The last decade of the USSR has been engraved in the memories by the freedom marches in the republics. At the end of the 1980s, when many countries began to leave the USSR and establish their independence, the Armenia SSR government raised the issue of the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan SSR to Armenia SSR in 1988.
Background of the conflict
At the February 20, 1988 session of the NKAO (Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast) Soviet of People’s Deputies, members of the region’s Armenian community adopted a resolution to appeal to the Supreme Soviets of Azerbaijan SSR and Armenian SSR to annex NKAO to Armenian SSR. Followingly, on February 22, 1988, the Armenians opened fire on a peaceful demonstration staged by the Azerbaijanisnear the town of Asgaran,who protested against the decision of the Soviet of People’s Deputies of NKAO. This incident was the beginning of the conflict either in military level. On December 1, 1989, the Supreme Soviet of Armenian SSR adopted an unprecedented resolution “On the unification of Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh”.On January 10, 1990, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet adopted a resolution “On the nonconformity with the USSR Constitution of the acts on Nagorno-Karabakh adopted by Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet on December 1, 1989, and January 9, 1990”. The resolution described as illegal Armenian SSR’s act on the unification of Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh without Azerbaijan SSR’s consent.
On August 30, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan declared the restoration of state independence. After announcingthe Constitutional Act “On the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan”, the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Azerbaijan adopted the Law ‘On the abolition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. As a result, Armenians began massacres and terrorist activities against Azerbaijanis.In the late 1991-early 1992, the conflict entered its military stage. Having exploited the collapse of the Soviet Union and political instability in Azerbaijan caused by the internal standoff, Armenia began military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh with external military support.
On September 24, 1991, the Armenian military, with the support of the 366th Regiment, attacked the villages of Imarat and Garvand in the Aghdara region, killing Azerbaijanis with special cruelty and expelling the people from their homes. The most considerable armed violence and genocide by Armenians against Azerbaijanis took place with the Khojaly events. In late 1991, Khojaly was blocked by Armenians. Armenians closed all roads, destroyed communication lines and cut off the power supply—the people living here communicated with other cities by helicopter telephones. However, in the same year, after the shooting down of the Mi-8 helicopter, the number of helicopters arriving here also decreased. All weapons were confiscated from the people, and the gendarmerie forces operating in Khojaly were disbanded. A few people had only a total of 50-60 weapons left. On the night of February 25-26, 1992, Armenian forces attacked Khojaly and, with the support of the 366th Russian Regiment, destroyed the city of Khojaly.
After that, the Azerbaijani-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalated, and Armenian forces occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions until 1994, killing Azerbaijanis and expelling them from their homes. At that time, Iran, which was trying to meditate, did not react severely to the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia. As a result, a ceasefire was reached only after Armenia occupied 20% of Azerbaijani territories.
International response to the conflict
The UN has adopted four resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and its terms have not yet been fulfilled. In the recent debates, Nicol Pashinyan stated that the conflict is happening between the so-called Nagorno Karabakh Republic and the Republic of Azerbaijan. However, these four resolutions explain the real situation and declare that the dispute is not happening in Nagorno Karabakh; this is the international conflict caused by Armenia. Firstly, in all resolutions, Nagorno Karabakh is considered the territory of the Azerbaijan Republic. Secondly, all four resolutions start with the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then the escalation of armed conflict. The Security Council provides a good understanding of who is involved in the conflict by stressing the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of international borders of all states in the region. Such texts are not written in the context of internal conflicts. Moreover, the Security Council emphasized that there is a threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and international borders of Azerbaijan.
The UNSC adopted resolution 822 on April 30, 1993, after the occupation of Kelbadjar district of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Firstly, the document states the following phrase:
“Noting with alarm the escalation in armed hostilities and in particular, the latest invasion of the Kelbadjar district of the Republic of Azerbaijan by local Armenian forces”.
“Local Armenians” phrase is indicated only in the resolution 822, apart from it, neither resolution states the term as an involved party of the conflict. However, this term does not clearly state the parties of the conflict. It is unknown which local Armenians invaded Kelbadjar district due to uncertainty. In this resolution, the UN clearly says that battle is not happening only between local Armenians living in Nagorno Karabakh and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Secondly, the resolution emphasizes the term “in particular, the latest invasion of the Kelbadjar district”, which means that there are many other districts occupied by the invasion forces and UN is concerned about the conflict by seeing it as a severe threat to security in the region, which was going on for a long time. The second phrase ultimately shows that other forces joined to the conflict:
“Demands the immediate cessation of all hostilities and hostile acts with a view to establishing a durable ceasefire, as well as immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from the Kelbadjar district and other recently occupied areas of Azerbaijan”.
