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Analysis of the Conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh

Info: 4287 words (17 pages) Dissertation
Published: 1st Nov 2021

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Tagged: International RelationsPolitics

This dissertation focuses on the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh; the origins of the conflict, its present state and the possible future. Throughout the dissertation several key aspects and theories of International relations are analysed, such as: people’s right to self determination, the concept of nation-state and conflict resolution.

Firstly, the relevant theories of International relations are explored and an attempt is made to compare them with reality and to show their use in the real world. Secondly, a historical background of the conflict is described, followed by a description of the conflict from 1988 to 1995 and the peace talks. Thirdly, an analysis of the future of NK is examined, pointing out possible solutions and forms of reconciliation. Moreover, relevant questions are individually looked at.

For over ten years NK has been on a path of nation-state building. NK sees itself as an independent republic, even with lack of international recognition. NK has a population of 141,000 and an area that covers 11,458.38 km2. (Official website of the President of NK, http://www.president.nkr.am/en/nkr/statePower/ , accessed on March 2, 2011). The map below show the situation of NK, they show both the NK Autonomous Oblast and the present NK state boundaries that include the occupied territories of Azerbaijan:


As this dissertation deals with the de facto state of Nagorno-Karabakh, it analyses and explores International Law concerning people’s right to self determination and the consequent recognition of their state.

Chapter 1, Article 1, part 2 of the United Nations Charter created in 1945 states that the aim of the UN is to:

Develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.

Article 1, part 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 states the following:

All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development?. (United Nations Charter 1945, available at: http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/ [accessed March 2 2011])

Moreover, the Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations of 24th October 1970 declares that:

By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.? (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm [accessed march 2 2011])

The establishment of a sovereign and independent State, the free association or integration with an independent State or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitute modes of implementing the right of self-determination by that people?. (UN General Assembly, Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1970, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3dda1f104.html [accessed March 2 2011] ).

These legal statements show the core understanding and acceptance of the international community regarding the idea of people’s right to self determination. Even though some core aspects of these declarations can be vague in their practical sense, their overall message is not contested.

By taking into account these and other declarations, the case for the people of NK becomes clearer. Presently, the problem lies with the idea that NK people’s right to self determination collides with Azerbaijan’s right to sovereignty, so what is the solution? According to Dr. Otto Luchterhandt, the director of East European Research Department (University of Hamburg):

The right to self-determination is not only a political principle but a rule of existing international law. The people of Nagorny Karabakh are the subject of the right to self-determination. The people of Nagorny Karabakh can claim for the highest level fulfilment of the law of self-determination “ secession from the state of Azerbaijan because on the one hand its restriction to the status of a national minority stands in no reasonable relation to its legitimate interests in development and protection, and on the other hand the measure of its oppression has reached such unbearable proportions, that remaining in the federation of Azerbaijan has become unacceptable and it has announced it will for self-determination in an unmistakable and convincing manner.? (Luchterhandt, Nagorny Karabakh’s Right to State Independence According to International Law, Boston, 1993)

To use international law in a discussion in the case for NK, specific proof has to be shown. There is also the argument that juridical legitimacy of borders and territorial integrity works against the self-determination principle, however this cannot be taken into account in the case of Azerbaijan SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic). Firstly, it must be stated that NK was an autonomous oblast (an administrative unit) within the Azerbaijan SSR, and that Azerbaijan SSR was not defined by state borders, it was defined by administrative borders, therefore the Helsinki Agreement Final Act in 1975 concerning territorial integrity cannot be applied. As Francois Mitterrand said: Why should the interior administrative borders of a state be automatically recognised as international ones? (Zargarian,1999).

Secondly, on the 31st August 19941 the Azerbaijan SSR confirmed the restoration of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan that had been created from 1918 to 1920. This declaration leaves to question the legality of the present Azerbaijan’s borders, including the territories of NK, territories surrounding NK and Nakhijevan, as none of these were part of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. In addition, it is well documented that in December 1920, Azerbaijan SSR accepted the territories of NK and Nakhijevan as belonging to Armenia. These declarations were later altered by Stalin, which at the times was Commissar of Nationalities.

To further analyse, the value of state sovereignty of Azerbaijan should be graded as lower than the importance of sovereignty of a state in a normal situation, with reference to the system of states in the League of Nations, therefore it is lower than the NK people’s right to self determination. (Raschhofer, 1960) This notion gives support to the national right to self-determination of NK’s people in right to secession over Azerbaijan’s state sovereignty. (Luchterhandt, 1993).

