801) The Karabakh Problem


                                                          Ömer E. Lütem *


This essay will include a brief history of the Karabakh problem which constitutes the most important conflict in the South Caucasus and analyze the invasion by Armenian forces of Azerbaijani territories, international efforts directed at the solution of the problem, the main resolutions adopted by international organizations on this issue and the benefits regional countries stand to gain from the settlement of the conflict.


Karabakh and Mountainous Karabakh are two different geographical terms. Karabakh is the approximately 18.000 km2-sized area between the Kura and Arax rivers of Azerbaijan and Lake Sevan (Gökçe Gölü) of Armenia. Of this region 4300 km2 is mountainous and commands strategic value. This region has been called Nagorny (mountainous) Karabakh by the Russians and constitutes today the point of conflict between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians. This area is now called Karabakh only, mainly because of practical reasons.           


The Russian Empire, primarily due to geo-strategic concerns, created the Karabakh problem approximately two centuries ago. At the outset of the 19th century, Turkic peoples and especially Azerbaijanis were in the majority and Armenians constituted a minority in the regions that are modern day Karabakh and Armenia. The majority of the Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire and Iran. Karabakh, which in the Turkish language means black garden or black vineyard, was a Khanate composed mainly of Azerbaijanis.


After gaining control of the Caucasus, the Russian Empire followed a policy of increasing the Armenian population in the region, as it was convinced that this would make administering the area easier [1]. With this aim, the Russian Empire especially tried to move to the Caucasus those Armenians living in Iran and the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire. Parallel to this development, a part of the Muslim population of Karabakh migrated to the other regions of Azerbaijan and to Ottoman territories. The Russian policy of moving Armenians to the Caucasus was successful in eventually changing the ethnic composition in the area and particularly in Karabakh. While the Armenians continued to move to the Southern Caucasus throughout the 19th century, with the exception of some areas, they did not become a majority in many regions.  However the flow of Armenians from Eastern Anatolia to the Caucasus after the Balkan Wars and the migration of approximately 420.000 Armenians [2] to the region during and following World War I led to Armenians forming a majority in the regions that modern day Armenia is comprised of.


The Russian policy of moving Armenians to the Caucasus yielded the following results: the increase of Armenians in the Caucasus made it difficult for the Moslem peoples in the region to unite against the invading Russian forces and prevented them from cooperating against the Russians with Iran and the Ottoman Empire - the two Moslem powers in the region. The Armenians under Russian control played an important role in the revolt of the Ottoman Armenians and the propagation of the idea of an independent Armenia. It was under the same influence that the Ottoman Armenians sided with the Russian army in the First World War. On the other hand, settling Armenians in Karabakh also led to a serious conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia that occasionally escalated into armed conflict.


With the collapse of the Russian Empire an Armenian state was created in the Caucasus in 1918. The Sèvres treaty, which essentially liquidated the Ottoman Empire, granted to the Armenians vast territories in East Anatolia. The Armenians initiated a war to take possession of the said territories but were defeated by the Turkish forces and accepted the boundaries in force today. Soon after Armenia ceased to exist as an independent state and joined the Soviet Union.


            After all of the Caucasus came under Soviet control, the Mountainous Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (region) was created and attached to Azerbaijan. According to Armenian sources [3] this region with an overwhelmingly Armenian population was attached to

Azerbaijan because the Soviets were practicing the policy of “divide and rule.”  Stalin, who as a native of Georgia knew the conditions in the Caucasus very well drafted the following map: Nakhichevan is separated from Azerbaijan through an Armenian corridor. Thus Azerbaijan loses direct contact with one of her important provinces. Furthermore, Turkey is prevented from becoming a neighbor of Azerbaijan.  Karabakh is attached to Azerbaijan, thereby creating a source of continuous discontent between Azerbaijan and Armenia, forcing the two parties to resort to the mediation of Moscow.


            During the Stalin era occasional demands of Karabakh being attached to Armenia  were met with harsh reactions from Moscow. For instance, it has been claimed that one of the reasons for the assassination in 1936 of Khanjian, the First Secretary of the Armenian Communist Party, can be traced back to the Karabakh problem [4]. After the Second World War the USSR demanded from Turkey not only control of the Turkish Straits but also the provinces of Kars and Ardahan and simultaneously it called on the Armenians of the diaspora to settle in Armenia, thereby further strengthening the existing nationalism in Armenia. However the Soviets tried hard to allow this nationalism to be aimed abroad only (in other words towards Turkey) while attempting to keep the same sentiment from impacting on national problems such as Karabakh.


            The Karabakh problem could only reemerge in the atmosphere of relative freedom that followed the death of Stalin. At this time some personalities from Karabakh applied to Moscow on numerous occasions and demanded that the area be joined with Azerbaijan. Clashes that erupted in 1988 between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Khankendi, the capital of the region that was now known as Stepanakert showed that there was a strong tendency in Karabakh for joining Armenia. It also appears that this tendency was being covertly supported by Armenia. The Armenian diaspora which always pursued dreams of creating a greater Armenia also wanted to see Karabakh being a part of Armenia. Moscow disregarded these requests, which if granted, would upset the existing order. In 1973 Boris Kevorkov became head of the Karabakh Communist Party and while serving in that capacity maintained the status quo as demanded by Moscow. During this 15 year period, those asking to join Armenia were accused of engaging in Dashnak propaganda.


Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary General of the Communist party in 1985 and tried to implement the much needed reforms that the conservative party cadres had been preventing. Gorbachev demanded these reforms to be founded on certain basic principles such as restructuring (perestroyka), openness (glasnost), democratization (demokratizatzia) and new thinking (novoe mysshlenia). Thus an era of relative liberalization started in the USSR, causing long unvoiced complaints to surface and nationalistic sentiments to gain strength. Strong nationalistic currents emerged quickly in Armenia and Karabakh, demands that Karabakh be annexed to Armenia were made and street protests organized.


A serious crisis erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia when the latter supported the demands of Karabakh. As the USSR was breaking up, it could not be decisive enough to overcome the crisis. Soon after these developments it became more concerned with trying to preserve its presence in the region and to that end implemented policies that often supported Armenia but sometimes Azerbaijan as well. The USA and  European powers  had no real influence in the region at that time.  While stating that they supported peace initiatives, on overall they followed a policy of non-involvement. This created a very conducive conjecture for Armenia.


In February 1988 protests were being held in Karabakh and in Armenia. The Karabakh Parliament (110 of the 140 members were Armenian) decided on February 18, 1988 that the region should be annexed to Armenia. However the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR rejected this decision citing that this would be harmful to relations between nationalities and that it was a product of the provocation of national extremists. In the meantime the protests had grown and 100.000 persons had gathered in the Opera Square in Yerevan on February 22. The protests only stopped after Gorbachev delivered a calming speech on February 26 and agreed to meet with representatives of the “Committee for Karabakh” that had been elected in Yerevan. However, clashes erupted between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Baku and Sumgait when Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were attacked and had to flee. The clashes in Sumgait on 28-29 February resulted in the deaths of 26 Armenians and 6 Azerbaijanis. 197 were wounded [5].


            Despite the ban, protests continued and on March 12, 1988 the Karabakh Parliament passed another resolution renewing the demand to be annexed to Armenia. On May 21,1988 the First Secretaries of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Communist Parties, Bagiraov and Demirchyan respectively, were relieved of their duties by Moscow, ostensibly for health reasons. Suren Haroutunian in Armenia and Abdul Rakhman Vezirov in Azerbaijan replaced them [6].


On June 15 the Armenian Parliament decided to request from the Azerbaijani Parliament and the Supreme Soviet that Karabakh be incorporated into Armenia. This decision was based on Article 70 of the Soviet Constitution which stated that the USSR was an integral, federal, multinational state formed on the principle of the right to self-determination of nations and voluntary associations of equal Soviets. On the other hand the Azerbaijani Parliament decided on June 17 that the decision of the Armenian Parliament was null and void, based on Article 78 of the Soviet Constitution which stated that the territory of a Union Republic could not be altered without its consent. From a purely legalistic point of view, it is clear that the region of Karabakh, which is not a Soviet Republic, could not resort to the provisions of Article 70 of the Soviet Constitution.


After the Parliament of Armenia, on July 12, 1988 the Parliament of Karabakh also demanded immediate secession from Azerbaijan and incorporation into Armenia as an autonomous Oblast to be known by its ancient name Artsakh [7]. On July 18, this was

discussed in the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet and the demand was rejected. This decision prompted large protests and strikes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.    


Moscow, considering the inability or unwillingness of the local administrators of Armenia and Azerbaijan in resolving the Karabakh issue, established the “Special Administrative Committee for Nagorny Karabakh” and appointed Arkady Volsky of the USSR Communist Party Central Committee as its chairman.


On November 24, 1988 a state of emergency was declared in Azerbaijan in Ganja  (then known as Kirovabad) and Nakhichevan. Three days later the party leaders of the said town and region were dismissed. Troops began evacuating Armenians from these regions. In the weeks following this event tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis fled Armenia and a similar amount of Armenians fled Azerbaijan. According to statements made in Moscow, 87 died in the incidents and 1500 were wounded. 158.000 Armenians fled Azerbaijan while 141.000 Azerbaijanis fled Armenia and 15.855 weapons were seized [8].


On December 7, 1988 an earthquake struck Armenia and caused the death of close to 25.000 persons. Even this tragic incident did not stall the protests in Armenia. In a television address on December 11, Gorbachev denounced those that were trying to exploit the earthquake for political aims. Armenian nationalists had spread rumors that evacuation of the devastated areas would be used as a pretext for dispersing large numbers of Armenians outside of their homeland.


In face of the incessant turmoil, Moscow adopted a tougher stance at the beginning of 1989. The members of the Karabakh Committee in Armenia who had been organizing the protests were arrested and a curfew was declared. Furthermore, a significant number of changes were implemented in the Communist Parties and local governments in Azerbaijan and Armenia. On January 28, 1989 the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Hasan Seyitov was relieved of his position due to health reasons and replaced by Ayaz Mutalibov. In Karabakh the First Secretary of the Communist Party Genrik Pogosian also retired due to health reasons. Furthermore, Karabakh was placed under direct rule from Moscow on January 12, 1989 [9]. It was stated that Karabakh would retain its status as part of Azerbaijan.


