Nagorno-Karabakh: no longer a frozen conflict

©Anzhela Mnatsakanyan
©Anzhela Mnatsakanyan

Anzhela Mnatsakanyan is a political researcher, focusing on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Eastern Partnership.

Currently, she is a PhD student at Yerevan State University. She holds an Advanced master's degree in Arts in European interdisciplinary studies from the College of Europe in Natolin and a master's degree in International Relations from Yerevan State University. Anzhela is an author of the numbers of academic papers and research articles on the Military policy of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict dates to the period of collapse of the Russian Empire. From 1918 to 1920 the legislative power in Nagorno-Karabakh exercised by the Assembly of Armenians of Karabakh. Then Azerbaijan was called the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic. During the initial phase of the creation and determination of the borders of the three national states of South Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh had never been an integral part of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan.

As for the position of the international community regarding this issue, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan of 1918-1920 has never been formally recognized by the international community, and by the League of Nations, in particular. The League of Nations not only refused to officially recognize the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan but also its membership application, stating that Azerbaijan cannot be regarded as de jure a “full self-governing State,” as the territory of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, “occupying a superficial area of 40,000 square miles, appears to have never constituted a State, but has always been included in larger groups such as the Mongol or Persian and since 1813, the Russian Empire, and the name Azerbaijan which has been chosen for the new Republic is also that of neighbouring Persian province”.

In April 1920, the Assembly of Armenians of Karabakh decided that “Nagorno-Karabakh is declared as an inalienable part of the Republic of Armenia.” In November 1920, as a welcome act towards the establishment of the Soviet regime in Armenia, the Soviet Azerbaijan recognized Nagorno-Karabakh, Zanghezour and Nakhichevan as integral part of the Soviet Armenia. But soon, in July 1921, the Azerbaijan SSR insisted on examining the Nagorno-Karabakh issue at the Plenary Session of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party-Bolsheviks. On July 4, 1921, in Tbilisi, Georgia, the members of the Caucasian Bureau of the RCP-B declined Azerbaijan`s demand and decided to “include Nagorno-Karabakh in the Armenian SSR, and to conduct a plebiscite in Nagorno-Karabakh only.” However, during the nights of July 4 and 5, 1921, a new decision was drafted, dictated by Moscow. The first paragraph of the new decision stated: “Proceeding from the necessity of establishing peace between Muslims and Armenians... leave Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azerbaijan SSR, granting it wide regional autonomy with an administrative centre of Shushi included in the autonomous region.”

The current stage of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in 1988, which was one of the first ethnopolitical mobilizations in the Soviet Union, emerged from the Gorbachev’s liberalization. In February 1988, the Karabakh movement start, which in his first stage was peaceful protest neither demonstrated against the USSR, nor Azerbaijan, but for Karabakh`s unification with Armenia. Protestants believed that the central authorities in Moscow would eventually redress their past mistakes, but months later, it became clear that Moscow was not going to solve the problem in favour of the Armenians and denounced the Armenian protestors as “extremists” and “hooligans.” In response to Armenian peace protests, Azerbaijan started the anti-Armenia Sumgait pogrom, which caused the massacre of the peaceful Armenian population in Azerbaijani town Sumgait, which showed the threat to the safety of the Armenians living in Azerbaijan.

On September 2, 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh, in compliance with domestic Soviet Law, initiated the process of independence through the adoption by the Local Councils of Nagorno-Karabakh of the “Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.” This act was not only in full conformity with then-existing Soviet Legislation but once again endorsed the fact that on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh only the Laws of the USSR were being in force. On October 18, 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan, according to the same domestic Soviet Law, confirmed its independence by the adoption of a “Constitutional Act on State Independence,” and declared itself as a successor of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, by this Baku rejected the whole political and legal heritage of the Azerbaijani SSR.

Following to the independence, several soldiers have been killed on the borderlands between Artsakh- the historic Armenian name of Nagorno-Karabakh-, and Azerbaijan, which become into a full-blown military conflict during 1991-1994. After Azerbaijan had been defeated in a battle over the territory a ceasefire agreement signed between Artsakh, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, through Russia and the conflict has shifted to the “no war, no peace” mode.

Since 1992 the negotiation process has been led by the OSCE Minsk Group, which proposed the Madrid Principles as the basis for conflict settlement. “The Madrid Principles are based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of Non-Use of Force, Territorial Integrity, and Self-Determination of Peoples.”

During all these years, the border clashes on the line of contact between the Artsakh and Azerbaijan, as well as on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state borders, become an unnormal normal for the local population. However, in Summer 2014, these clashes turned into war, the so-called five days war, causing the deaths of soldiers from both sides. In April 2016, the Nagorno-Karabakh war erupted again when Azerbaijan decided to change the facts on the battleground. Hundreds of soldiers from both sides were killed before Russia lead cease-fire. In July 2020, despite the UN call for a global ceasefire during coronavirus pandemic, Azerbaijan started the war against Armenia in the Tavush district of Armenia, which is 300 km to the north of Artsakh, that caused the death of eleven Azeri servicemen, including one general, and four Armenians.  

On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan launched the new war against Artsakh and Armenia, with the support of Turkey and the involvement of the foreign terrorist fighters. France, Russia, Iran, and the USA confirmed the fact that Azerbaijan involved the Syrian mercenaries in the war against Artsakh and Armenia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia repeatedly states that the Azerbaijani Army is targeting the civilian settlements and using weapons banned under international humanitarian law. It needs to highlight that the following clashes with Artsakh, Azerbaijani authorities have restricted internet use inside the country, in particular access to social media. In contrast, the authorities of Artsakh announced that until January 2021, the mobile and internet connection in the country will be free of charge.

The Nagorno-Karabakh “peace negotiation” is mainly between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as Artsakh part does not officially participate in the negotiation, the unresolved status of the conflict and ongoing fears of an attack by Azerbaijan have made the ensuring the security of Artsakh a priority for Armenia. The ongoing war crimes conducted by Azerbaijan towards the peaceful population of Artsakh made it clear that Baku wants Artsakh, without Armenians, and this is something that both authority of Artsakh and the authority of Armenia will not let to happen.