused to acknowledge the results of elections held in the self-proclaimed “Nagorno Karabakh Republic.”

The OSCE, likewise, has called for a comprehensive peace settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They have not, however, been as specific as the UN in their analysis of the conflict and instead have delineated basic guidelines for how the parties should proceed. They have called for a strengthening of the ceasefire, improvement of the atmosphere on the ground and the promotion of understanding between the countries in the region.

The Moscow Declaration also supplied guidelines for how the peace process should be achieved. The Declaration sought a healthier atmosphere in the Southern Caucasus by condemning all violent conflict between the Azeri and Armenia militaries. It stressed the importance of the ongoing mediation from the OSCE Minsk Group. But most importantly the Moscow Declaration witnessed Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan positively agreeing to seek a peaceful solution bound by international law. 

Finally, NATO has stated that military engagement will not bring an end to the conflict. Instead, violent action would only result in the reduction of the military potential of all parties. Violence, they have declared, would destroy the economic and political capital that has been developed during the time of peace. 

Legal Aspects of the Conflict

The conflict over the Nagorno Karabakh region has been taking place for several hundred years, but for the purposes of modern international law, the dispute can be traced back to 1988. At the time, both Armenia and Azerbaijan were members of the USSR and therefore subject to the laws of the Soviet Union. According to the Soviet Constitution, territorial borders were inviolate, unless multiple Soviet republics reached a mutual agreement on new borders and this agreement was approved by the USSR. Identical language was also on the books in Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Despite this legal framework, on 20 February 1988 representatives of Armenia submitted their resolution that the NKAO (the Nagorno Karabakh Oblast) be transferred from the Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenia SSR. Armenian separatists in the Nagorno Karabakh affirmed this position. Azerbaijan replied that it did not assent to these new borders and would oppose any attempt to enact them. At this point, since Azerbaijan and Armenia were not in agreement, the subject was closed for all legal purposes. The NKAO could not be transferred to Armenia unless Azerbaijan agreed and Azerbaijan did not. Thus, according to the laws of the Soviet Union, the issue was settled. 

When the Soviet Union collapsed, although there was significant upheaval across most of Eastern Europe, the borders of the NKAO remained the same. Under international law, all new republics retained the borders they assumed previously.  In legal parlance this doctrine is called uti possidetis juris. 

All international bodies and organizations that have weighed in on the issue have agreed that the NKAO is a part of Azerbaijan.

© 2015 Azerbaijan America Alliance
This material is distributed by Azerbaijan America Alliance Corporation on behalf of our Board of Directors.  Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
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