These drastic measures implemented by Moscow brought about relative calm for some time. However a few months later protests started in Armenia demanding the release of those that had been arrested previously. In Karabakh - now under the direct rule of Moscow- clashes between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians in May could only be prevented through the intervention of Soviet troops. On August 16 a National Council in which only Armenians participated was established in Karabakh.


The Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet ended direct rule from Moscow over Karabakh on November 28, 1989. The Special Committee for Nagorny Karabakh was also dissolved. However Soviet troops remained in Karabakh. Thus, theoretically Karabakh was returned to Azerbaijan. Yet the Supreme Soviet demanded from Azerbaijan that it pass new legislation guaranteeing full and real autonomy for Karabakh.  As a reaction to Karabakh being returned to Azerbaijani rule, the Armenian Parliament and the Karabakh National Council passed a resolution on December 1, 1989 stating that Karabakh was a part of a unified Armenian Republic. According to this resolution Armenian laws would apply in Karabakh and the Karabakh National Council was accepted to be the legal Government for the region. In Azerbaijan this decision was protested at a rally organized by the Popular Front which was increasingly gaining strength as a political movement. Approximately half a million persons attended the rally. Furthermore, the railroad to Armenia was blocked for a week.


In January 1990 the Armenian Parliament decided to extend the provisions of its budget and election laws to cover Karabakh. When the Armenian decision regarding a “unified Armenia” was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Soviet in Moscow, the Armenian Parliament voted to allow itself to veto legislation approved by Moscow [10]. These decisions displayed clearly that Armenia was on its way to independence and that it had the desire to annex Karabakh.


In Azerbaijan, during protests organized by the Popular Front and attended by a majority of persons who were refugees from Karabakh and Armenia, the Government was called upon to reassert full sovereignty over Karabakh, or resign. Karabakh was returned to the administration of Azerbaijan on November 28 but order could not be restored.


On January 13, 1990 fighting erupted between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Baku. 60 persons died in a few days and most of them were Armenians. On January 15 the Supreme Soviet in Moscow decreed to the dispatch of armed forces to Azerbaijan to stop the violence. The troops were authorized to use firepower. The Supreme Soviet also declared a state of emergency in Karabakh, and the adjacent regions of Azerbaijan as well as in Baku. In the meantime, in Baku protests demanding the resignation of the Government were still underway and barricades were being erected on the outskirts of the city. The USSR deployed 11.600 troops to Azerbaijan. Along with the 6000 troops already in the country the total number of Soviet troops exceeded 17.000. These units launched an attack on Baku from sea and land on January 19. According to official sources 82 died in street battles. The figure was as high as 600 according to the Popular Front. On January 20 the First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party Abdul Rakhman Vezirov resigned and Ayaz Mutalibov was assigned to replace him. Hasan Hasanov became Prime Minister [11].


The fact that 750.000 gathered in the largest square of Baku for the funeral of those killed by the Soviet troops displayed that the resistance against the USSR enjoyed wide popular support. However, Soviet troops continued to resort to force on January 24 and 43 leading members of the Popular Front were arrested. A military decree banned all strikes and protests and introduced a 30 day administrative detention period without trial. Baku returned to relative peace. Evacuation of the Armenians and Russians in Baku was suspended after the Popular Front agreed to guarantee their safety but more than 30.000 had already been evacuated. According to official figures, the death toll in the clashes in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani and Armenian borders in January 1990 exceeded 200. The representatives of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan and the National Movement of Armenia met in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on January 24. On February 15 they agreed to a cease-fire and the release of prisoners. However low intensity hostilities continued between the two sides. On February 13 railway traffic resumed. The Supreme Soviet in Moscow pointed out that efforts of the central authorities to normalize the situation in the Transcaucasus had achieved no positive results and ordered authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan to enter into talks to conclude a treaty aimed at restoring trust. Upon this, the Azerbaijani and Armenian Prime Ministers met in Tblisi but could not produce any results. 


In the meantime Moscow issued a decree ordering all illegal armed groups to disband and surrender their weapons or face a crackdown by security forces or army units. This decision was pertinent not only for the armed groups in the Caucasus but for those in Central Asia as well. It was also a warning for the Baltic States where unrest was rising. The newly elected Armenian Parliament voted to suspend the application of this decree on Armenian territory.


The new Parliament established following elections in Armenia convened on July 20. On August 4, 1990 Levon Ter- Petrosian was elected Speaker of the Armenian Parliament. This office was the equivalent of Head of State. The candidate of the Communist Party, Vladimir Movsisian received only 80 votes whereas Ter-Petrosian received 140. Vazgen Manukian was appointed Prime Minister [12]. Both Ter-Petrosian and Manukian were members of the Karabakh Committee mentioned above. The fact that these persons were elected to the highest offices in Armenia showed that Communist rule in Armenia had effectively come to an end. 


On August 23, 1990 the Armenian Parliament adopted a Declaration of Independence. According to this, the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was renamed as the Republic of Armenia. It was stated that Armenia was a self governing state, endowed with the supremacy of state authority, independence and sovereignty. It was also stated that only the constitution and laws of the Republic of Armenia were valid for the whole territory of the Republic of Armenia. According to the Declaration, military units of other countries and their military bases could be located on the territory of the Republic of Armenia only by the decision of the Armenian Parliament. The Republic of Armenia was to conduct an independent foreign policy and could establish direct relations with other states and national state units of the USSR.  Armenia was to create its own currency, national bank, tax and custom services and its own system of education. As is evident, Armenia would become a fully independent state. However the Declaration did not state that Armenia was declaring independence from the USSR. It appears that Armenia, while becoming de facto independent tried at the same time to preserve the protection of the USSR.

