Since the Azerbaijani advance into the village of Parukh and the disruption of Artsakh’s natural gas supply in March 2022, there have been a few major interrelated developments in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On April 6, 2022, European Council President Charles Michel facilitated a trilateral meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Michel released a statement after the meeting on the intention of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to move rapidly toward a peace agreement between their countries, “which would address all necessary issues.” The statement made no reference at all to “Nagorno-Karabakh”; Aliyev has been trying to censor reference to the territory since after the 2020 Artsakh War, refuting its “existence”.
On April 13, 2022, Pashinyan stated in the National Assembly of Armenia that the international community has urged Armenia to “bring down our benchmark for the status of Artsakh”, that the international community unequivocally recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, expects Armenia to recognize it, and expects that the Azerbaijanis who left Karabakh should be fully involved in deciding the future of Nagorno-Karabakh and its governance. In exchange, the international community promises to “ensure greater international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh.” He also noted that, in the past, Armenia placed the status of Karabakh at the center of negotiations, deriving security guarantees and rights from it; whereas now, it will place security guarantees and rights as its basis, deriving status from it. He also referred to the lawsuit that Armenia has filed against Azerbaijan with the International Court of Justice on September 16, 2021, assessing it as a significant factor in protecting the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh that will raise the bar on the issue of status in the perception of the international community. He also referred to Azerbaijan’s actions that demonstrate its policy of racism and hatred.
This speech generated huge concern among Armenians, both in Artsakh and Armenia. Artsakh authorities have always declared that any status under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction is unacceptable for them, and the predominant majority of the population of Armenia shares that opinion. Without getting into the reasons for such a decision and the details of the reactions in Armenia, generated by complex realities and manifested in the political debate since the ceasefire statement of November 2020, let’s analyze the uncertainties and possible scenarios for Nagorno-Karabakh if the Armenian leadership goes ahead with the recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity without reliable and sustainable solutions accompanying such a decision.
The key uncertainties are as follows:
- First of all, who is the international community and what does the promise of “greater international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh” mean? Which players of the international community are requiring Armenia to step back from its long-established red line? Is it Russia or the West? Russian President Putin has specifically referred to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan since the 2020 ceasefire statement, while other Co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have been vague on that issue. If it is the West, is there a common approach by the West or the EU? Do France and the U.S. have different views on the territorial integrity issue? If the OSCE Minsk Group has received its mandate based on the UN Security Council resolution and the OSCE Council of Ministers decision, can it be dissolved for good in light of the increased polarization between its actors? Can the players still build on its principles and proposals?
- Does the international community offer international guarantees to ensure the security and human rights of Armenians in Artsakh in light of the widely-shared belief that they are facing an obvious threat of ethnic cleansing, whether through military operations or creating unbearable living conditions to make them leave? How about the UN principle of the Responsibility to Protect? Will a peacekeeping mission under a legal mandate of an international organization be deployed there, as has been done in other areas with similar conflicts?
- Will Russian peacekeepers remain in Nagorno-Karabakh? For how long and is their presence sufficient to ensure the security and human rights of the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh? Pashinyan stated in July 2021 that Aliyev hasn’t signed the subsequent document outlining the mandate of the peacekeepers. Due to the lack of an international legal mandate, Russian peacekeepers don’t have accountability mechanisms either. They are not reporting to the UN or OSCE about their activities. Aliyev has implied that the Russian peacekeeping contingent is located in Nagorno-Karabakh temporarily. We can assume that Azerbaijan will aim to achieve the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers at the end of their term in 2025, if not earlier, taking advantage of the severely deteriorated reputation of Russia in light of the war in Ukraine. Azerbaijan and its lobbyists are trying to create associations between the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the conflict in Donbas, as well as South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria. Azerbaijan may also try to make a deal with Russia and seek their withdrawal, based on their alliance, in line with the declaration signed between Putin and Aliyev on February 22, 2022. As usual, Aliyev has been trying to apply his double-faced policy, elevating Azerbaijan’s relationship with Russia to the level of an alliance on one hand, while simultaneously playing off that alliance to position itself as an alternate supplier of oil and gas to Europe. Besides, the rules of engagement of the Russian peacekeeping forces and the mechanisms to make Azerbaijan accountable to international organizations in the presence of peacekeepers without a legal mandate from an international organization are not clear. Azerbaijani forces have captured new areas since the November 2020 ceasefire, in December 2020 and in March 2022. Finally, the Russian peacekeeping presence is aimed at ensuring security but it does not have a full peacekeeping architecture aimed at resolving political and human rights issues, and the development needs of Armenians in Artsakh. What happened to the “Leave no one behind” slogan pledged by UN member states for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
- What does it mean to “bring down the benchmark for the status of Artsakh” in light of the systematic statements by Aliyev since 2020 refuting the very existence of “Nagorno-Karabakh” as an entity or region, which reflects a step back even in comparison to the Soviet-era status of the NKAO, which had autonomy and local self-governing bodies. What will happen to the self-governance institutions of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been assessed as much more democratic than those of autocratic Azerbaijan, and how will they exercise their political and civil rights? Finally, what will happen to its security forces and services, necessary to ensure the self-defense, security, and rule of law of people?
