Political status of Nagorno-Karabakh
Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, calling itself the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a de facto independent but unrecognized state. The territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, which has not exercised power over most of the region since 1991. Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group on the region's disputed status.
Political ties with Armenia
The politics of Armenia and the de facto Karabakh republic are so intermingled that a former president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Robert Kocharyan, became first the prime minister (1997) and then the president of Armenia (1998 to 2008).
According to Human Rights Watch, "from the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia provided aid, weapons, and volunteers. Armenian involvement in Karabakh escalated after a December 1993 Azerbaijani offensive. The Republic of Armenia began sending conscripts and regular Army and Interior Ministry troops to fight in Karabakh."
Positions and statements
The sovereign status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not recognized by any United Nations member state (including Armenia), but has been recognized by Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia; Transnistria is not recognized by any UN member state, while the latter two have international recognition from several UN member states. Three UN Security Council Resolutions (853, 874, and 884) and United Nations General Assembly resolutions 49/13 and 57/298 refer to Nagorno-Karabakh as a region of Azerbaijan. None of these resolutions were passed under Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) of the Charter. Certain politicians and legal scholars have expressed the view that resolutions are only legally binding if they are made under Chapter VII of the Charter. According to a report prepared by British parliamentarian and rapporteur David Atkinson, presented to Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), "the borders of Azerbaijan were internationally recognised at the time of the country being recognised as independent state in 1991," and "the territory of Azerbaijan included the Nagorno-Karabakh region."
The latest resolution, #1416, adopted by PACE, stated that "Considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces, and separatist forces are still in control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region." The resolution further stated: "The Assembly reiterates that the occupation of foreign territory by a member state constitutes a grave violation of that state’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and reaffirms the right of displaced persons from the area of conflict to return to their homes safely and with dignity." Recalling the Resolutions 822, 853, 874, and 884 (all 1993) of the UN Security Council, PACE urged "the parties concerned to comply with them, in particular by refraining from any armed hostilities and by withdrawing military forces from any occupied territories." The resolution also called on "the Government of Azerbaijan to establish contact, without preconditions, with the political representatives of both communities from the Nagorno-Karabakh region regarding the future status of the region."
The Council of Europe called on the Nagorno-Karabakh de facto authorities to refrain from staging one-sided "local self-government elections" in Nagorno-Karabakh. "These so-called 'elections' cannot be legitimate," stressed Council of Europe Committee of Ministers' Chairman and Liechtenstein Foreign Minister Ernst Walch, Parliamentary Assembly President Lord Russell-Johnston and Secretary General Walter Schwimmer. They recalled that following the 1991–1994 armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a substantial part of the region's population was forced to flee their homes and are still living as displaced persons in those countries or as refugees abroad. This position was reiterated by Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe on 4 August 2004 with regard to the next elections, staged in the province, and by the Chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on 12 July 2007 with regard to the presidential elections organised in Nagorno-Karabakh. On 21 May 2010 Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated: "I would like to recall that the European Union does not recognise the constitutional and legal framework within which the "parliamentary elections" in Nagorno Karabakh will be held this Sunday. This event should not prejudice the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict". OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs stated that "Although the Co-Chairs understand the need for the de facto authorities in NK to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure, they underscore again that Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized as an independent and sovereign state by any of their three countries, nor by any other country, including Armenia. The Co-Chairs consider that this procedure should not preempt the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the broader framework of the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict".
The European Union declared that "The European Union confirms its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and recalls that it does not recognise the independence of Nagorno Karabakh. The European Union cannot consider legitimate the 'presidential elections' that were scheduled to take place on 11 August 2002 in Nagorno Karabakh". The European Union reiterated this position with regard to the presidential elections, held in the region in 2007.
The US Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2006, released on 6 March 2007 stated that "Armenia continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. During the year incidents along the militarized line of contact separating the sides again resulted in numerous casualties on both sides".
According to an analysis by New England School of Law's Center for International Law & Policy, "Nagorno Karabagh has a right of self-determination, including the attendant right to independence, according to the criteria recognized under international law." As the analysis elaborates, "the principle of self-determination is included in Articles 1, 55, and 73 of the United Nations Charter," and it has been "codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights--which are considered to constitute the international 'Bill of Rights.'" Furthermore, "the right to self-determination has also been repeatedly recognized in a series of resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, the most important of which is Resolution 2625(XXV) of 1970." As the analysis continues, "the Azerbaijanis argue that political independence for Nagorno Karabagh violates the right of Azerbaijan to territorial integrity. But the claim to territorial integrity can be negated where a state does not conduct itself 'in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples' and does not allow a subject people 'to pursue their economic, social and cultural development' as required by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2625(XXV). Moreover, it should be noted that when Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union, it claimed to be the successor state to the Azerbaijani Republic of 1918–1920.