To conclude, as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh was founded after a referendum on state independence on 10th December 1991, resulting in a 98% acceptance, and in agreement with international and Soviet law, it should ultimately be acknowledged as genuine under international law. Moreover, precedent of Eritrea can be used, which showed that self proclamation leads to be under the power of international law. NK relationship with other countries, international organisations, and treaties such as the Geneva Convention, all give power for self-determination.


The name Nagorno-Karabakh has a mixture of 3 languages; Nagorno is in Russian meaning mountainous?, and Karabakh is in Turkic and Farsi meaning Black Garden?. However, the Armenians call it Artsakh, as it was one of the provinces of Greater Armenia, and it is mentioned as early as second century BC: the ancient provinces of Artsakh and Utik, situated between Lake Sevan, river Kara and river Araxes. (Strabo, 1st century BC.)

During the centuries, NK has been mainly populated by ethnic Armenians, however there were periods in which during conquests other ethnic groups would settle, such as Caucasian Tatars, Caucasian Albanians (no connection to Albanians in Balkans), Persians and Turkic tribes. The recent conflict with Azerbaijan has unleashed a historical fact finding war, where the Azeris lay historical claims to these lands, and the Armenians refute them. The people living in NK point out to the obvious evidence, such as hundreds of ruins, ancient monuments, religious building, churches and monasteries. (Tchilingirian,1999). As one farmer said in regard to this: This monastery (Monastery of Gandzasar) kept us Armenian, the writings on these walls made us know who we are. There is a khachkar (cross-stone), the size of a car, on top of this mountain; our ancestors placed it there to indicate that this is Armenian land? (Martakert, 1995).

To review the history of Artsakh a new dissertation can be written, therefore to keep in line with this dissertation, a review of more recent history is made.

After 1918, when the Georgians, Armenians and Azeris took advantage of the chaos of the Russian Revolution to establish independent states, war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, however by 1921 all three republic were under the rule of the Red Army. (Swietochowski, 1985)

Originally, the Bolsheviks determined NK’s problem: The Chairman of the Azerbaijani Revolutionary Committee (Azrevkom), Narimanov declared:

The government of Workers and Peasants of Azerbaijan, having heard the news of the proclamation in Armenia in the name of the insurgent peasantry of the Soviet Socialist Republic, salutes the victory of the fraternal Armenian people. From this day forward, the former borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan are suspended. Mountainous Karabagh, Zangezur, and Nakhichevan are recognized as integral parts of the Socialist Republic of Armenia. Long live the fraternity and union of workers and peasants of Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan.? (L. Chorbajian, P. Donabedian, C. Mutafian, 1994)

The decision by Narimanov was acclaimed by the ethnic Armenians which thought that it was a fair decision. Moreover, Narimanov declared: no territorial conflict will cause bloodshed between these two age-old neighbourly peoples?. ( Chorbajian, Donabedian, Mutafian, 1994). Yerevan’s central authority henceforth declared:

Based on the declaration of (Azrevkom)¦it is hereby declared that Mountainous Karabagh is henceforth an integral part of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Armenia? (Libaridian, 2004)

This announcement was never realised, even if it was at the beginning supported by Stalin. Stalin’s view was that Karabagh should be given to Azerbaijan, in an effort to increase friendly relations with Turkey, which by then had aspirations to be a communist state. (Lane, 1992) It must be understood that Turks and Azeris are ethnically the same people.

Even though the decision over NK was reached on July 4th 1921 in the Kavburo (Caucasian Bureau of the Communist Party):

Based on the declaration of (Azrevkom)¦it is hereby declared that Mountainous Karabagh is henceforth an integral part of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Armenia? (Libaridian, 2004)

The Kars and Moscow treaties were signed in October, giving Azerbaijan the control of NK. Thus, NK’s Armenian populations (90% of NK) desire to unite with Armenia was ignored, creating ethnic tensions that would eventually end in full scale war.

The Armenians tried to relocate NK to Armenia SSR in 1929, 1935, 1963, 1966, 1977 and 1987. The main reasons were the anti-Armenian discrimination, demographic shifts and economic underdevelopment. (Ulubabian, 1994) The Armenian population had declined by 25% from 1920 to 1979, due to hardships created by these discriminatory attitudes.

The modern conflict started on February 1988, when due to the glasnost policy created by Gorbachev and its subsequent openness, the NK authorities asked to transfer the NK Autonomous Oblast to Armenia SSR. The reaction in Azerbaijan SSR was negative, as in 13th June it rejected this demand, on the other hand Armenia SSR on 15th June gave acceptance to this request. Due to the argument between Azerbaijan SSR and Armenia SSR, Moscow had to decide, and since Articles 73 and 78 of the 1977 USSR Constitution states that borders may only be changed if both republics agree on the change, NK stayed under Azerbaijan’s SSR authority, until the Soviet Union broke down in 1991.

