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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict- The Beginning of the Soviet End

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The main parties to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict are Armenia and Azer-
baijan, independent since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Once an internal problem of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno Karabakh (also
known as Upper Karabakh and/or Mountainous Karabakh) crisis started three
years before Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence, and remains un-
resolved after more than thirty years. The war has left over 30,000 casualties
and about a million refugees and internally displaced people. By the end of
1993, Armenian armed forces managed to occupy seven Azerbaijani districts,
in addition to the Nagorno Karabakh region, all of which constitute about 16
percent of Azerbaijani territory. A cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia
has remained in place since 1994.
The Nagorno Karabakh conflict is often considered as one of the frozen
post-Soviet conflicts since currently no active combat is taking place. In
reality, however, violence has never disappeared along the contact line, and
tensions have persistently remained high. Armenia and Azerbaijan have no
diplomatic ties and continue to view each other as archenemies. The medi-
ated talks they have been involved in have not been successful, and many
cease-fire violations have occurred in the conflict zone. The worst violence
occurred during the brief four-day April 2016 war.
The mediation efforts led by the Minsk Group of the Organization on Secu-
rity and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), commenced in 1994, have not been
successful to produce a permanent solution to the conflict. The Minsk Group
is co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France, who organize sum-
mits of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia, and hold frequent meetings.
The Minsk Group has prepared proposals to resolve the conflict, but none of
Chapter Three
The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict
The Beginning of the Soviet End
Ali Askerov
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56 Ali Askerov
them has been accepted by both parties at the same time. Russia’s member-
ship of the Minsk Group is highly controversial as it is a close military ally
of Armenia.
In addition to Armenia and Azerbaijan, the unrecognized de facto indepen-
dent administration of Nagorno Karabakh claims to be one of the main parties
to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. This claim has occasionally influenced the
agenda of the peace negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia that have
lasted for over twenty-five years. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani com-
munities of Nagorno Karabakh and the displaced Azerbaijanis from the seven
surrounding Azerbaijani administrative regions—Agdam, Fuzuli, Kelbajar,
Zangilan, Lachin, Jabrail, and Gubadli—under Armenia’s military occupa-
tion for almost three decades, are passive actors to the conflict. That is to say,
the voice of the Azerbaijanis expelled from their homes by Armenia is not
heard and ignored by the mediators.
Nagorno Karabakh is recognized by the international community as part
of Azerbaijan, although it is under full control of Armenia since the early
1990s. Armenia insists on the independence of Nagorno Karabakh, because it
has successfully maintained the occupied territory under its military control.
Azerbaijan still keeps its hope alive of restoring its territorial integrity, while
the most recent Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is making declara-
tions about the unification of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (Kucera, 2019).
This protracted conflict has affected the lives of millions of people on both
sides, especially in Azerbaijan, which has received about one million refu-
gees and internally displaced people. The parties to the conflict can’t make
any serious decisions without the approval of the population affected by the
conflict, who have been given unrealistic promises by their governments.
This puts the parties in an uncompromising position and creates impasses
in negotiations. The four-day April War of 2016 could be a precursor for a
new type of warfare between Armenia and Azerbaijan if the conflict remains
unsettled. This chapter discusses the Nagorno Karabakh conflict with its
dynamics and considers the resolution avenues to it, in addition to the main
points of the crisis.
Claiming that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict caused the collapse of the Soviet
Union may be seen as an exaggeration, but in reality, it was the first overt
ethnic identity-based crisis within the Soviet Union after World War II, which
the Kremlin seemed to be unable or unwilling to address and resolve in a rea-
sonable way, undermining the purported unity of the Soviet national identity
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 57
supposedly cemented by Marxism-Leninism. The Soviet regime concealed a
few ethnic identity-based conflicts discussed in this volume, but it was the Na-
gorno Karabakh conflict that shook the Soviet Union first. This crisis showed
that the Soviet nationalities policies were not sound enough, and not equally
effective throughout the country. The Nagorno Karabakh conflict has been one
of the most intractable and bloodiest post–Soviet conflicts as well.
The annals of the complex history of the Nagorno Karabakh region of
Azerbaijan are full of overlapping territorial claims by both Azerbaijan and
Armenia. Fortunately, the claim that a state may have historic rights with
respect to land has not found abundant advocates among scholars of inter-
national law (Dupuy & Dupuy, 2013). It is generally accepted that historical
accounts either have no or trivial value for international law (Shaw, 2003).
Yet, a brief review of the history of Nagorno Karabakh of the Soviet epoch is
necessary to comprehend the evolution of this protracted violent conflict be-
tween Armenians and Azerbaijanis. For the purposes of this chapter, a quick
review of the history of the salient historical events regarding the conflict
would adequately help with explaining its character and dynamics.
The historical dispute around Nagorno Karabakh was in a state of dor-
mancy for decades during the Soviet rule, during which the predominantly
Armenian-populated region enjoyed a form of autonomy within the Azerbai-
jan Soviet Socialist Republic. In the twentieth century, the Armenian claims
to this region go back to the early years of the Soviet Union and even beyond
(Cornell, 1997; 1999). Armenians unsuccessfully demanded the region from
Azerbaijan in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s. The 1945 demand was
especially remarkable when Armenia’s petition was reviewed by the Krem-
lin, soliciting Azerbaijan’s opinion. Mirjafar Bagirov, then the leader of the
Azerbaijan’s Communist Party, did not object to the secession of Nagorno
Karabakh with the exception of Shusha city, a cultural center of Azerbaijan
with Azerbaijani majority; however, he in return asked for three admin-
istrative regions of Armenia—Azizbekov, Vedi, and Qarabaglar—to join
Azerbaijan based on their overwhelming majority of Azerbaijani population
(Suleymanov, 2015). Although Azerbaijan’s counterproposal made Arme-
nia withdraw its demands, the Armenian government developed a policy of
gradual expulsion of Azerbaijanis from Armenia (Pasayev, 1995). The main
wave of deportations supported by the Kremlin took place in 1948–1953, the
process which massively influenced subsequent political developments. The
mass deportation of the Azerbaijanis from Armenia was completed in 1988.
The Nagorno Karabakh conflict re-emerged in August 1987, when the
Armenian Academy of Sciences demanded a transfer of the Nagorno Kara-
bakh and Nakhichevan regions of Azerbaijan to Armenia. The conflict
escalated with the November 1987 statements made in Paris, France, by
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58 Ali Askerov
Abel Aganbegyan, an Armenian Soviet academician and member of Mikhail
Gorbachev’s team on economic issues. Claiming that Nagorno Karabakh had
many socio-economic problems, Aganbegyan made a proposal to the Soviet
leadership to find a solution to the Karabakh problem based on Perestroika
and Glasnost, new Soviet political and economic reforms (Askerov & Ma-
tyok, 2015). In his statement, Aganbegyan demanded a transfer of Nagorno
Karabakh from Azerbaijan to Armenia implying that there was an ethno-
territorial problem in the Southern Caucasus region of the Soviet Union, and
a solution was possible by such a land reallocation. This statement became
a signal for the secretive Armenian “Karabakh Committee” and its offshoot
separatist organization “Krunk” in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Re-
gion of Azerbaijan to function overtly, which in turn was a sign of the cracks
in the Soviet political system (Efegil & Kasimli, 2015).
In early 1988, the Armenian population of the Nagorno Karabakh region,
and the Armenian population of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, pe-
titioned for miatsum or the integration of Soviet Armenia with the Nagorno
Karabakh region of Soviet Azerbaijan (Efegil & Kasimli, 2015). Later in the
early 1990s, Armenia gradually changed its approach claiming the right of
self-determination for the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. This change in
tactic took place partly because the notion of self-determination appeared to
be more popular in the international community and more acceptable to the
world public opinion. The cases of the former Yugoslav republics inspired
Armenians to shift their demands from miatsum to self-determination.