The League of Nations, however, did not recognize Azerbaijan's inclusion of Nagorno Karabagh within Azerbaijan's claimed territory. The analysis further states that Nagorno Karabakh's secession was in compliance with the existing Soviet law. Following Soviet Azerbaijan's declaration of independence on 30 August 1991, "Nagorno Karabagh initiated the same process through the joint adoption of the 'Declaration of the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh' by the local legislative councils of Nagorno Karabagh and the bordering Armenian-populated Shahumian district. The only difference was that, for Karabagh, independence was declared not from the Soviet Union but from Azerbaijan.
This act fully complied with existing law. Indeed, the 1990 Soviet law titled 'Law of the USSR Concerning the Procedure of Secession of a Soviet Republic from the USSR,' provides that the secession of a Soviet republic from the body of the USSR allows an autonomous region and compactly settled minority regions in the same republic's territory also to trigger its own process of independence." This act, as the analysis continues, was not annulled by the "USSR Constitutional Oversight Committee," as the "declaration was deemed in compliance with the then existing law." Furthermore, "on 10 December 1991, the Nagorno Karabagh Republic held its own referendum on independence in the presence of international observers. The vote overwhelmingly approved Karabagh's sovereignty. This action of Nagorno Karabagh, which at that time was part of a still existent and internationally recognized Soviet Union, corresponded fully with the relevant Soviet law pertaining to leaving the USSR." Finally, on 6 January 1992, the "parliament of Karabagh adopted its Declaration of Independence on the basis of the referendum results."
A background paper prepared by the Directorate General of Political Affairs of the Council of Europe for the seminar "Youth and Conflict Resolution" (Strasbourg, 31 March – 2 April 2003), on the other hand, states, "The Armenian side maintains that the N-K independence referendum was conducted in accordance with the USSR law on the 'Procedure for Solving Issues of Secession of a Soviet Republic from the USSR' of 3 April 1990. Article 3 of this law provided autonomous regions within the Soviet republics with the right to determine independently, by referendum, whether they wished to remain within the USSR or join the republic seceding from the USSR. It would however seem that according to this law N-K would have the choice of two options – to remain within the USSR or to join independent Azerbaijan; N-K independence does not seem possible".
According to the article in "The Journal of Conflict Resolution", the Armenian side "justified its claim by Article 70 of the Soviet Constitution, which affirms the right to self-determination of the peoples of the USSR. In fact, this recognition of the principle of self-determination is only part of a general declaratory statement about the nature of the Soviet federation: “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is an integral, federal, multi-national state formed on the principle of socialist federalism as a result of the free self-determination of nations and the voluntary association of equal Soviet Socialist Republics. The USSR embodies the state unity of the Soviet people and draws all its nations and nationalities together for the purpose of jointly building communism.” There is no mechanism, other than the right of the union republics to secede (Article 72 of the constitution), through which to express the right of self-determination".
The actual declaration of establishment of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, issued on 2 September 1991, states that the republic is proclaimed pursuant to the USSR law of secession, and that it "enjoys the authorities given to Republics by the USSR Constitution and legislation and reserves the right to decide independently the issue of its state-legal status based on political consultations and negotiations with the leadership of Union and Republics." The Declaration further states that "the USSR Constitution and legislation, as well as other laws currently in force, which do not contradict the goals and principles of this Declaration and peculiarities of the Republic apply on the territory of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, until the NKR Constitution and laws are adopted."
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan states that "according to this Law, in a Union republic containing autonomous republics, autonomous provinces and autonomous regions, the referendum had to be held separately in each autonomous unit, the people of which retained the right to decide independently the question of staying in the USSR or in the seceding Union republic, as well as to raise the question of their own state-legal status. It is important to emphasize that the secession of a Union republic from the USSR could be regarded valid only after the fulfillment of complicated and multi-staged procedure and, finally, the adoption of the relevant decision by the Congress of the USSR People's Deputies. However, until the Soviet Union ceased to exist as international person the mentioned Law was without legal effect, since no Union republic, including Azerbaijan and Armenia, had used the procedure for secession stipulated in it".
The OSCE Minsk Group has allowed the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (referring to it as the "leadership of Nagorny Karabakh"), as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan, to participate in the peace process as "parties to the conflict," and the Azerbaijani community of the region – as an "interested party". The Chairman of the CSCE Minsk Conference mentioned that "the terms 'party to the conflict' and 'leadership of Nagorny Karabakh' do not imply recognition of any diplomatic or political status under domestic or international law". The Azerbaijani community is led by Bayram Safarov, the head of the executive power of Shusha region.
At a recent press conference in Yerevan, Yuri Merzlyakov, the OSCE Minsk Group Russian Co-Chair stated, "At the press conference in Baku I underlined that Nagorno Karabakh was a part of Azerbaijani SSR and not of Azerbaijan. I perfectly know that till 1917 Nagorno Karabakh was a part of the Russian Empire. The history is necessary in order to settle conflicts, but it is necessary to proceed from international law". Meanwhile, on 10 June 2007 after US-Azerbaijani security consultations in Washington D.C. with Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov, Deputy Assistant Secretary of US Department of State, US Co-Chairman of OSCE Minsk group Matthew Bryza in a joint press conference announced: "In the circles of international law there is no universal formula for the supremacy of territorial integrity over the right of self-determination of people.".