In the Armenian Declaration of Independence only a passing reference is made to the union of Armenia and Karabakh because it is assumed that the two are already united.  In fact this union was not legal since it had not been approved either by Azerbaijan to which Karabakh was attached or the USSR which had a say over the status of the “independent region”.


In the meantime, it must be pointed out that the Armenian Declaration of Independence also contained an article on Turkey. Article 15 of this document reads: “The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Turkey and Western Armenia”. This article not only accepted the claims of genocide which Turkey categorically rejected, it went further to state that international recognition would also be sought. The same article implied also that by referring to Eastern Anatolia as Western Armenia, the territorial integrity of Turkey was not being recognized. In line with this thinking, Armenia still has not declared that it recognizes the Kars Treaty of October 13, 1921 which established the border between the two states and which had been signed by the Armenian SSR.


 In brief, the Declaration of Independence has caused Armenia to become embroiled in conflict with Azerbaijan due to Karabakh and led to conflict with Turkey as well, due to claims of genocide and by not recognizing Turkish territorial integrity.


When few months later the hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the border regions intensified, Soviet troops helped Azerbaijani forces in accordance with the Moscow decree mentioned above. This was met by the protests of Armenians. Ter- Petrosian blamed the Soviet leader of cooperating with Azerbaijan to both punish the nationalistic Government of Armenia and uphold the Communist regime in Azerbaijan. Gorbachev had prepared a new Union Treaty, in a last effort to save the crumbling USSR. Azerbaijan signed this treaty alongside eight other Soviet Republics while Armenia refused to become party to it [13].


While the hostilities were continuing Russian President Yeltsin, and Kazak President Nur Sultan Nazarbayev were able to achieve a cease-fire agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh on September 24, 1991. According to this agreement all armed groups were to disarm and withdraw from Karabakh, leaving behind only Soviet troops. Hostages were to be freed and people returned to the villages they had been obliged to abandon. An estimated 800 people had died in clashes since 1988 and therefore the cease fire agreement was received well. Yet in the clashes that occurred 2 days later 15 were killed. It was difficult to claim that either Azerbaijan or Armenia was in complete control of the armed groups. On November 20 an Azerbaijani helicopter carrying a high ranking officer as well as civilians was shot down. Armenia did not accept Azerbaijani allegations regarding the incident. It is worth noting that shortly before the incident Azerbaijan had cut off gas supplies to Armenia.         


On November 21, 1991 the Azerbaijani Parliament annulled the autonomous status of Nagorny Karabakh which would be governed henceforth by National Unity Council [14]. The next day the USSR called on Azerbaijan and Armenia to abrogate all acts that would change Karabakh’s legal status. Both states accepted this decision which was in favor of Azerbaijan Karabakh being legally attached to it.


The Referendum on the independence of Armenia from the Soviet Union was held on September 21, 1991 and witnessed a record turnout of 95%. 94% voted in favor of independence from the Soviet Union [15]. On September 23 Armenia declared independence. The independent Armenian state covered 29.800 km2 and had a population of 3.283.000. The Nationalist Party to which President Ter-Petrosian also belonged was ruling Armenia. The Armenian Communist Party had ceased its activities in August.


In Azerbaijan only Ayaz Mutalibov joined the presidential elections of September 9, 1991. The Popular Front represented the rising political force in the country but was preoccupied with internal problems. On October 18 the Azerbaijani Parliament decided on independence. The referendum on December 29 affirmed this decision [16]. The newly created Republic of Azerbaijan was 86.600 km2 in size with a population of 7.023.000. The country was being administered by Ayaz Mutalibov’s Communist Party.


The Armenians in Karabakh held a referendum in parts of the region under their control and declared their independence on December 10, 1991 [17]. On December 28 they held parliamentary elections. 11 of the 81 seats in the new parliament were reserved for Azerbaijani Parliamentarians. Yet as the Azerbaijanis had not participated in the elections and considered them to be illegitimate, the seats were left vacant. On January 3, 1992 the Armenian Parliament recognized the independence of Karabakh. On January 8 Artur Mkrtchyan became Head of State [18]. In the meantime Karabakh applied for membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States but was not admitted.


According to the 1979 population census of the USSR the population of Karabakh was 160.000, of which 75 % were Armenians and the remainder Azerbaijanis [19].  As the Azerbaijanis fled or were forced to leave the region due to war, approximately 120.000 Armenians had remained in Karabakh when independence was declared.


In response to Karabakh declaring its independence, Azerbaijan placed the region under direct Presidential rule on January 2, 1992 and Salam Memetov was made responsible of the administration of the area. Yet this appointment was of little consequence since Azerbaijan did not control a large part of the said territory.


The USSR ceased to exist on December 21, 1991. Eleven of the former Republics, including Armenia and Azerbaijan created a loose union amongst themselves and named it the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Baltic States and Georgia did not join.