In 1988, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict took an overt form and unexpect-
edly escalated fast due to the Gorbachev administration’s failure to correctly
estimate negative effects of the dispute not only on the well-being of the lo-
cal population, but on the principle of territorial integrity of the Soviet Union
itself. The Kremlin’s initial stumbling policy was a sign of an impossible
hope for a gradual spontaneous de-escalation of the Karabakh conflict. The
Soviet leaders most likely underestimated the historical precedents that would
confirm that the problem was not new, as Armenians had claimed these lands
several times in the past, each time facing a failure but creating serious prob-
lems in the region. The Kremlin’s loose and hesitant approach was a contrib-
uting factor to the escalation of the initially nonviolent conflict into a violent
one as Azerbaijanis objected to the Armenian demands of a land transfer
(Askerov & Matyok, 2015). Gorbachev’s assumed acquiescence to the land
transfer from Azerbaijan to Armenia was a grave mistake, and an enormously
damaging misstep contributing to the conflict escalation. Although the initial
skirmishes in Karabakh were local and only of minor significance to the
sides, the conflict quickly escalated into regular deadly battles, finally taking
the character of full-scale warfare (De Waal, 2003; Askerov, 2015).
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 59
The Karabakh war started as a civil war in the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan
being a constituting republic of it. With the demise of the Soviet Union in
1991, Azerbaijan preserved its territorial integrity according to the principle
of uti possidetis juris, a principle of international law, that serves to preserve
the boundaries of colonies emerging as independent states. The uti posside-
tis juris principle developed as an attempt to avoid territorial disputes by
establishing new states’ territorial heritage at the time of independence and
transforming existing lines into internationally recognized borders (Shaw,
1997). When Azerbaijan gained independence, the boundaries it had within
the Soviet Union became international borders. Since both Armenia and
Azerbaijan became independent, the Karabakh conflict transformed into an
international conflict between two sovereign states after the collapse of the
Soviet Union.
The new international situation created a fertile ground for the Russian
troops already present in the region to help Armenian paramilitaries invade
Azerbaijani lands beyond Karabakh to curb its will. Russia’s active military
support of Armenia in the war continued until the fall of seven administrative
districts of Azerbaijan, in addition to the entire Nagorno Karabakh autono-
mous region in 1993. It appeared that the situation worked perfectly for the
Russian policy of subduing the defiant Azerbaijan, which had rejected Rus-
sia’s military presence in its lands, without having to deploy troops on the
remainder of its territory. It is important to note that Russian military support
played a crucial role in Armenian military success against Azerbaijan. Even
the Khodjaly massacre of February 1992 was conducted jointly by Armenian
and Russian troops (Goltz, 1998).
As De Wall (2003) argues, the Armenians had planned the secession of Na-
gorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan long before the violent phase of the conflict
commenced. Weapons were distributed to Armenian militants in Karabakh as
early as 1986. A few significant events contributed to the escalation of the
conflict, but arguably nothing had more impact than the expulsion of Azerbai-
janis living in Armenia who, at the time, numbered about 300,000. The Azer-
baijanis were forced to flee the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) as
a result of the growing anti-Azerbaijani sentiments, Armenian mass demon-
strations, and Armenian attacks in 1988 (Kruger, 2010). Ousting Armenians
from Baku and other Azerbaijani towns and villages followed these events,
and the process of expelling Armenians from Azerbaijan ended in 1990.
The Kremlin’s questionable policies contributed to the rapid escalation of
the conflict at every stage of its development. One of the worst policy initia-
tives took place in July 1988, when Arkadi Volsky was named the represen-
tative of the Central Committee and Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union in
Nagorno Karabakh. On January 12, 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev appointed him
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60 Ali Askerov
a leader of the eight-member committee of special administration for Nago-
rno Karabakh, which was against the interests of Azerbaijan since it de facto
lost its jurisdiction over the autonomous region (Askerov & Matyok, 2015).
The Kremlin’s decision to create a special rule over this region in early
1989 was a critical point in enlarging and deepening the conflict, since an
emergence of a new legal situation around Nagorno Karabakh intensified the
problem further. Although not rejected by the Azerbaijani communist lead-
ership, the special rule perplexed and angered Azerbaijani people, pushing
them to stage popular protests under the leadership of the underground Popu-
lar Front of Azerbaijan. At the same time, the Armenian leadership perceived
the slow and vague Soviet policy as a green light for Armenia. Gradually, the
process acquired extra complexities with the escalation of the conflict due to
the uncompromising reactions by Azerbaijanis to the events. Now, the secret
Armenian plans of that had started long before Azerbaijanis awakening to
defend their interests were fully unconcealed and irreversible, leading to a
bloody war over Nagorno Karabakh.
Highly incapable of settling the dispute, Volsky and his team left the region
after the bloody massacre in Baku on January 20, 1990, executed by Soviet
troops that left 147 killed and 800 injured, and 5 missing. From 1988 to 1991,
the clashes of Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Nagorno Karabakh were local
and mostly hidden from a wider public view. The war in and around Nagorno
Karabakh intensified with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Enjoying Rus-
sia’s help, Armenia managed to invade seven surrounding administrative re-
gions of Azerbaijan beyond Nagorno Karabakh, creating the grounds for the
relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The UNSC
adopted four resolutions on April 30, July 29, October 14, and November 12,
1993, condemning the Armenian invasion of Azerbaijani lands and demand-
ing the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the Azerbaijani regions of
Kelbadjar, Agdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Qubadli, and Zangilan, all of which are
beyond the Nagorno Karabakh region (Kruger, 2010).
Undoubtedly, Russian support has been crucial for Armenia’s military suc-
cess. Unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia has never ousted the former Soviet and now
Russian forces from its territories. From the very beginning of the conflict,
Russia supplied Armenia with what it needed to carry out the war, especially
weapons and fuel. But Russia’s support of Armenia was not limited to ma-
teriel and provisions. Russia’s 366th motorized infantry regiment supported
the Armenian troops in the Khojaly massacre on February 25, 1992, which
resulted in killing 613, wounding 487, and taking 1,275 Azerbaijani civilians
as hostages (Goltz, 1998). The Kremlin’s role, both open and clandestine, in
the creation and development of this conflict has essentially made Russia an
active party to this conflict. At the same time, Russia has been a co-chair of
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 61
the Minsk Group of the CSCE/OSCE since its inception in 1994, which is the
main mediating institution between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This fact alone
has created an odd situation around the conflict as it is a good example of an
ineffective, if not fake, third-party role in the process of resolving a conflict.
Since the main tenets of the mediation institution are fairness and impartial-
ity, Russia’s involvement in the mediation between the parties of this conflict
promises neither fairness nor impartiality.
President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakh-
stan were the initiators of the first mediation attempt between Armenia and
Azerbaijan in September 1991, a few months before the collapse of the So-
viet Union. They came to the conflict-affected region to reach a cease-fire
agreement between the sides. However, the early mediation efforts were not
structured successfully to bring about well-organized talks between the par-
ties, and this particular initiative ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in
December 1991.
Another mediation effort, undertaken by Iran, lasted from February 1992 to
May 1992, and turned out to be very unfortunate for Azerbaijan. As a neigh-
boring state to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Iran made an attempt to bring the
parties to the negotiation table to find a solution to the problem through medi-
ated talks. However, while the talks were in progress, Armenia seized Shusha,
the most important city populated with Azerbaijanis in the Nagorno Karabakh
region. Before long, Iran’s mediation collapsed due to Armenia’s increasing
aggression against Azerbaijan. Russia’s help in Armenia’s invasion of Shusha
was significant since the Kremlin wanted to be a sole influential external
power in the region. Iran made an attempt again in the early 2000s to mediate
between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but its efforts fell through, because Tehran
did not have enough leverage to influence the sides (Peuch, 2001).
In August 1992, Nursultan Nazarbayev took another initiative to mediate
between the parties, but the sides seemed not to be interested in his initia-
tive leading it to yet another failure of the mediation. Following a number
of fruitless attempts, the sides reached a cease-fire agreement with Russia’s
help in May 1994, after which the mediation process led by the CSCE (later
OSCE) became the dominant institution for settling this conflict. Scholars
explain reaching a cease-fire agreement and a commencement of negotiations
by appealing to the ripeness theory, which explains such initiatives by the
inability of the parties to see a likely path to victory, because of the drained
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62 Ali Askerov
resources and strong motivations to negotiate or to seek mediation (Moora-
dian & Druckman, 1999). However, it hardly would be accurate to explain the
mediations in the Nagorno Karabakh case by this theory, because when the
mediated negotiations started, Armenia had already reached its initial objec-
tives of conquering the Nagorno Karabakh region, and even occupied much
land beyond the borders of the disputed territory.
