Confused territorial conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh

by Gerd Brenner

Since 27 September 2020, the fighting for the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus has been raging with a ferocity not seen for years. Azerbaijan apparently intends these days to solve the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh unilaterally by military means.

The Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, after the break-up of the Soviet Union. In the same year, the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous oblast declared itself independent of Azerbaijan, of which it had been a part since 1921. At that time, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union put an end to a long dispute that had been accompanied by pogroms and expulsions on both sides. The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was allocated to the Republic of Azerbaijan as an autonomous oblast.
  The internationally unrecognised Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has been calling itself Republic of Arzach since 2017. It consists of the actual heartland of Nagorno-Karabakh and a number of areas which are de jure the territory of Azerbaijan. The advancing Armenian and Karabakh troops conquered these areas in 1994, expelled the Azerbaijani inhabitants living there and established a kind of buffer zone. This zone is still largely deserted today. The city Ağdam, for example, once had almost 30,000 inhabitants, mostly Azerbaijani. Today Ağdam is a ghost town. Another part of this buffer zone is the so-called Laçin corridor, which lies between the heartland of Nagorno-Karabakh and the territory of Armenia.
  An attempt by the OSCE’s Minsk Group, led by Russia, France and the US, to find a solution was to leave the heartland of Nagorno-Karabakh in its current form and to have a referendum on affiliation there. The surrounding Azerbaijani areas of the aforementioned buffer zone would be returned to Azerbaijan, with the exception of the Laçin corridor. An OSCE peacekeeping mission will be stationed in the region as a guarantee of the international community. This attempt to find a solution was elaborated at the OSCE Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Madrid in 2007 and has since been called “Madrid Principles”.
  In three resolutions the UN Security Council condemned the occupation by Armenia of the Azerbaijani districts of Zangelan, Ağdam and Kelbadjar in the buffer zone. The Republic of Arzach itself is not internationally recognised, not even by Armenia. The latter has so far reserved the right to recognise the Republic of Arzach, knowing that such a step would definitely close the door to a negotiated solution with Azerbaijan. In the course of the ongoing fighting in recent days, Arzach now called on the international community to recognise the republic, because, according to the calculations in the capital Stepanakert (Azerbaijani: Khankendi), consideration for the Azerbaijani side no longer needs to be taken.
  Various principles of international law compete in Nagorno-Karabakh: While Azerbaijan insists on its territorial integrity, Armenia refers to the right of self-determination of peoples. In the light of the atrocities of the past, a reintegration of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh into the Republic of Azerbaijan and a return of the Azeris, who were expelled over 25 years ago, to their old homeland is hardly conceivable. The conflict cannot be understood with categories of good and evil, nor can it be solved simply by diplomatic and military means. The reasons for the conflict are too complex and the connections with other conflicts too numerous.   •

(Translation Current Concerns)

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