 Turkey recognized the independence of Armenia two days before the United States on December 24, 1991. Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel sent a message to President Ter-Petrosian and asked that territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders is respected [20]. This message was aimed at the indirect claims on Turkish territories voiced in the Armenian Declaration of Independence. Turkey was also disturbed by the allegations of genocide in the same document. When Armenia did not change its position on these issues Turkey did not establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan.

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On the other hand the Government of Demirel tried to establish good relations with Armenia. Armenia received its energy in the form of natural gas from the USSR and also from the Metsamor nuclear power plant. Due to the difficult internal situation in Georgia there was frequent disruption in the supply of gas. The nuclear power plant utilized outdated technology and would frequently be shut down as well. Turkey supplied Armenia with electricity during these dire economic times and donated 100.000 tons of grain. Turkey also undertook significant efforts for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Prime Minister Demirel summarized Turkish policy in the following statement: “To stay away from the conflict and to utilize diplomatic means to resolve it” [21]. This moderate policy, however, did not bring about a change in the Armenian stance on Karabakh or the demands it directed at Turkey.            


When Armenian forces started the invasion of Karabakh, Turkey tried to help Azerbaijan without upsetting Turkish-Armenian relations. The USA and European countries had adopted a position favoring Armenia as they were under the influence of the Armenian diaspora. The Demirel Government insistently cautioned that other states should not take sides in the conflict, that a new Israel should not be created in the Caucasus and that Armenia may become unwilling to negotiate if it felt the support of European states [22]. On the other hand, much `humanitarian aid` was being provided to Armenia from western states. Turkey allowed this aid to transit its territory and airspace but strictly controlled the shipments fearing that they may contain weapons.


This moderate policy of the Demirel Government towards Armenia drew much criticism in Turkey. On numerous occasions opposition leaders such as Bülent Ecevit and Mesut Yılmaz accused the Government of following a passive policy. As we shall see below, President Turgut Özal had a similar opinion. In many Turkish cities rallies against Armenia were organized.


When Turkey started helping Azerbaijan, Armenian politicians begun to disagree between themselves about the policy to follow regarding Turkey. Raffi Hovannisian, the Foreign Minister of Armenia, who was also an American citizen in his speech at the Istanbul meeting of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on September 10, 1992 voiced the claims of genocide and also said that Turkey had lost the neutral position it had initially displayed on the Karabakh issue. Hovannisian also said that Turkey should not make the resolution of the Karabakh conflict a pre-condition for normalization of relations with Armenia [23]. Furthermore, Hovannisian was critical of President Bush for US neutrality in the Karabakh conflict. Hovannisian resigned at the request of President Ter-Petrosian on October 16, 1992.


The disintegration of the USSR had a negative reflection on the Karabakh conflict. The USSR could legally determine who would administer this region and how. Problems had decreased when it had chosen to temporarily administer the region itself. On the other hand, the USSR also had the authority to send troops to the region. However when it became clear that the USSR would disintegrate the troops in and around Karabakh started to retreat, causing an escalation in the clashes between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, Commander in Chief of CIS, after the Hodjali massacre ordered the withdrawal of troops stationed in Karabakh and on the Armenia-Azerbaijan borders areas. He also told his troops to destroy all weaponry which could not be removed. However withdrawal of Soviet troops took time and did not start until June. Some of these forces remained in Armenia and later Russian military bases were set up in this country.


Hostilities in Karabakh increased in February 1992. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hüseyin Sadıkov and his Armenian counterpart Raffi Hovannisian met in Moscow on February 20 and called for a cease-fire. They also requested the granting of access for humanitarian deliveries. In the meantime, the Azerbaijani Parliament refused to endorse a peace plan of President Ayaz Mutalibov that called for cultural autonomy for Karabakh within Azerbaijan.


On February 25, 1992, Armenian forces took the town of Hodjali which lay to the north of Hankendi (Stepanekert). One source reported that more than 600 Azerbaijani civilians were killed, 127 wounded and 487 were taken prisoner [24].  Some have observed that the 366th Regiment of the Soviet Army (which had not left the region yet) had also participated in the assault [25]. Yet there is no indication that Moscow had ordered such an attack. Another source indicated that discipline had broken down in numerous parts of the Soviet Army, with many of the troops deserting, selling their weapons or shelling one or the other side of the conflict in return for money [26].


The Hodjali massacre caused great anger in the Azerbaijani public. Ayaz Mutalibov, who was trying to find a solution to the conflict in line with Moscow’s wishes resigned following massive demonstrations and accusations of failing to save Azeri lives in Karabakh. Yakup Mehmetov was appointed interim President.


The Hodjali massacre also caused great sensitivity in Turkey. Protests were organized in Istanbul. In an interview with the Financial Times President Özal proposed a blockade of Armenia to support Azerbaijan [27] but the Demirel Government was more cautious and sought the support of the Russian Federation, USA and France in obtaining a cease-fire. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hikmet Çetin proposed a six point peace plan to the concerned parties, international organizations and members of the UN Security Council. However Armenia refused to examine this plan, accusing Turkey of not being neutral.


On the other hand Iran succeeded to bring together in Teheran representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia on March 15, 1992 and had them sign an agreement envisaging a cease-fire and the lifting of economic sanctions. Although there were some skirmishes, generally the provisions of the said agreement were implemented for sometime.