The conflict itself started with violence and ethnic-cleansing, with guerrilla warfare. Pogroms against Armenians started in Sumgait (near Baku) in February 1988 and in January 1990 in Baku. The Armenians of Baku (approximately 220,000) and from other parts of Azerbaijan were forced to flee, except in areas of NK. In return, Azeris in Armenia (160,000) were forced to leave, however no pogroms and mass violence was recorded, unlike in Baku.

It was not until Yeltsin came to power that Russia sided with the Armenians, as before the USSR broke down the USSR Army was helping the Azeris. The Russians helped the Armenians with weapons, fuel and logistical support. The reason the Russians sided with the Armenians was because it was against Azerbaijan’s pro-Turkey and pro-Western positions. (Betts, 1999). Russia’s view was that Armenia was its only ally in the South Caucasus, and due to its geopolitical situation in regard to Turkey in Iran, help should be given.

Full scale war broke out between 1991 and 1994 among the Azeri Army and the irregular Armenian guerrilla fighters. At the beginnings of 1992 the Azeris were in control of nearly half of NK, forcing out Armenian civilians as they advanced. Spring 1992 was when the advantage turned towards the Armenians, as their offensive pushed the Azeris to retreat. Once the city of Shushi was captured in May 8 1992, the Armenians had control of NK and the surrounding territories. It must be noted that the Armenian side was mostly fought by guerrilla fighters, which did not respond to any central authority in NK or Armenia. Most of the fighters or Fedayeen (Freedom Fighters), as the Armenians call them, were ordinary people without training or military weapons. The Armenians were helped by the Diaspora, which sent money, weapons and volunteers to help. The Azeri side brought mercenaries from Chechnya and mujahedeen from Pakistan and Afghanistan (approximately 3,000 fighters). (Taarnby, Michael. 2008)

In May 1994 a cease fire was signed with Russia as intermediary in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The ceasefire was signed by the Azerbaijani authorities and General Babayan from the NK Armed forces. The result of the war was that the Armenians ended up controlling 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. An estimated 4,500 people died and 25,00 wounded from the Armenian side, and an estimated 30,000 died and 60,000 wounded on the Azeri side. (De Waal, 2003).


Before the ceasefire agreement mediated by Russia, several attempts were made to find a solution.

The first attempt was by Boris Yeltsin and Nursultan Nazarbayev on September 1991, it gave no fruit. Next mediation was by Iran on February 1992. Since Iran’s historical relationship with both the Armenians and the Azeris was close, it attempted to increase its dominance in the region, especially to push Turkey aside. The Tehran conference did not reach to any agreement. After this, CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) started to arbitrate, it also pressed Iran out of the negotiations, as the latter was not a member of CSCE, On August 1992, Nazarbayev tried again, but the mediation led to nowhere. CSCE tried on several occasions from 1992 until December 1994 to reach an agreement for both sides, but its’ inexperience and Russia’s parallel involvement made it fail. From May 1994, when the ceasefire was signed, several propositions were laid on the negotiation table, but NK was only to agree to a complete package?, while Azerbaijan pushed for a step by step? approach. (Mooradian, 1999)

To date, there has been no concrete agreement between the two parts. The main mediator is the Minsk Group, created in 1993 by the CSCE (now OSCE), even though the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met on various occasions, NK’s government is still left out of any negotiations.


After the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, many other de facto states looked closely to see if it would set an example. Even though the states that have recognised Kosovo state that Kosovo cannot be used as a precedent, others may argue that it can and has. The main reason the international community uses to implicate the uniqueness of Kosovo is that it has been under UN and international control, while other de facto states like NK, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have not.

To analyse the relevance of Kosovo, a comparison is made. The similarities with NK are various: both consist of a minority that sees itself discriminated, both conflicts started in an era of transition brought by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, both held referendums and used the people’s right to self determination idea. The differences must also be noted: NK can argue that before the transition era, it already was an Autonomous Oblast. NK has existed for longer, with relative better stability, and has made more progress on state-building, even though it received less international attention and financial support. (Murinson, 2004) Other differences are that NK is not accepted as a negotiating part in the peace process, Armenia acts as its’ representative.

It can be argued that the Kosovo can be used as an example of a state gaining independence, however, the international community argues that it is a unique case, however this does not limit the political ramifications it has brought. Kosovo’s independence has given hope to other de facto states, who argue that in all, they should have a better chance in gaining independence than Kosovo. As the former President of NK stated:

If the world community is ready to recognize the independence of Kosovo, I think it will be very hard for them to explain why they do not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh?

(Yakubyan, 2006)

And as the Speaker of NK Parliament said:

A serious basis for the international recognition of our sovereignty, we have held free elections for 16 years, law-enforcement bodies are formed, powers are divided, [the] army is under civil control?