The superior and privileged position of Armenia in the negotiations due to
its wartime gains before the cease-fire agreement started in 1994 is an unde-
niable truth. The effects of this truth are deeply felt in the entire negotiation
process from 1994 to the present day, manifesting themselves in Armenia’s
uncompromising behavior. Nonetheless, the ceasefire agreement achieved in
May 1994 has endured for twenty-five years with some minor exceptions,
and this creates some grounds for optimism about a possible future deal ac-
ceptable to both parties.
The CSCE/OSCE has played an active role in mediating between the sides to
the conflict. In 1994, the institute of co-chairmanship of the Minsk process
and the Minsk Group were established to further encourage a peaceful and
negotiated resolution of the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. The Minsk
Group of the OSCE has been the main mediator for this conflict since Janu-
ary 1995.
The OSCE has been successful in organizing numerous meetings between
the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan throughout the cease-fire period
starting in May 1994. The fact that the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia
had 23 summits in 10 years from 1993 to 2003, in addition to the 140 meet-
ings with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group after its inception, testifies well
about the intensity of negotiations. However, it is hardly possible to make a
claim that the OSCE mediation has contributed to a concrete progress in the
resolution of this conflict. After about 25 years of its activities, it is easy to
say that it has been nothing more than an ineffective conversational forum for
the parties to the conflict and the co-chairs of the Minsk Group since at least
the time of the Lisbon Summit of December 1996 (Askerov, 2014).
The Nagorno Karabakh ceasefire agreement was signed on May 12, 1994,
in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Following the OSCE summit in Lisbon on December
2–3, 1996, a new cohort of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group was formed.
The co-chairs—Russia, France, and the United States—had prepared three
proposals since the second half of 1997 on the resolution of the conflict, the
liberation of Azerbaijan’s occupied seven regions outside Nagorno Karabakh,
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 63
and the status of Nagorno Karabakh, based on the Lisbon principles. All three
proposals included the principle of territorial integrity for both Armenia and
Azerbaijan, the legal status of Nagorno Karabakh based on self-determination,
which would confer on Nagorno Karabakh the highest degree of self-rule
within Azerbaijan, and the 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 (Abilov, 2018). The main rea-
son for Armenia’s objection to these principles was the notion of Azerbaijan’s
territorial integrity, which means Nagorno Karabakh remaining in Azerbaijan.
The first of the three proposals made by the Minsk Group to resolve the
conflict, submitted in June 1997, was the solution of the conflict as a “pack-
age” of deals. The second proposal, called “step-by-step,” was proposed in
September 1997. The third proposal envisioned a “common state” of Nago-
rno Karabakh and the rest of Azerbaijan in the form of federalism or loose
federalism. There was yet another remarkable proposal that was built on the
idea of exchanging lands between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although the
source of this suggestion is unknown, it was publicly debated in Azerbaijan
in 1998. Some debates regarding this fourth proposal took place among the
Azerbaijani public with almost no political force providing support. Azerbai-
jani government declined to entertain it as the public did not endorse it.
The efforts of the Minsk Group to manage this conflict have vacillated
mainly between the package and step-by-step approaches. In March 1996,
Swiss Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office of the year, Flavio
Cotti, presented the mediators’ first attempt at a draft framework for a pack-
age solution to the conflict. The package solution proposed to preserve the
territorial integrity of Azerbaijan with the broadest possible autonomy for
Nagorno Karabakh. The package approach sought to combine all issues, in-
cluding the status of Nagorno Karabakh, in a single all-inclusive agreement
without seeking a compromise on each issue individually. The fundamental
weakness of this approach is the overlap of the most important issues for the
parties in conflict, which makes concessions very unlikely to occur (Hop-
mann, 2014).
The other proposal, the step-by-step approach, was offered by the new
Minsk Group co-chairs at the Lisbon Summit in 1997. By this proposal, the
co-chairs offered a gradual settlement of the conflict through several stages
seeking agreements on easier issues at the beginning, and addressing the
more difficult concerns later in the negotiation process. The main drawback
of this approach is that it entails compromises on each individual issue rather
than allowing for cross-issue compromises to resolve the main issue. This ap-
proach puts the most difficult issue, the status of Nagorno Karabakh, off into
the future which is not acceptable to Armenia as it does not want to risk the
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64 Ali Askerov
war gains that have strengthened its position in the negotiations (Hopmann,
On November 9, 1998, the co-chairs proposed a third proposal, which was
rejected by Azerbaijan without any discussions. This proposal was based on
the idea of a common state, which envisioned a loose federalism of Azer-
baijan and Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan found the idea of a common state
senseless and artificial. Azerbaijan’s then-president Heydar Aliyev rejected
this proposal unconditionally. Although Aliyev did not fully agree with the
first two plans, the Armenian side did not agree with any of these proposals.
A noteworthy point is that all of the packages were proposed to preserve the
territorial integrity of Azerbaijan while offering the broadest possible self–
rule to Nagorno Karabakh (Askerov, 2015).
On April 26, 1999, Washington initiated direct negotiations in the new
format between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Washington,
DC, approved by the OSCE Minsk Group. However, as a result of this
meeting, concrete results were not achieved in the settlement of the conflict.
Negotiations at the level of Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers were
resumed in Prague on April 16, 2004. Subsequently, in 2004–2005, the for-
eign ministers of the two countries held eleven meetings and discussed the
details of the new version of the peace plan on the settlement of the conflict
(Seyidaga, 2016).
After a consultation with the parties, The Minsk Group announced a se-
ries of principles to guide negotiations at the OSCE’s Ministerial Council in
Madrid in November 2007. Based on three fundamental provisions of the
Helsinki Decalogue, those principles included non-use of force, affirmation
of the territorial integrity of each OSCE participating state, and respect for the
right of self-determination of peoples. The “Madrid Principles” were intended
to serve as a formula around which negotiation on details might follow. How-
ever, the parties of the conflict prioritize these principles differently. Azerbai-
jan emphasizes the territorial integrity of the sovereign states, while Armenia
and Nagorno Karabakh stress the principle of self-determination. Under these
principles, Nagorno Karabakh would be granted an interim status, including
guarantees for security and self–governance, until all other elements have
been agreed upon and put in place. Then, a legally binding referendum would
be held to determine the popular will of the residents of Nagorno Karabakh
about their future status. However, the sides to the conflict have never agreed
over the details of a possible referendum (Hopmann, 2014).
Armenia claims that it is the population of Nagorno Karabakh who has a
right to vote, while Azerbaijan argues that the entire Azerbaijani population
should participate in such a plebiscite. In the first case, it is certain that the
results of the referendum would converge with Armenia’s aspirations. In the
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 65
second case, Azerbaijan’s victory would be guaranteed. Therefore, I would
claim that none of these approaches is fair enough due to ignoring the other
party’s rights. The best and most equitable way is to have a referendum about
the status of the region among the population of the entire occupied territory,
which means Nagorno Karabakh plus the seven administrative districts of
Azerbaijan. The region as a whole has been under Armenia’s occupation for
about three decades, and its population has suffered from this subjugation
tremendously. The people of the occupied region have been directly affected
from the aggression, and now they should be given the right to vote about
the final status of the entire region without separating the mountainous part
of Karabakh from the rest of the region. After all, there is much evidence of
the so-called Nagorno Karabakh Republic’s effectively administering and
exercising jurisdiction over the seven occupied Azerbaijani districts, which
include, but are not limited to changing Agdam’s name to Akna in 2010, re-
naming Kelbajar as Karvachar, and settling it and other occupied districts by
Armenians, as well as arresting Azerbaijani citizens who secretly visited their
occupied villages outside Nagorno Karabakh, and trying them in the capital
of Nagorno Karabakh (Sanamyan, 2014). Thus, making all of the people from
the occupied territories involved in a referendum to decide the status of the
region would lead to a more equitable and lasting resolution of the problem.