United Nations General Assembly
On 14 March 2008, the United Nations General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution by a vote of 39 to 7, with 100 abstentions, reaffirming Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, expressing support for that country's internationally recognized borders and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories there. The resolution was supported mainly by members of the OIC and GUAM, both of which Azerbaijan is a member, as well as other nations facing breakaway regions. The resolution was opposed by all three members of the OSCE Minsk Group.
On 20 May 2010, the European Parliament adopted a resolution "on the need for an EU strategy for the South Caucasus", which states that EU must pursue a strategy to promote stability, prosperity and conflict resolution in the South Caucasus. The resolution "calls on the parties to intensify their peace talk efforts for the purpose of a settlement in the coming months, to show a more constructive attitude and to abandon preferences to perpetuate the status quo created by force and with no international legitimacy, creating in this way instability and prolonging the suffering of the war-affected populations; condemns the idea of a military solution and the heavy consequences of military force already used, and calls on both parties to avoid any further breaches of the 1994 ceasefire". The resolution also calls for withdrawal of Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan, accompanied by deployment of international forces to be organised with respect of the UN Charter in order to provide the necessary security guarantees in a period of transition, which will ensure the security of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and allow the displaced persons to return to their homes and further conflicts caused by homelessness to be prevented; and states that the EU believes that the position according to which Nagorno-Karabakh includes all occupied Azerbaijani lands surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh should rapidly be abandoned. It also notes "that an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh could offer a solution until the final status is determined and that it could create a transitional framework for peaceful coexistence and cooperation of Armenian and Azerbaijani populations in the region."
In October 2013, the European Parliament adopted the Resolution on the European Neighbourhood Policy in which it is stated that the occupation by one country of the Eastern Partnership (which includes Armenia and Azerbaijan) of the territory of another "violates the fundamental principles and objectives of the Eastern Partnership and that the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should comply with UN Security Council resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of 1993 and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Basic Principles, enshrined in the L’Aquila joint statement of 10 July 2009".
OSCE Minsk Group
On 26 June 2010, the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group's Co-Chair countries, France, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America made a joint statement, reaffirming their "commitment to support the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan as they finalize the Basic Principles for the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict".
Also in 2006, Russia published its 63-volume Great Encyclopedia which described Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent entity that belonged to Armenians historically, in its introduction to the region. Azerbaijan has protested this passage in the Russian encyclopedia. It handed a protest letter to the Russian ambassador to Azerbaijan demanding that the encyclopedia be confiscated and amended.
Independence recognition efforts
|Passed a bill recognizing
|Rejected or deferred a bill recognizing||Passed a bill recognizing
Azerbaijani territorial integrity
|Azerbaijani territorial integrity||Nagorno-Karabakh|
| California (May 2014)
Louisiana (May 2013)
Maine (Apr 2013)
Massachusetts (Aug 2012)
Rhode Island (May 2012)
| Hawaii (Feb 2014)
Mississippi (Apr 2014)
South Dakota (Feb 2014)
Tennessee (Mar 2014)
Wyoming (Feb 2014)
|Vermont (Apr 2014)||None|
Before California recognized Nagorno-Karabakh in May 2014, three places within the state had already recognized it:
- Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
- Armenian-controlled territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh
- Foreign relations of Nagorno-Karabakh
- UN Security Council resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
- "Statement of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group". OSCE. Retrieved June 25, 2011.
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- "There is a hierarchy of resolutions... Chapter 6, under which all resolutions relating to the middle east have been issued, relates to the pacific resolution of disputes. Above that, there are the mandatory chapter 7 resolutions, which impose the clearest possible obligations, usually on a single state rather than on two or three states, which is what chapter 6 is there for. Chapter 7 imposes mandatory obligations on states that are completely out of line with international law and policy, and the United Nations has decided in its charter that the failure to meet those obligations may be met by the use of force." Straw, Jack. House of Commons debates, Hansard, Column 32, 24 September 2002.
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- "There are several types of resolutions: Chapter 6 resolutions are decisions pursing the Pacific Settlement of Disputes, and put forward Council proposals on negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies, and other peaceful means. Chapter 7 resolutions are decisions for Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, involving use of force and sanctions, complete or partial interruption of economic relations, rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic radio and other means of communication and the severance of diplomatic relations. Resolutions passed under Chapter 7 of the Charter are binding on all UN members, who are required to give every assistance to any action taken by the Council, and refrain from giving any assistance to the country against which it is taking enforcement action." Iran dossier crosses the Atlantic: Where to from here? (Microsoft Word document), Greenpeace position paper on Iran.
- Mr David Atkinson, United Kingdom, European Democrat Group, (Rapporteur) The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 29 November 2004
- Resolution 1416: The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 25 January 2005
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