NK Summary

A brief background to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

“Nagorno-Karabakh” or “Nagorny Karabakh”, is a partial Russian translation of what Azerbaijanis call Dağlıq Qarabağ – literally Mountainous Black Garden from three Azerbaijani words: “dağlıq”(mountainous), “qara” (black) and “bağ” (garden).

Within the USSR, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO) was part of the Azerbaijani SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic). Its population was a mixture of ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians. At the end of 1987, the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic first claimed that the NKAO should be annexed to Armenia[1]. This marked the beginning of a mass expulsion of Azerbaijanis from the Armenian SSR and from the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region.

On 20 February 1988, at a meeting of the regional soviet of the NKAO, Armenian representatives decided to seek a transfer of NKAO from Azerbaijan to Armenia[2]. This stirred up a series of demonstrations and disturbances that raised the stakes from a mere political question to one of interethnic strife. On 18th July 1988 the USSR rejected NKAO’s proposal to join Armenia leaving the entity as part of Azerbaijan. Armenia continued regardless with a plan to annex NKAO. However, such an attempt to claim a part of Azerbaijan against the ruling of the Supreme Soviet was against the USSR’s constitution and thus essentially illegal, a ruling that was restated by Moscow on 10 Jan 1990[3].

As tensions grew, armed intimidation terrorized increasing numbers of ethnic Azerbaijanis resident in Armenia and NKAO. Many relocated, becoming refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan. On 2 September 1991, unhappy that their proposals to join Armenia had been rejected, the NKAO unilaterally declared the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” as an “independent State”. This step was unconstitutional, lacking the necessary consent of both Azerbaijan and the USSR and was officially declared invalid.

At the end of 1991, as the USSR began to disintegrate, all the constituent Soviet Socialist Republics signed the Alma-Ata Declaration promising to recognize and respect each other’s territorial integrity and the inviolability of existing borders”.[4] Such promises were restated in the Charter of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Totally disregarding such promises, however, Armenia unleashed what became a full scale war against Azerbaijan. At Khojaly on 25-26 February 1992, armed forces of Armenia perpetrated the single most deadly attack in the conflict killing over 600 Azerbaijanis including 106 women and 63 children in what was essentially an act of ethnic cleansing[5]. Eventually the war resulted in Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as seven adjacent districts (Lachin, Kalbajar, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan and Gubadly). The war left over 30,000 people killed; several thousand disappeared without trace and hundreds of thousands became refugees/IDPs. Indeed the UN General assembly’s resolution of 20 December 1993 estimated that the number exceeded one million.[6]

A ceasefire has held since May 1994, and to this day the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic remains unrecognized by any other country (including Armenia). The UN has passed four resolutions underlining Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the entity, stating in unequivocal terms that Armenia must withdraw its armed forces. However, for well over 20 years, attempts of the OSCE’s so-called ‘Minsk Group’ to negotiate a resolution to the unsolved conflict have failed while Armenia continues to implement a policy of settlement in the illegally occupied lands of Azerbaijan. Although often portrayed in the international media as a ‘frozen conflict’ Armenia frequently violates the ceasefire, killing Azerbaijani civilians including children[7].

Typically Armenian attacks against Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians have intensified at times when peace negotiations are being mediated by international organizations. This appears to be an establised technique by which to maintain the status quo and entrench its positions in the occupied lands.

The most recent violation of the ceasefire began in the early morning of 2 April 2016 when Armenia’s military attacked Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians from their positions in the occupied territories. The assault was launched along the Line of Contact, striking adjacent populated areas and included intensive fire involving heavy artillery and large-calibre weapons. 34 towns and villages along the Line of Contact came under attack resulting in casualties among Azerbaijani civilians, including children. There was also substantial damage to public and private property[8]. President Sargsyan made it clear that peace was not on his agenda by saying:“War can break out at any moment”[9].

[1] According to Thomas de Waal, as early as in February 1986 one activist of the separatist movement, Muradian, travelled to Moscow from Yerevan “with a draft letter that he persuaded nine respected Soviet Armenian Communist Party members and scientists to sign” with the purpose of separation of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan and its annexation to Armenia, op. cit., pp. 17-20.

[2] http://www.virtualkarabakh.az/read.php?lang=2&menu=54&id=146#.VxZnZiN95O0

[3] “Nonconformity With the USSR Constitution of the Acts on Nagorno-Karabakh Adopted by the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet on 1 December 1989 and 9 January 1990” resolution adopted by the Presidium oft he Supreme Soviet oft he USSR.

[4] Alma-Ata Declaration, 1991, 31 International Legal Materials 147, 148 (1992).

[5] See T. de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War. p. 170 (2003

[6] United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/114, entitled “Emergency international assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan”.

[7] http://m.apa.az/en/news/143410


[8] http://www.azadliq.org/media/photogallery/agdam-daqinti-kend-foto/27660298.html

[9] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-24/caucasus-war-may-resume-at-any-moment-armenian-president-says