(Karabakh Has Serious Grounds for International Recognition of Sovereignty«, in: Karabakh Open, 20 February 2008)

To explain why Kosovo deserves international recognition and other de facto states in very similar positions do not is very hard, even by the same international community that accepted Kosovo’s independence. The reasons can vary from the official statement that Kosovo has been under international control, while other have not, but it is also correct to assume that other factors such as mutual interests among regional powers. Russia’s involvement in the NK peace process has many times thrown the Minsk Group’s propositions away, as Russia can benefit from the no peace no war? situation over NK: it sells arms and heavy weaponry to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, arming both sides.


This question is very interesting in the sense that it would be logical that Armenia should be the first country in recognising the independence of NK, however there is one main reason of why it has not. The official Armenian response to these questions is that since Armenia has started:

An international legal process of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and this is why Armenia has still not recognized the enclave’s independence? “It is for the same reason that Armenia has not recognized the independence of Kosovo,”

Oleg  Yesayan,  Armenian  ambassador  to  Belarus.

(Alima Bissenova. (2008). Armenia links issue of Abkhazia, S. Ossetia to N.-Karabakh. Available: http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=taxonomy/term/4&page=6. Last accessed 20th January 2011.)

However, due to the recent statements by Azerbaijan of taking NK back by force has made the Armenian side declare that it would recognise NK if war started:

Armenia is categorically against a military resolution of the problem. In the event Azerbaijan unleashes a new military venture, Armenia will have no other choice but to recognize de jure the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and provide for the safety of its population through all means,?

President of Armenia, Serge Sarkisian

Astana, Kazakhstan, December 2010.

EuroAsia. (2010). Armenia Says Will Recognize Karabakh In Case Of War. Available: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62556. Last accessed 20th January 2011

One could argue that Armenia should recognise NK, in the same manner as Russia has recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The recognition of NK would give Armenia legal right to aid NK in case war started with Azerbaijan. Moreover, some argue that if Armenia does not recognise NK in the foreseeable future, the status and issue of NK could be forgotten to history, as it would lose its momentum in the pursuit for recognition.


From the overall analysis of the NK conflict and other similar conflicts around the world, some basic and concrete to the NK case recommendations can be made:

OSCE and other international peace organisations should look to include NK in the negotiation process as an independent actor, like they did with the ceasefire agreement.

International organisations should pave the way to stipulate better assurances for non resumption of armed conflict. The line of fire should be closely observed for ceasefire violations.

Programs should be developed in order to teach both societies about tolerance, reconciliation and mutual respect.

International organisations should look to integrate the public in debates and discussions, and rely less on top-down approaches. (Faber, 2005)

International organisations should push for a peacekeeping force to be deployed on the contact line, it should also try to organise a new referendum under the eyes of international observers, henceforth push for a lawful democratisation and a peace settlement. (Freizer, 2006)

Governments in Armenia, NK, and Azerbaijan should start to include conflict resolution and prevention, peace building and peacekeeping, human rights programmes at schools and universities, in order to increase public awareness.

NGOs should create projects along with the civil society to educate the population about the conflict and conciliation for peace.

Finally, an international recognition of NK would ensure a peaceful settlement of the conflict, and would make NK answerable to international law. Moreover, NK would have access to loans from the IMF or the WB, thus being able to develop better as a state. Open borders with Azerbaijan would bolster trade, and maybe bring trust between the people.


The conflict of NK is very complicated to be able to analyse without going into much detail. There are many arguments for and against certain strategies, using international law, international recognition, state sovereignty, refugees, and many others, but one thing is being ignored; the fact that NK has been acting like any other recognised democratic state for over 15 years. NK’s human rights violations, degree of democracy and transparency and corruption are all better than Armenia or Azerbaijan, (Freedom House, 2011) yet still there is little advance among the international community in recognising NK. Some may add that the West uses double standards: We’ve got used to the double standards of the West. I believe that the people of South Ossetia have much more reason for gaining independence than the Kosovan Albanians.? (Yuri Morozov, Prime Minister of South Ossetia). In my opinion, the West does not fully use double standards, but approaches the question very surgically, since it understands the uniqueness of every conflict, and that it could be disastrous to use one peace settlement in another area, as every conflict has its own inimitable dynamics.

I think that NK pace to independence is correct, as sooner or later it will have to be recognised, it should continue developing its government in order to set an example. In the near future two outcomes are possible, either an international recognition of NK or war will break out, it is inevitable, as both sides continue arming themselves, therefore it in my opinion it is in the best interest that of the international community to prevent such hostilities by recognizing NK. As Chekov said:

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

(A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521)

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