Yet, there are no signs that the sides are willing or able to make conces-
sions to the adversary that would break the stalemate in negotiations. Arme-
nia has strived to keep the gains of the war through the preservation of the ex-
isting status quo, while Azerbaijan has tried to change the conditions without
resorting to another bloody war. Although it is hard to call the situation in the
frontline a real cease-fire in terms of nonviolent conditions, since soldiers and
even civilians are killed on each side on a regular basis, the agreement has
provided for a legal status and plenty of time for the parties to produce more
effective policies, and the mediators to make better suggestions to resolve
the conflict more constructively, and to produce some tangible evidence of
success. Nonetheless, no notable change has taken place during the cease-fire
period and this utterly disappoints Azerbaijan as its lands are still under the
military occupation by Armenia.
Some of the main obstacles to reaching a resolution of the Nagorno Kara-
bakh conflict include mutual distrust between Azerbaijanis and Armenians,
the contradictory principles in international law and their interpretation, and
the role of an outside agitators, including Russia and the Armenian diaspora.
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66 Ali Askerov
However, there are some other fundamental problems that make the conflict
more protracted, one of which is that the true aggressor is never explicitly
named. Another is that Azerbaijan still hopes that a third party would broker
the resolution of the problem successfully.
Occasional aspirations of Azerbaijani officials about the necessity of
having the UN as a mediating institution is the reflection of their unhappi-
ness with the unproductive role of the Minsk Group. As mentioned above,
the UNSC adopted four resolutions in 1993 (822, 853, 874, 884) regarding
the conflict around Nagorno Karabakh, and the other occupied Azerbaijani
districts, namely, Kelbadjar, Agdam, Fuzuli, Jabrail, Qubadli, and Zangilan.
However, none of these resolutions precisely names the aggression by Arme-
nia in the early 1990s. The true source of the aggression in this conflict is not
unconcealed, thus affecting the entire conflict resolution process. Since all of
the four resolutions either state or imply the aggression of the local Armenian
forces of Nagorno Karabakh, the fact of military aggression by more power-
ful outside forces, such as Armenia and Russia, is ignored.
The UNSC Resolution 822 adopted on April 30, 1993, called for the ces-
sation of hostilities and withdrawal of the Armenian forces from Kelbadjar
district of Azerbaijan following its occupation on April 3, 1993. The UNSC
Resolution 853 adopted on July 29, 1993, demanded the immediate cessa-
tion of all hostilities, and called for the withdrawal of the local Armenian
troops from the Agdam district of Azerbaijan occupied on June 23, 1993,
and reaffirmed UN Resolution 822. The UNSC Resolution 874 was adopted
on October 14, 1993. The UNSC Resolution 884 was adopted on November
12, 1993, condemning the violations of the cease-fire established between
the parties. The resolution called upon the government of Armenia to use
its influence to achieve compliance by the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh
with Resolutions 822, 853, and 874. It also called for the withdrawal of local
Armenian troops from the district of Zangilan, and reaffirmed UNSC Resolu-
tions 822, 853, 874.
According to Resolution 822, the UNSC was seriously concerned about
“the deterioration of the relations between the Republic of Armenia and the
Republic of Azerbaijan” and demanded “. . . immediate withdrawal of all oc-
cupying forces from the Kelbadjar district and other recently occupied areas
of Azerbaijan” (UNSC Resolution 822). However, the occupying forces are
not explicitly named in the resolution. In Resolution 853, adopted only three
months after Resolution 822, the Security Council “urges the Government of
the Republic of Armenia to continue to exert its influence to achieve compli-
ance by the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Azerbaijani
Republic with its resolution 822 . . .” (UNSC Resolution 853). Obviously, Ar-
menia’s identity as a foreign aggressor, who used force to invade Azerbaijani
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 67
lands, is not explicit in this resolution, instead it is ascribed a role of a party
that could be influential in managing the conflict. Resolutions 874 and 884
adopted later in the same year also do not mention the aggressors explicitly
and use general terms such as “all parties,” “the parties concerned,” and “all
States in the region.”
Some general but worthwhile points of the resolutions contain expressions
explicitly supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, inadmissibility of
the use of force, and the importance of negotiations. The role of the CSCE
(OSCE) Minsk Group is mentioned a few times in the resolutions. Needless
to say, none of these resolutions has been implemented in any form, and
this raises a question about the effectiveness of the UNSC resolutions. The
common feature of the UNSC resolutions around this conflict is that they all
demand immediate cessation of all hostilities, and withdrawal of all occupy-
ing forces from Azerbaijan’s lands, and urge the parties to negotiate their dif-
ferences within the framework of the CSCE (OSCE) Minsk Group. However,
the resolutions have refrained to explicitly mention the external aggressors,
specifically Armenia and also Russia, thereby creating misleading percep-
tions about the parties to this conflict.
Deliberate ambiguities created around the issue of who the parties to the con-
flict are have made the resolution process futile. One of the most contentious
issues of this conflict is the question of the parties to the Karabakh conflict,
which has added to its complexity and intractability. Thirty years have passed
since the launch of the conflict, but this simple, yet important aspect of the
conflict, is still in disagreement. The importance of this point is in its power
to affect the negotiations. With the onset of the negotiations, it was assumed
that the conflict was international, and the parties were Armenia and Azer-
baijan. This was true in reality since Azerbaijani lands were mainly invaded
by the Armenian forces backed by Russia, although local Armenians of
Karabakh were also involved in the war. However, Armenia’s insistence on
Nagorno Karabakh’s participation in the negotiations as a separate entity per-
sisted until 1998, when President Robert Kocharian of Armenia agreed that
Armenia alone should represent the Armenian side in the negotiations exclud-
ing Nagorno Karabakh from the process. By removing a significant barrier to
the resolution of the conflict, this approach increased the hope in Azerbaijan
for a settlement of the dispute. However, in the late 2010s, Premier Nikol
Pashinyan of Armenia returned to the previous policy claiming that Nagorno
Karabakh should participate in the negotiations with Azerbaijan. He claimed
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68 Ali Askerov
that he cannot represent Karabakh in the negotiations, because the citizens
of Karabakh do not participate in elections in Armenia (Kharatyan, 2019).
Azerbaijan objected to the attempts of changing the format of the negotia-
tions, accusing Armenian authorities of disrupting the negotiation process.
The complexity around the negotiating parties is not a new occurrence. For
decades, conflict resolution processes in the form of mediated talks have been
taking place between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, officially, Armenia
denies being a party to the conflict (Kruger, 2010). This undermines the ef-
fectiveness and seriousness of the negotiation process. Armenia claims that
the sides to the war are Azerbaijan and the Nagorno Karabakh Armenians.
Needless to say, negotiating a conflict without clearly determining who the
sides to it are creates rather odd dynamics. Obviously, not only is the capacity
of Armenia as a negotiator questionable, also the process of talks seems to be
untrustworthy. The situation itself, coupled with an odd conflict transforma-
tion scheme, has the potential to raise demoralizing doubts at different phases
of the negotiation process.
Baku’s understanding is that Armenia’s willingness to enter into the
conflict resolution process to negotiate on behalf of Nagorno Karabakh has
created a fair state for negotiations; however, the self-proclaimed Nagorno
Karabakh entity has never explicitly accepted this. Armenia’s position has
swayed, though not frequently, undermining the negotiations process. Uncer-
tainties around the issue, which are rather deliberate, are a clear sign of the
ineffective endeavor of negotiations taking place for decades.
Azerbaijan does not recognize the Karabakh Armenians as a party to the
conflict, objecting to their direct participation in any negotiations. This is
partially because the current status of the region could be better explained by
the manifestation of military power of outside forces, Armenia and Russia,
rather than the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. Hence, making the local
Armenians a party to the talks is another form of trying to forcefully impose
Armenia’s position on Azerbaijan. Although Armenia’s attempt to justify its
forceful presence in Azerbaijani lands through making the Karabakh Arme-
nians a party to the negotiations has not been successful, this recurring issue
has raised doubts about the effectiveness of the negotiations process.
Undoubtedly, the most frequently used phrase about the war of Karabakh is
associated with peaceful resolution of this conflict, especially since the third
parties recurrently use peace rhetoric stressing that the only way of resolving
this crisis is a peaceful one (Bordyuja, 2005; Askarov, 2019). This approach
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opts out the utilization of the institution of war as an alternative means to end
this conflict. Regrettably, in reality the elimination of a military option to
solve the conflict is not easily achieved.