- How can even the cultural and social rights of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, at times vaguely and inconsistently promised by Azerbaijani authorities, be ensured if Azerbaijan has been practising a systematic policy of ethnic hatred directed against Armenians? The Azerbaijani authorities have been bringing up generations of Azerbaijanis with that mindset, continuing to present them with distorted versions of history and subsequent territorial claims, damaging Armenian monasteries, removing Armenian artifacts, denying the Armenian origin of the cultural heritage of Artsakh and declaring them to be Caucasian Albanian, Russian or Udi, and intentionally causing a humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh through depriving its inhabitants of normal living conditions and livelihood opportunities? Pashinyan himself referred in his speech to the case of Armenia vs. Azerbaijan on the Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) brought to the International Court of Justice in 2021, as well as Azerbaijan’s violations of provisional measures indicated by the ICJ to protect certain rights claimed by Armenia and to refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.
- If the return of Azerbaijani displaced persons is expected to the Armenian part of Nagorno-Karabakh, what about the Armenian displaced persons from Hadrut and Shushi, which have been part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) in the Soviet Union but were seized by Azerbaijan during the 2020 war, as well as other regions such as Getashen and Shahumyan seized by Azerbaijan during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. While Shushi has historically been a multi-ethnic town, the rest of these regions had been populated predominantly by Armenians.
- Is Armenia even authorized to sign an agreement recognizing Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan if it has been stating that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a territorial claim but a matter of self-determination, security and rights of Artsakh Armenians, and the latter have claimed that they will never accept any status within Azerbaijan. Since the 2020 cease-fire statement, Armenia no longer has troops in Nagorno-Karabakh and has lost its role as a guarantor of security. In the absence of international recognition of the Artsakh authorities, Armenia is simply acting as their diplomatic agent with a moral responsibility to support them, but not make decisions on their behalf.
- If the peace agreement contains provisions, included under the threat of a new war, as manifested in multiple public statements by Aliyev, can it be considered valid and compliant with the UN Charter, given that Article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties defines that “a treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”
- Finally, in the absence of trust between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, can signing a peace agreement with Azerbaijan without resolving all these issues and without confidence-building lead to a sustainable peace, or will it backfire and lead to another cycle of conflict and ethnic cleansing?
Part II of this series will review the evolution of several comparable conflicts, to draw lessons and best practices. Part III will consider an applicable model for the way ahead toward a sustainable peace and reconciliation in Artsakh.
Magazine Issue N18
A survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, Soghomon Tehlirian assassinates Talaat Pasha, the mastermind behind the attempted annihilation of the Armenian nation in Berlin on March 15, 1921. Historian Suren Manukyan examines the repercussions and consequences of that act of revenge.Read more
The recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. stemmed from its own interests. Other allied powers are considering following suit. Will Armenia be able to take advantage of this shift in global geopolitics?Read more
Through the voices of his great-grandparents, Varak Ketsemanian gives the reader a small glimpse into the inner world of Genocide survivors.Read more
Many took the harrowing experience with them to their graves. Others would share only fragments of memories. All of them suffered unimaginable loss. They were the orphans of the Armenian Genocide and their stories must never be forgotten.Read more
From those who survived the Armenian Genocide to those who moved to Soviet Armenia during the Great Repatriation of the 1940s, Western Armenians contributed to Yerevan’s incredible rise as a major city, turning it into the heart and soul of the Armenian nation.Read more