During the CSCE Foreign Ministers meeting held in March 1992 in Helsinki, it was agreed that a peace conference in Minsk comprising Azerbaijan and Armenia would be convened with the participation of a delegation from Karabakh as observer. Furthermore, the USA, the Russian Federation, Germany, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Turkey would also join the conference. Preparatory meetings were held in Rome but the conference could not be held because the Armenian Administration of Karabakh would not accept the status of observer. The countries that were to join the conference accepted to work together for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict under the Minsk Group name. Despite the fact that it has been unsuccessful, the Minsk Group has remained the primary party responsible for the resolution of the conflict until today.


On May 8 Armenian forces took the town of Shusha. With the loss of this town almost all of Karabakh was now in Armenian hands. Armenian forces then targeted regions outside of Karabakh and on May 17 took Lachin, thereby enabling Armenia and Karabakh to be joined by a land corridor. 


The loss of the historic city of Shusha caused upheaval inside Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani Parliament blamed acting President Yakub Mehmetov for setbacks and reinstalled ex- President Mutalibov on May 14. Mutalibov cancelled the presidential elections scheduled for June 7 and declared a state of emergency in Baku. The next day 20.000 Popular Front supporters occupied the Parliament and Presidential Palace. Mutalibov fled and Isa Kamber was made President until elections.


In the meantime, one day after Shusha fell Armenian troops launched an attack on the town of Sadarak in Nakhichevan, near (10 km) the Turkish border. Like Karabakh, Nakhichevan was an independent region attached to Azerbaijan. Armenian nationalists always claimed the region, stating that it was a part of “historical Armenian lands”. The simple fact that like Karabakh, the word Nakhichevan is not known as a word with meaning in the Armenian language should be sufficient to counter this claim. On the other hand, unlike Karabakh, the population of Nakhichevan is Azerbaijani.


 Turkey took a close interest in Nakhichevan because of the common border with this region as well as due to the fact that it was one of the parties that with the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan established the status of the said region with the 1921 Kars Treaty.

The assault on Sadarak caused concern in Ankara. Since the Armenians had easily occupied Karabakh, there were fears that they could do the same in Nakhichevan. The Council of Ministers met and decided that Armenia had to be warned that Turkey would not allow the occupation of Nakhichevan and would not accept a change in the present borders [28]. At the same time the President of Nakhichevan, Haydar Aliyev, requested military assistance from Turkey. Azerbaijani interim President Isa Kamber stated that the 1921 Kars Treaty   authorized Turkey to militarily intervene in Nakhichevan.  The Commander of the Turkish Army General Muhittin Füsünoğlu  said that the armed forces were prepared for a potential operation [29].


            Bülent Ecevit, one of the leaders of the opposition, was demanding that Turkey intervene in Nakhichevan as soon as possible, warning that if Armenia were to occupy the region it would start demanding territories from Turkey [30]. Prime Minister Demirel was saying that an immediate military operation was not in question [31]. President Özal, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the territories that Armenians had occupied in both Karabakh and Nakhichevan must be taken back and that Turkey too had some responsibility in seeing this done [32].          


At the same time the Commander in Chief of the Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, was expressing that a third country joining the conflict could lead to World War III [33]. On 15 May 1992 - three days before the assault in Sadarak - a defense agreement had been signed in Tashkent between five CIS countries, including Russia and Armenia but excluding Azerbaijan. According to this agreement the signatory states would assist each other if their security would be endangered. This meant that the Russian Federation would have to assist Armenia if its security would be threatened.


The Turkish Government seemed determined to resolve this crisis through diplomatic means. With this aim it contacted all concerned states and international organizations. To quote Prime Minister Demirel; Armenia was “placed in a diplomatic straight jacket” [34]. This initiative resulted in the USA, England, Iran, Georgia, EU and NATO issuing statements stressing that borders could not be changed with the use of force. The Nakhichevan crisis finally ended when the Russian Federation also criticized Armenia and declared that it would not support illegal activities.


One issue that needs to be addressed regarding Nakhichevan is whether in fact the provisions of the Kars Treaty or Moscow Treaty both concluded in 1921 enable Turkey to militarily intervene in the said region. With the Moscow Treaty Turkey and the USSR agreed to Nakhichevan becoming an autonomous entity under the protection of Azerbaijan. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to the same status with the Kars Treaty. There are no provisions in these Treaties as to how the parties are to act if the treaties are violated and therefore there is also no mention of whether the parties have a right to use military force. This being the case, each state will have to determine what course of action it will take if the autonomous status of Nakhichevan is violated.


Returning to events relating to Karabakh, the Presidential elections in Azerbaijan that were held on June 7, 1992 were won by Abulfaz Elchibey, the leader of the Popular Front. Azerbaijani forces launched a counteroffensive on July 12 and in the followings days took the town of Mardakert  (Ağdara) in the north east of Karabakh as well as about 15 villages in the same region. The success of the Azerbaijani forces can partially be attributed to the fact that they had received their share of weapons from the disintegrated USSR [35].


Azerbaijan reclaiming Mardakert caused a crisis in Karabakh and the Government resigned. A state of emergency was declared. A Defense Committee which was invested with governmental power until the end of the war was established and Robert Kocharian was appointed to head it. He was a close associate of the Armenian President Ter-Petrosian.