Since the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has had a violent character, and it has
often been identified and called war, rejecting war as an instrument of solving
it is not realistic, nor is it bias free. The status quo of the conflict is in Arme-
nia’s favor since it has reached all of its objectives formulated before the crisis
started, and even progressed far beyond them. Before the war began, Armenia
wanted to capture the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which is about
4,400 sq. km (1,699 sq. miles), but now it controls 7,634 sq. km (2,949 sq.
miles) of additional Azerbaijani lands. The total Azerbaijani territory under
Armenia’s occupation is about 12,034 sq. km (4,646 sq. miles). After reaching
this extreme point by means of bloody warfare, stopping the war is in Arme-
nia’s interests, because the status quo gives it a chance to keep and manage the
situation as long as it can. In this sense, the policy of the Minsk Group of the
OSCE to preserve the “no war—no peace” situation has immensely benefitted
Armenia’s position. This is one of the main reasons of Armenia’s aspirations
for the peaceful resolution of the conflict as the single and exclusive option.
Under these conditions, a peaceful resolution of this conflict does not seem
realistic, and it is important to understand the genuine framework of the peace
process to evaluate its supposed effectiveness in ending the conflict.
The de facto rulers of Nagorno Karabakh claim that the only final solution
of the conflict could be complete independence, especially since they are
already in full control of the territory, which also means an eventual unifi-
cation of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Therefore, even when Armenia
occasionally has shown some interest in a compromise with Azerbaijan, the
leadership of Nagorno Karabakh is opposed to it. This means a lot for Arme-
nia’s politics considering that the Karabakh issue has been very influential
and important in Armenia’s internal politics. This has been, once again,
emphasized by Armenia’s new Prime Minister Pashinyan, who on August 5,
2019, declared in the capital of Nagorno Karabakh that Armenia and Nagorno
Karabakh should unify (Kucera, 2019). Considering the fates of some of the
former Armenian politicians affected by their Karabakh policies, Pashinyan’s
move seems to be quite smart.
President Levon Ter-Petrossian lost his power in 1998, mostly because of
his compromising policies towards Azerbaijan. The Armenian parliament
shooting on October 27, 1999, resulted in the killing of nine, including the
prime minister, Vazgen Sargsyan, and National Assembly speaker, Karen
Demirchyan, was believed to be aimed to sabotage a new Karabakh peace
deal. There were claims that the shooting of the Armenian parliament was
organized by Russian special services to derail the constructive Karabakh
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70 Ali Askerov
talks and to prevent signing of the agreement on Karabakh settlement at the
Istanbul summit of OSCE (AZG DAILY #79, 03-05-2005). At the time, a
process of dialogue started by Armenia and Azerbaijan was offering some
hope for reaching mutually acceptable results. Undoubtedly, all or almost all
of the political actors in Armenia have used the Karabakh card for their politi-
cal purposes. Regrettably, the stalemate in the negotiations and the long his-
tory of the failed attempts to resolve this conflict have had an adverse effect
on the hopes for permanent peace, also causing new policy considerations in
Azerbaijan. One of the extreme steps made by Baku was the Four-Day War
that took place in April 2016, discussed below.
It is understandable that Azerbaijan and Armenia, two main actors in the
Karabakh conflict, have clashing priorities. But secondary actors also have
their priorities that sometimes influence regional politics more significantly.
Russia’s interference into the Armenian-Azerbaijani affairs has had a deci-
sive role in the progress of the conflict process. Russia is so influential in the
region that it can escalate or de-escalate the conflict any time depending on
its own interests. On the other hand, Armenia entirely relies on Russia for its
security. The irrefutable reality is that Russia and Armenia need each other
for their own interests (Boyajian, 2019). This situation is likely to continue
until Armenia manages to reconsider its policies and a strategic vision on
conflict settlement.
Analysts claim that Azerbaijan could have dealt with the Karabakh issue
even in 1993, if Russia did not back the Armenian troops (Tchantouridzé,
2008). To end the conflict before it became too intractable, Baku needed
to convince Moscow to cease aiding the Armenians militarily. This never
happened due to Armenia’s geopolitical importance to the Kremlin, which
gained special importance especially with Azerbaijan’s ability to oust Rus-
sian troops from its territories in the early 1990s. With Tbilisi’s removal
of Russian military from Georgia (Kakachia, 2008), Armenia remained the
only country in the South Caucasus where Russian troops were allowed to
maintain a long-term legal presence. This alliance has been strong enough
as it rested upon the mutual benefits for both Armenia and Russia. Armenia
has traded its independence in foreign policy for its security. Since Armenia
is Russia’s only ally in the strategically crucial Caucasus, the Kremlin never
grudged military support for Armenia in the invasion of the Azerbaijani
lands. The abnormality with this is that Russia has been acting in the capacity
of a mediator to make peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, implying that
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 71
in this process it was expected to be impartial and fair, but in fact, Moscow
has openly supported and aided Armenia.
Russia’s military presence in Armenia and its geostrategic interests in
the region poses a question about its impartiality as a mediator. Moscow’s
pro-Armenian policy while bearing the status of a co-chair of the Minsk
Group has made Baku develop a deep distrust of Russia and its mediation
that especially grew after it was revealed in 1997 that the Russian Defense
Ministry transferred approximately two billion dollars in military hardware to
Armenia, which was in violation of the Conventional Armed Forces Treaty
in Europe (CFE ). Armenia has received SCUD-B and Iskander-M (SS-26
Stone) short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from Russia, a Missile Technol-
ogy Control Regime (MTCR) signatory (Jaffee, 2014).
For Azerbaijan, this not only tarnished Russia’s role as a mediator in the
conflict, but cast doubt on Armenia’s claim to want a peaceful solution to the
conflict. Baku has perceived Armenia’s continuous efforts to strengthen its
military, and build up its arsenals by means of Russia’s support as an effort to
pose a more credible threat to Azerbaijan. The cooperation between Armenia
and Russia has manifested itself on various occasions, one of which was the
Moscow Declaration of 2008. With that, on November 2, 2008, Russia made
an attempt to gain a new status of playing a leading role in the determina-
tion of any settlement over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. According to the
declaration, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia reaffirmed their
commitment to seeking a political solution to the conflict with the objective
of creating a healthier situation in South Caucasus. Moreover, Azerbaijan
would drop the option of resorting to the use of military force to bring Nago-
rno Karabakh under its control. Baku’s formal pledge not to begin a new war
was interpreted as a victory for Armenia (Fuller, 2008). Despite Russia’s new
role, the declaration did not omit the importance of the ongoing mediation
effort by the OSCE Minsk Group, and specifically, of the so-called Madrid
Principles, the basic blueprint for resolving the conflict.
Considering the undeniable truth that the Nagorno Karabakh region of
Azerbaijan was invaded by the armed forces of Armenia with Russia’s full
military support, it is discernible that the Moscow Declaration was aimed at
keeping the status quo in the region in favor of Armenia, and the Armenians
of the Nagorno Karabakh region. In addition to the strategic alliance of Rus-
sia and Armenia, Russia has long tried to impose the Nagorno Karabakh
Armenians as a negotiating party (Yeni Musavat, March 24, 2014). Experts
have argued that a withdrawal of Russia’s military and other support from
Nagorno Karabakh would enable Azerbaijan to easily restore order in the
region in a way it wished, even when it was militarily weaker (Ses Qezeti,
2015). The reality is that Russia’s role in the region has been paramount, and
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72 Ali Askerov
Moscow’s policy towards South Caucasus reflects its interests in the region.
In fact, Russia is interested in keeping the whole region under its influence,
and this entails keeping the Nagorno Karabakh conflict unresolved.
However, Russia’s credibility has recently been questioned by some Arme-
nian analysts. It is being argued that Armenia has reconsidered its relations
with Russia due to various reasons among which arms sale to Azerbaijan
occupies a special place (Galstyan, 2018). Azerbaijan’s arms purchase from
Russia reached $4.5 billion in 2018 (Tchantouridzé, 2018). Russia’s arms
sale to both Armenia and Azerbaijan is likely to galvanize a new wave of the
military arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the gainer could
be Russia itself (Abrahamyan, 2016). Selling weapons and military equip-
ment to both Armenia and Azerbaijan allows Russia to create conditions in
which it would be able to make more profits from arms sales and exercise its
influence in the region.