The word “invasion” used in the first line is replaced by “occupation” and “occupying forces” in the second line. The meaning of the wording “occupation” in international law is obvious – occupation can only be the result of interstate conflict. With this phrase, the UN indirectly conveys the presence of Armenian forces in Kelbadjar and other occupied regions.
These phrases were reflected in subsequent resolutions as well. Thus, the Security Council has tried to show that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh is not a result of, in fact, an internal conflict. Indirectly, the Security Council attempted to deliver that the lands belonging to Azerbaijan are occupied by Armenia. These phrases can be clearly seen in the following resolutions:
“Noting with alarm the escalation in armed hostilities, in particular, the seizure or the district of Aghdam in the Azerbaijani Republic,
- Condemns the seizure of the district of Aghdam and of all other recently occupied areas of the Azerbaijani Republic;
“Calls for the immediate implementation of the reciprocal and urgent steps provided for in the CSCE Minsk Group’s “adjusted timetable”, including the withdrawal of forces from recently occupied territories and the removal of all obstacles to communications and transportation.”
“Noting with alarm the escalation in armed hostilities as a consequence of the violations of the ceasefire and excesses in the use of force in response to those violations, in particular, the occupation of the Zangelan district and thecity of Goradiz in the Azerbaijani Republic and the withdrawal of occupying forces from other recently occupied areas of the Azerbaijani Republic…”
It can be questioned that why the Security Council didn’t mention that the conflict happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan? What is the reason for not calling Armenia as an occupier? If the Security Council would recognize Armenia as an occupier, then new obligations would arise for the Security Council. In the meantime, Armenia had to be called as an aggressor and the resolutions adopted should have been demanded unconditionally. Due to several reasons, the Security Council did not do this but instead stressed who is responsible in this conflict.
For instance, in 1991, during the Yugoslavian War, the Security Council adopted a resolution by stating “Wars in Yugoslavia” and “parties in Yugoslavia” to deliver this matter to the community as an internal conflict. However, all four resolutions about Nagorno-Karabakh conflict don’t include any wording mentioned above. Besides, conflict was emphasized as a threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and international borders of Azerbaijan.
During the conflict, the OSCE Minsk Group was formed, and the parties were brought to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict. Russia, which has been involved in resolving the conflict, initially sought to bring Russian forces to the region as peacekeepers. However, in December 1994, at a summit of OSCE participating States in Budapest, Member States decided to bring OSCE peacekeeping forces to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. These forces could be composed of the military forces of neutral states.
In December 1996, at the summit of the OSCE Member States in Lisbon, all Member States, except Armenia, recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The signed documents concluded that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had to be resolved within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Also, all proposals by the OSCE Minsk Group to solve the conflict first referred to the UN Security Council’s resolutions, then put forward their proposals for resolving the conflict. On the other hand, the OSCE Minsk Group prepared three plans to solve the conflict. However, the parties did not agree with these proposals due to several reasons. In November 2007, OSCE Minsk Group adopted final Madrid Document concerning resolving the conflict.
When analyzing the diplomatic processes in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is evident that Armenia does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a separate state or institution. According to several documents, the conflict has acquired an international character and must be resolved within the framework of international law, and the borders of Azerbaijan. Despite all the accepted and approved international documents, the Armenian leadership wants Nagorno-Karabakh to be recognized as an independent entity because, in this way, it will be easier to control the territory in favor of Armenia. Moreover, the issue that was often raised at the meetings of the OSCE Minsk Group was related to the referendum, especially about self-determination. The deportation of Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh during the Soviet era had a serious impact on the ethnic composition of the population. Today, the Armenian diplomatic corps demands the status quo, taking into account only the ratio of 1988.However, this contradicts both international law and the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and as a result, the right to self-determination cannot be extended to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In addition, in 1996 Armenia did not recognize international borders of Azerbaijan. It creates a condition for Armenia to start any conflict in anywhere in the borders, as happened in 2020 July.
Today, not only the Nagorno-Karabakh region but surrounding territories also are extremely militarized. Clashes in the region are a serious threat to the security of the peoples who are living there closely. Armenians authorities’ non-compliance with international law also creates conditions for the proliferation of terrorist groups in the region. The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under international law will ensure the security of the region and the effectiveness of economic and humanitarian assistance.
Considering the slowdown in peace talks in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the failure of the OSCE Minsk Group, the unfair treatment of the Western media on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, repeatedly nurturing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with an unreasonable attitude by Armenia, makes the region more unstable and increases border clashes and as in the past, the region will not lead to multi-directional change.