The success of Azerbaijani forces in Karabakh led to Armenia reviewing its fundamental policy regarding Karabakh. On July 8 the Armenian Parliament passed a resolution in which it pledged consistent support for Karabakh and the rights of its population and went on to state that any document referring to Karabakh as being within the structure of Azerbaijan would be unacceptable [36]. Thereby Armenia had refused any solution to the Karabakh conflict according to which the said territory would remain within the boundaries of Azerbaijan.


The fighting concentrated in Lachin, namely around the corridor that had been established between Armenia and Karabakh. The cease-fire mediated by Kazakhstan on August 28 was violated, as was a second cease-fire, brokered by Russia on September 25. The offensive that Azerbaijani forces staged with the aim of taking control of the Lachin corridor was repulsed. In December the Armenian forces initiated an attack through which they regained most of the territories which they had previously lost.


As was pointed out above, Azerbaijan had signed an Agreement to join the CIS. However in a vote on October 7, 1992, the Azerbaijani Parliament decided not to ratify this Agreement. A few days later on October 12, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey signed a treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security in Moscow [37]. According to this agreement the parties would respect each others territorial integrity, inviolability of their borders and their independence. They were also committing to not resorting to use of force or the threat thereof, not intervening in internal affairs and respecting human rights. The principles regarding territorial integrity and the respect for the inviolability of borders were in favor of Azerbaijan. It is noteworthy that since Armenia claimed that Karabakh had never been a part of independent Azerbaijan it did not consider itself to be in violation of any of the mentioned principles.


1993 started with a joint peace initiative of Presidents Bush and Yeltsin. On January 3 the two leaders issued a statement calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed and resumption of peace negotiations under the aegis of the CSCE. Yet the hostilities continued, albeit at a lower intensity, as it was winter.


Armenia in particular went through a difficult winter that year. Industrial production ceased for two weeks. On January 23, the entire country was left without lighting  when Azerbaijanis in Georgia blew up a section of pipeline bringing gas to Armenia. Prime Minister Khosrov Haroutunian resigned. The new Prime Minister Hrand Bagratian stated that the top priority was to be solve the food and energy crisis. With U.S. help Armenia received 13 million Dollars credit from the World Bank and 59,4 million Dollars credit from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development [38].


While the opposition in Turkey continued to criticize Karabakh policies, the Government pursued its peace initiatives. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hikmet Çetin declared during a visit to Azerbaijan that Turkey and Russia had drafted a three stage plan aimed at ending the conflict. According to this plan, in the first phase the parties would declare a cease-fire. In the second phase all foreign military personnel around Karabakh would withdraw and finally, in the third phase all roads to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nakhichevan would be opened. But continuing fighting prevented the plan from being considered.


The Armenian forces took the town of Kelbajar on April 4, as well as its surroundings, thereby establishing a second corridor between Karabakh and Armenia. About 40.000 Azerbaijanis fled the region as a result of the assault. Armenian troops also attacked southwards from Karabakh towards the town of Fizuli. Like Lachin, both Kelbedjar and Fizuli were Azerbaijani lands outside Karabakh. The fact that fighting had spilled over from Karabakh into Azerbaijan constituted an escalation. Armenia denied that its regular troops were involved in the fighting and pretended that those fighting in this campaign were Armenians from Karabakh. However it was difficult to believe that the Armenians of Karabakh who numbered at most 120.000 people could easily overcome Azerbaijan with a population of 7 million.


When Kelbajar fell Turkey took two decisions:  First it stopped all scheduled and charter flights to or from Armenia. Second, it brought the matter to the Security Council. The Chairman of the Council issued a statement on April 7, expressing serious concern about developments as well as a call for a cease-fire and withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied areas. However Turkey’s proposal that the Security Council condemn Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan was rejected.


The fall of Kelbajar once again displayed the differences of opinion between President Özal and the Demirel Government. Prime Minister Demirel continued to state that there would be no Turkish military intervention in Armenia [39] while President Özal stressed that the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict was no longer defined by the issue of Karabakh and had taken the form of the “dream of greater Armenia,” therefore forcing Turkey to take military precautions. He said that military maneuvers could be conducted on the Armenian border and pointed out that in this day and age nothing could be achieved without taking a certain amount of risk [40].


Turgut Özal died unexpectedly on April 17, 1993. Elchibey and Ter-Petrosian met when both came to Ankara to attend his funeral. It was decided that negotiations should resume under the auspices of the OCSE.


On the other hand, the Security Council passed Resolution 822 on April 20, 1993 and demanded the immediate cessation of all hostilities and hostile acts with a view to establishing a durable cease-fire as well as immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from the Kelbedjar district and other recently occupied areas of Azerbaijan. The Council furthermore urged all parties concerned to immediately resume negotiations for the resolution of the conflict within the framework of the peace process of the Minsk Group of the CSCE. The Resolution reaffirmed also the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the region, the inviolability of international borders and the inadmissibility of the use of force. As there was no doubt that Kelbedjar and its surroundings were territories of Azerbaijan, this wording was in favor of Azerbaijan. On the other hand mention of the invasion of the Kelbajar district by the “local Armenian forces” left the impression that Armenia was not responsible of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands.  Furthermore, the usual criticism of the aggressor was not included in this Resolution. Finally, there was no mention of what the Security Council would do if its demands would not be met. In short, this Resolution was not of the substance to stop the aggressors.