Besides, Russia has a number of severe problems with Azerbaijan. Perhaps,
the most important disagreement between them, even more significant than
supplying weapons to Armenia, is over the status of the Caspian Sea, which
is discussed in chapter 11 of this volume. In general, Moscow likes to dem-
onstrate its might to the former Soviet republics by influencing their policies.
The recent events in Crimea and the Donbass regions of Ukraine are good
examples for Russia’s antagonistic policies towards its neighbors (Askerov &
Matyok, 2015). Moscow has tested the reactions of the West in Ukraine, and
it knows that restoring its former sphere of influence is quite possible. Azer-
baijan is one of its targets primarily because of its energy potentials due to oil
and natural gas reserves, and geostrategic importance. On the other hand, the
West needs Azerbaijan’s energy, and Russia could try to cut it off. Moscow
will continue using the Karabakh card effectively to this end. In this case, ex-
pecting impartiality from Russia in the Armenian and Azerbaijani conflict is
unreasonable, and hence, Russia’s mediating role in the Karabakh conflict is a
sham and tolerated by Baku as it sees no alternative. Baku reserves the right to
object to the Russia’s double-dealing policies around the Nagorno Karabakh
issue, and the April 2016 War was an apparent sign of it. New, effective, inde-
pendent, and constructive approach in dealing with the Karabakh predicament
developed by Yerevan would break the impasse in negotiations and could be
the key to finding a common ground acceptable to the sides.
Azerbaijan’s unhappiness over the past years has manifested itself repeat-
edly. Despite the Moscow Declaration, Azerbaijani leaders have recurrently
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 73
stated that they have lost hope for a positive change in this conflict by means
of negotiations. Many statements by President Ilham Aliyev, and other high-
ranking Azerbaijani officials have mentioned using force to restore peace and
justice in Karabakh, if necessary (APA News, March 19, 2014; Azernews,
October 29, 2013; Babayeva 2014; Rajabova, 2013). Likewise, Armenia’s
officials have occasionally threatened Azerbaijan with the use of force, in the
case of Azerbaijan’s attack (Jaffe, 2014; Kucera, 2019). In reality, the limited
use of force has never stopped in the region. Both sides have sustained casual-
ties due to adversarial sniper shootings.
On a number of occasions, unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan has directly or indi-
rectly threatened to withdraw from the negotiations. Ostensibly, Azerbaijan is
unhappy with the status quo, and the ongoing process of negotiations. Being
a victim country with its lands invaded and occupied, Azerbaijan sees itself
in a position of imposing pressure on the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. The
existing situation is in favor of Armenia, which uses the process effectively to
maintain the stalemate. This, however, does not mean that Armenia is against
war, since its relations with Russia creates certainty of Russia’s military sup-
port in the case of a renewal of the war.
Azerbaijan’s position can be interpreted as a manifestation of a protest
to injustice and indifference of the world community to its problems that
emerged as a result of Armenian aggression. However, in the current interna-
tional circumstances, trying to re-establish justice by means of war does not
seem to be realistic. Baku faces a forced obligation to continue in a forum
where it believes it cannot get the desired results. Russia’s traditional Nagorno
Karabakh and overall Armenian policies force Baku to be very careful. For
many years, there have been arguments that Russia has a plan to enter Azer-
baijan, and one of the best ways of accomplishing such an objective would
be a renewal of the war in Karabakh (Residoglu, 2014). However, when the
April 2016 War broke out in Karabakh, Russia opted for ceasing hostilities
rapidly without letting it escalate further. Keeping the status quo in the region
at that historical moment without letting the conflict to intensify was in Rus-
sia’s best interests since it was deeply involved in the predicament in Syria.
Indeed, Russia’s direct and evident aggression against Azerbaijan would not
be compatible with its everlasting cease-fire-based regional policies.
The Four-Day War took place in April 2016. Having lost its trust in the Minsk
Group’s ability to broker a conflict resolution, Azerbaijan made a very radi-
cal decision and chose the option of war. The war between Azerbaijan and
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74 Ali Askerov
Armenia began along the line of contact on April 1, 2016, and ended after
four days on April 5, 2016. This battle was the worst clash since the cease-
fire agreement was reached in 1994. The primary causes of the battle were
Azerbaijan’s inclination to express its dissatisfaction with the status quo in
general, and the OSCE Minsk Group mediation process in particular, and
demonstration of its military might to both its archenemy and its own citizens
to inspire them and resume popular support. Azerbaijan also wanted to test
its own military ability and the reaction of the Armenian side. As a result of
the April skirmishes, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were able to take over
the hills around the Talish village, and Seysulan village of Terter district,
Lala hill and Cocuq Marjanli village of Jabrail district, and Gulustan village
of Goranboy district, as well as the road to Madaqiz village of Terter district,
all previously under the occupation by the Armenian troops.
A cease-fire was reached on April 5, 2016, with the involvement of Mos-
cow, which gave a secret ultimatum to Azerbaijan to halt the war. Some
analysts, including Neil Melvin, commented that Azerbaijan suffered heavy
losses for relatively minor territorial gains (Ellena, 2016). Other experts, like
Matthew Bodner of The Moscow Times, commented that Azerbaijan’s offen-
sive was unsuccessful because it did not change the status quo in the region,
and the Azerbaijani army lost too many soldiers and military equipment
(Bodner, 2016). However, the April War can be regarded as more successful
for Azerbaijan than Armenia for several reasons.
Azerbaijan’s initial goal was to demonstrate its military superiority over
the Armenian military, and its decisiveness to regain the occupied lands by
resorting to force. The obsessively long period of mediated negotiations since
1994 had created a false perception about Azerbaijan’s approach to the con-
flict, and its capacity to change the status quo. By means of this battle, Azer-
baijan wanted to correct the existing misperceptions, demonstrate its military
capacity, and test Armenia’s military capabilities to resist Azerbaijan’s offen-
sive. Consequently, Baku was convinced that Armenia’s military was weaker
than it was believed as a result of Armenian propaganda. This battle made the
asymmetry in the military capabilities of Azerbaijan and Armenia evident.
Azerbaijan’s military superiority displayed itself swiftly.
Another goal of Baku was to change the balance in the psychological war,
which has not been in its favor as a defeated state for a long time due to the
continuation of the status quo that made Azerbaijani soldiers feel like the
soldiers of a failed army. Despite the relatively small gains, the April War
helped Azerbaijan to inspire its own army and demoralize its adversary. Also,
Azerbaijan wanted to see how other countries, especially Russia, would react
to its war initiative. Moscow’s reaction was an immediate warning to Azer-
baijan to end the fighting. Although no threats came publicly, it is believed
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 75
that Russia demanded an immediate cease-fire from Baku so as not to get
involved in the war on Armenia’s side. The consequence of this demand was
the cease-fire agreement that took place in Moscow after only four days of
Azerbaijan wanted to inspire its own population as well as to get more
support from them and toleration of the never-ending situation around the
Karabakh issue. It has been observed that there was an incredible joy among
Azerbaijani citizens, especially youth, who demonstrated their support for
the Azerbaijan’s military campaign (BBC, April 7, 2016). The claims that
Azerbaijanis had lost their trust in victory over the Karabakh conflict were
falsified by the April War. Finally, the April War was a message to the Minsk
Group of the OSCE that its mediating efforts needed to be intensified. At the
very least, Azerbaijan wanted to express the possibility of a renewal of war as
an alternative to the abortive mediation brokered by the Minsk Group. Con-
sidering all these goals Azerbaijan had in mind before starting an offensive,
it can be concluded that it was successful. However, this short war has clearly
revealed the superior role and intention of Russia in keeping the status quo in
the region unchanged.
The frequent rhetoric about the Karabakh conflict is that war is not a solution
to this problem. Although Azerbaijan, as a victim of foreign aggression, has
a moral right to use war as a means to restore its territorial integrity and re-
establish peace and justice in the region, it has consented to resolve the con-
flict by peaceful means. Regrettably, the mediation institution in the overly
long peace process has proved to be unproductive. Some of the main reasons
of this are that Russia, one of the mediators, is a covert party to the conflict,
and others, France and the United States, have large Armenian diasporas that
influence the process of resolving this conflict. It is hard to make a claim that
the third parties involved in the peace process are contributing to the devel-
opment of a positive peace plan that could endure in the region for a long
time. Rather, it is obvious that they are trying to impose peace on Baku in
the form of a cease-fire without significantly changing the existing situation.
The negative nature of the imposed peace may become a driving force for the
eruption of a new wave of armed conflict at any time, a striking example of
which was the April War of 2016.
Azerbaijan’s lands have not been occupied by Armenia alone and without
foreign help; rather it has been supported by Russian troops significantly.
Even today, Russia and Armenia are parties to serious bilateral agreements
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76 Ali Askerov
on security issues that are exclusively against Azerbaijan, since Armenia has
an armed dispute only with the latter. Russia’s military base in Gyumri with
about 4,500 troops was rumored to be supplied in 2013 with Iskander-M
systems with a 250–mile firing range (Freizer, 2014). Russia’s air base at
Erebuni airport near Yerevan, situated about twenty-five miles from the bor-
der with Turkey, is armed with modern military aircrafts such as MiG-29 jets,
transport helicopters, and other advanced warplanes (AFP, Reuters, 2016).
It is an undeniable fact that Russia has been a covert party to the Nagorno
Karabakh war supporting Armenia since the commencement of the crisis.
Oddly, Russia is playing two separate and contradictory roles at the same
time regarding the same issue. Normally, Russia’s partiality should disqualify
it as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Settling the problem over
Nagorno Karabakh is not on the list of Russia’s priorities, since the resolution
of the Karabakh conflict would weaken the Kremlin’s position in the region.
It is also not a surprise that Russia not only nurtures Armenia with weapons,
but it also sells arms to Azerbaijan (Freizer, 2014). Lately, this has increased
doubts about Russia’s trustworthiness in Armenia. Anti-Russian sentiments
in Armenia intensified after the Armenian Velvet Revolution occurred in
2018. Despite the arguments that the anti-Russian campaign in Armenia has
its origins in foreign countries, Armenian sentiments of becoming a free and
equal partner of Russia is also clear (Azadian, 2019).
Negative peace prevailing in the region in the form of the absence of ongo-
ing military battles can potentially generate new waves of violence leading to
the renewal of war. Armenia has occupied Azerbaijan’s lands by waging un-
just war and causing numerous grave problems for it. Since Armenia did not
get Azerbaijani lands by peaceful means, a question arises about why Azer-
baijan is expected to restore its territorial integrity exclusively by peaceful
means? The truth is that pacific means have been tried for about twenty-five
years without any success due to the co-chairs’ implicit consent to the exis-
tence and endurance of the current status quo in the region, and Armenia’s
nerve-wrecking and strenuous policies to extend the negotiation process as
much as possible without tangible results. The asymmetry regarding the land
control in the disputed area is in Armenia’s favor, which makes it an unwill-
ing party to change the situation on the ground. Under these circumstances,
Azerbaijan, the victim of the conflict, has legal and ethical rights to restore
its territorial integrity and prestige through military means if no other method
works within a reasonable period of time.
The “no war—no peace” situation or the negative peace in Nagorno Kara-
bakh will not last forever and violent conflict may erupt anytime bringing
about detrimental consequences for the entire region. The worst is that the
activities of the Minsk Group have been used as a camouflage to conceal the
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 77
truth of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict that caused trouble to both Azerbai-
jani and Armenian civilians. The first lost their homes and lands, becoming
refugees and internally displaced people facing all types of needs, the latter
live in the occupied territories in fear and despair. Obviously, the institution
of mediated negotiation has not been capable of bringing permanent peace
to the region over the past twenty-five years. It is evident that the mediation
institution does not work for a resolution of this conflict at least because Rus-
sia is part of it, and its impartiality is questionable.
Ostensibly, Russia has contributed tremendously to the creation of this
conflict and sustained it for its own geostrategic purposes. No evidence exists
to show that Russia has applied any effort to transform this conflict into a last-
ing and just peace settlement. In fact, one of the gravest problems throughout
the process of negotiations has been Moscow’s practice of a double standard.
If Russia does not change its policy towards the region by positioning itself
at the equidistance from Armenia and Azerbaijan, distrust of Baku towards
Moscow will not be neutralized. In that case, continuing with the negotiation
process under the auspices of the Minsk Group will not yield any positive
result unless the membership and policies of the Minsk Group change.
The UNSC resolutions adopted in 1993 regarding the occupied Azerbaijani
lands have recommended ceasing the war and initiating negotiations. Nev-
ertheless, this particular approach cannot be assessed as productive, at least
because in the give-and-take process Azerbaijan’s position is asymmetrical.
Creating a fair environment for both parties to the conflict before initiating
negotiations requires an equitable approach that has never taken place since
1994. No calls for peace and withdrawal of the troops from the invaded lands
have been effective since 1993. In line with its policies, the Armenian side
has consistently rejected a withdrawal without the status question of Nagorno
Karabakh being resolved. Armenia feels very confident that no international
sanction will take place against it after so much time has passed since its inva-
sion of Azerbaijan and successful military occupation of its lands. Expecting
the UNSC resolutions to play any role in the resolution of the conflict after
more than twenty-five years other than confirming the fact of the aggression
against Azerbaijan is not realistic.
Armenians demand a right to self-determination in Nagorno Karabakh,
but they do not even mention the rights of the Azerbaijanis ousted from
Armenia in 1988 or from the Armenian-occupied seven Azerbaijani districts
in the conflict region or from Nagorno Karabakh itself. The Armenian side
demands holding a referendum in Nagorno Karabakh almost immediately
to determine the status of the entity. Azerbaijan does not find this approach
just and acceptable, because the war has damaged healthy conditions nec-
essary for a referendum. Moreover, the status and lives of the Karabakh
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78 Ali Askerov
Azerbaijanis displaced for about three decades should be restored first. Also,
many in Azerbaijan believe that if a referendum is to be conducted it should
be national, open to the entire population of Azerbaijan. Yet, the most equi-
table and legitimate referendum would be the one open to the population of
Nagorno Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories, because they are
the people who have directly suffered from the war in Karabakh. The nego-
tiations, especially those around the three proposals discussed above, have
evidenced Azerbaijan’s readiness to grant the highest autonomy to Nagorno
Karabakh within Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s Karabakh policy has made Armenians suffer the consequences
of the conflict by putting the Karabakh question above all major regional
projects. Due to its aggression against Azerbaijan, Armenia has been ex-
cluded from sharing the fruits of Caspian oil. Other major projects like Baku–
Tbilisi–Kars railroad has also excluded Armenia, putting it in a calculated
isolation. It is doubtless that Armenia’s participation in the regional projects
would have certain positive effects on the peace process. At the very least,
it would contribute to the establishment of mutual trust, and decrease Arme-
nia’s dependence on Russia, which is important for making progress in the
conflict resolution process.
Russia, under the current circumstances, will certainly back the Armenian
side, perhaps more clandestinely than manifestly. Any assistance Baku re-
ceives from others is inadequate in comparison. The most unfortunate situ-
ation for the genuineness of the peace process is that Russia claims to be a
neutral actor in the Karabakh conflict. Although the Kremlin’s policies are
driven by Russia’s national interests, this type of insincerity casts a cloud on
the genuineness of the peace process. Despite the fact that Baku is aware of
the Kremlin’s interest-driven policies that hurts Azerbaijan, it pretends Rus-
sia to be its matchless friend. Russia’s overwhelming power and irresistible
ambitions force Azerbaijan’s leadership into taking a very careful position.
While examining the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, some legitimate ques-
tions arise about the relationship of power and morality. Paradoxically, it
is Armenia that used power to invade Azerbaijani lands, and it is the same
Armenia that tries to justify its position with the notion of morality. Nor-
mally, the use of force can be justified for self-defense only. If Azerbaijan
resorted to force to free its lands and provide security to its citizens, it would
be easy to defend its policy as just and moral. Certainly, violent conflicts
can be resolved through negotiations, and the Nagorno Karabakh conflict
is also tractable provided that the institution of mediation works properly,
and any double standards are avoided in the peace process. Subsequently,
the elements of trust and persuasion should come into play as well. Today,
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The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict 79
neither can the mediators persuade both parties about the effectiveness of the
negotiation process, nor can the parties to the conflict assure each other about
the usefulness of their approaches. Simply, trust does not exist around the
Nagorno Karabakh peace process.
The recent change in Armenia’s political leadership has raised expectations
for some positive change in the resolution process of the conflict. The situ-
ation has especially been promising after Pashinyan came to power through
the will of the Armenian population. There have been occasions to test if
Pashinyan is powerful enough to swim against the current. It gradually be-
comes apparent that Armenia’s new leadership will not be able to change its
Karabakh policy in defiance of Moscow’s will. Although Pashinyan enjoys
popular support in Armenia, which is believed to create a fertile ground for
producing and implementing successful policies to deal with the Karabakh
problem permanently, he is unlikely to be able to break the chains Armenia is
tied with Russia. While visiting Nagorno Karabakh on August 5, 2019, Pash-
inyan called for the unification of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia (Kucera,
2019). Originally a zealous advocate of reviving the negotiations with Azer-
baijan, more recently, Pashinyan has taken a hard line on the Karabakh issue.
One of the main reasons of the change in Pashinyan’s stance is a narrow set
of choices Armenia enjoys that cannot substitute the role that Russia plays in
the life of this country.
To make a breakthrough in the peace process around the Nagorno Kara-
bakh issue, Yerevan needs to produce new policies independent from Russia
that will also open the doors to its future prosperity. An integral part of those
policies must be the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict with a
necessary condition of respecting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. However,
Armenia’s new government under Pashinyan has not been able to devise any
distinctive and extraordinary policy to address the Karabakh predicament.
His aforementioned statement ended the hopes for peace in the near future.
Pashinyan first claimed that he could not represent Armenians of Karabakh,
and speak on their behalf because they did not participate in Armenia’s par-
liamentary elections (Askarov, 2019). He then overstepped his jurisdiction by
visiting Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, and calling for unification
of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Pashinyan’s move is a clear sign of a
loose situation around the conflict that characterizes the nature of the peace
talks as well. The fact of this thirty-year conflict is that Azerbaijan and Arme-
nia have been unable to turn the truce into a more comprehensive agreement
due to their inability to agree on what Nagorno Karabakh’s final status should
be. Obviously, the existing “no war—no peace” situation holds nothing good
for either Armenia or Azerbaijan.
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Full-text available
Despite the third party efforts of the significant international and regional organizations, such as the UN and the OSCE, the Upper Karabakh problem remains unresolved for over 20 years. Neither the four resolutions related to Armenia’s invasion of Azerbaijani lands adopted by the UN SC in the early 1990s have worked, nor the formal negotiations over this conflict that have taken place under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group for more than 20 years have reached any tangible results. These facts give rise to questions about effectiveness of the role of this institution in reaching a resolution to the conflict. The ceasefire regime is in effect since May 1994 without changing the situation, in which Armenia still keeps about 20 percent of Azerbaijani lands under invasion and is effectively involved in building a new state over the invaded lands. This paper analyzes the effectiveness of UN resolutions in liberating Azerbaijan’s invaded regions, both within and outside of Upper Karabakh, as well as the OSCE mediation efforts to resolve this conflict. It also discusses effectiveness of the negotiation process, and raises a question about impartiality of the mediators and usefulness of the mediation institution of the OSCE in general. It argues that the OSCE Minsk Group has failed to successfully establish and lead the process of negotiations, thus expecting a fruitful yield is not realistic.
Full-text available
The OSCE Minsk Group was created by the Conference on Security and Cooperation for finding a political and peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since its creation, the Minsk Group organized several meetings and initiated various proposals. However, despite its “great efforts,” parties to the conflict have not come to an agreement and are still insisting on their position of ‘territorial integrity’ and right of ‘self-determination,’ therefore there has been no progress in the settlement of the conflict. The aim of this research paper is to give a general overview of the OSCE Minsk Group and investigate its mediation efforts, and analyze the question: Why does Azerbaijan accuse the OSCE Minsk Group of being biased in the settlement of the conflict?
Full-text available
The South Caucasus once again became a ground for major regional power competition after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Russia, Iran, and Turkey vie for power and influence, as well as for the access to strategic resources and transportation routes. These three major regional powers have used or threatened to use their armed forces against the region. Russia has invaded and threatened Georgia, Turkey has planned an invasion of Armenia and Georgia, and Iran has threatened Azerbaijan. Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran will remain willing to use force in the South Caucasus if they feel that their vital interests are at stake. The governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have to rely mainly on themselves, and strengthen the weakest areas of their national defences. Georgia's Black Sea, and Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea coasts remain examples of poorly defended lines, weaknesses of which could be easily exploited by the main opponents of the states in question.
The recent turmoil created by the competing sovereignty claims of several countries over islands and waters in the South China Sea has caused the resurgence of the concept of “historic rights.” Although the term historic rights (sometimes confusingly used in this context in combination with other germane notions, such as historic waters and historic title ) has often been imbued with a certain degree of confusion and controversy in international law, it seems bound to play an important part inthe arguments brought by states claiming sovereignty in this region and, in particular, by the People’s Republic of China (China). The vagueness of the legal terminology used by China raises the issue of whether that very vagueness is being used as an element of political strategy.
Dr. Heiko Krüger is an attorney at law and commentator on international and European legal affairs in Berlin, Germany. His research interests include secession conflicts, conflict resolution, the conduct of states and the implications of such action. Dr. Krüger is particularly concerned with secession conflicts in the Caucasus region and the Kosovo case. After obtaining his doctorate in law, he worked as a legal clerk at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Scientific Department of the German Parliament. He has served as a member of the Ethics Committee of the State of Berlin since 2006. This treatise is primarily concerned with the legal aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Current developments make it clear that the juristic aspects of secession conflicts are successively becoming blurred. Also, their significance is being superseded within the framework of conflict resolution attempts. The controversial recognition of Kosovo by several states in 2008 as well as the equally questionable recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia are merely two aspects. The aim of this treatise is therefore to focus more strongly on the legal positions, and in particular to underline the importance of principles of international law in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The analysis concentrates on two aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On the one hand the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh is scrutinised in accordance with Soviet law and international law. In this respect, the current developments in the cases of Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are also taken into account. On the other hand, insight is provided into how the conduct of the Republic of Armenia is to be assessed from an international law perspective. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010. All rights are reserved.
Twenty years ago this May the ceasefire that put an end to active fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces for control over Nagorny Karabakh was signed. It was supposed to be the first step in a process to end the conflict. But the expected pull back of forces, deployment of peacekeepers and return of displaced persons never occurred. Instead in recent years the line of contact between the sides has become increasingly tense as some thirty persons are killed every year. Negotiations facilitated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) over a set of basic principles to guide a comprehensive settlement have become bogged down in details. Nevertheless a whole range of Armenian and Azerbaijani civil groups have over the years had opportunities to develop a third narrative, and think through concrete technical solutions to bridge fundamental differences. This article, bringing lessons from practice to bear for policy on this conflict, argues that the best push that could be made this year to strengthen the ceasefire would be to broaden the Minsk Group process, taking advantage of the civil society expertise, inter-communal trust and know-how of technical and local political elites who are currently outside the process, in order to move beyond the discussion on basic principles towards a comprehensive peace agreement.
The impacts of six attempts to mediate the conflict over the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union were compared. Each mediation was intended to get the direct parties - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh - to the negotiating table. Nearly 4,000 events were recorded for a six-year period from 1990 through 1995. Each event was coded in terms of a six-step scale ranging from a significant action toward peace (+3) to substantial violence directed at an adversary (-3). Time-series analyses of changes in the extent of violence showed no change from before to after any of the mediations. A significant change did occur, however, between the months preceding and following the period of intensive combat between April 1993 and February 1994. These results support the hypothesis that a mutually hurting stalemate is a condition for negotiating a ceasefire and reduced violence between warring parties. A number of theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
Armenia's New Ballistic Missiles Will Shake Up the Neighborhood: Russia has decided to feed an arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The National Interest
  • Eduard Abrahamyan
Abrahamyan, Eduard (October 12, 2016). Armenia's New Ballistic Missiles Will Shake Up the Neighborhood: Russia has decided to feed an arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The National Interest. Accessed April 27, 2019, -neighborhood-18026.