Three days after this Resolution was adopted Turkey, Russia and the U.S. tabled a peace plan.  The plan called for the withdrawal by mid-May of Armenian forces from Kelbedjar which would be followed by a two month cease-fire during which CSCE sponsored negotiations would resume. Azerbaijan accepted the plan. The Armenian Government described the plan as positive but refused to approve it, claiming that the “Republic of Karabakh” required clarifications. A slightly amended version of the plan was approved on May 26 by Azerbaijan and Armenia but Karabakh’s Armenian Administration rejected it on the grounds that it failed to provide guarantees for the safety of the population and failed also to end the Azerbaijani economic blockade [41].


Meanwhile the Elchibey regime in Baku was losing power due to military defeats that were being suffered at the hands of the Armenians. Colonel Suret Huseinov who had been stripped of his rank for disobeying orders rebelled in Ganja. He repelled the forces of the Azerbaijani Army and began advancing on Baku. This led to the resignation of Prime Minister Panah Huseinov and the Speaker of Parliament Isa Kamber. On June 15, 1993 the President of Nakhichevan, Haydar Aliyev, was elected Speaker of the Azerbaijani Parliament. Unable to prevent the advance of the forces of Huseinov, Elchibey left for Nakhichevan on June 18 but he did not resign. On June 21 Huseinov’s forces entered Baku and he declared for himself all the powers of the Head of State.  The Parliament stated that Elchibey was incapable of effective control over the situation in the country or of performing his function and handed over presidential powers to Aliyev. Huseinov was appointed Prime Minister and Supreme Commander [42].


This confusion in Azerbaijan had presented the Armenians with the opportunity to attack once again. Mardakert, the last major town in Karabakh still held by the Azerbaijanis fell on June 27 and a Russian brokered cease-fire was declared. Three weeks later, on July 24 Armenian forces attacked again, this time taking the town of Agdam to the north of Karabakh as well as its surroundings.      


The Security Council called into emergency session by Turkey, convened on July 29, 1993 and passed Resolution 853 that contained the same elements as Resolution 822. It differed in stating that it condemned the seizure of the district of Agdam and all other recently occupied areas of Azerbaijan; it also condemned all hostile actions in the region, in particular attacks on civilians and bombardments of inhabited areas but the wording did not clarify who the aggressor was or who was being condemned. Furthermore, the Resolution urged the Government of the Republic of Armenia to exert its influence to achieve compliance by the Armenians of the Karabagh region of the Azerbaijani Republic with Resolutions 822 and the acceptance by this party of the proposals of the Minsk Group of the CSCE. This wording allowed one to infer that the aggressors were the Armenians of Karabakh. The only substantial positive aspect of the Resolution was that although indirectly, it affirmed that Karabakh belonged to Azerbaijan.


It was clear that with such wording, Resolution 853 would have as little effect on the Armenians as Resolution 822. Indeed, shortly after Resolution 853 was passed, Armenian forces took Jebrail on August 18, Fizuli on August 23, Kubatly on August 31 and Goradiz on September 3. At this point Russia intervened and established a cease-fire.


The towns mentioned above are very close to Iranian border and the Azerbaijanis fleeing from the Armenians had to take refuge there. Since this region of Iran is inhabited by ethnic Azerbaijanis, the Iranian Government wanted to prevent the influx of refugees and to do so, approximately 1000 Iranian troops entered Azerbaijani territory. This was seen as an escalation in the Karabakh conflict and was met with the protests of concerned parties, including Turkey. The problem was overcome when Iran agreed to build facilities to house 100.000 Azerbaijani refugees displaced by the Karabakh war [43].


It was observed that the Armenian side felt uneasy when the Turkish military units on the Armenian border were reinforced. President Ter-Petrosian called President Demirel on September 6 and voiced his concern, pointing out the it was not they who were responsible for the events but the Armenians of Karabakh. Demirel responded by saying that the occupation of Azerbaijani territories was causing an outrage in Turkey and that the occupation had to be stopped immediately [44].


At the same time there were important internal developments taking place in Azerbaijan. In a referendum held on August 29, 1993, 97,5 % of the participants stated that they had no confidence in Elchibey. Aliyev won the Presidential elections on October 3, securing 98,8 % of the votes [45].


After coming to power Aliyev took two important decisions.


The first was to make Azerbaijan a member of the CIS.  The most important criticism Russia directed at the Elchibey Government had been regarding its unwillingness to make Azerbaijan a member of this organization. It was speculated that the Russian policy of siding with Armenia on the Karabakh conflict could be traced to Azerbaijani unwillingness to join the CIS. Now it was expected that Russia would implement a more balanced policy.  However Azerbaijan continued to suffer defeats in Karabakh after it became member of the CIS.


Aliyev’s second important decision was to sign an agreement with a consortium of western oil companies led by BP on November 2, 1993. Thereby Azerbaijan not only opened a path to significant financial resources but also found it easier to voice its views in the United States.


On October 14, 1993 the United Nations Security Council passed another Resolution calling upon all parties concerned to make effective and permanent the cease-fire. This new Resolution numbered 874 reiterated the main points of Resolutions 822 and 853. The Resolution furthermore called for the implementation of the timetable concerning the withdrawal of forces from recently occupied territories and the removal of all obstacles to communication and transportation. None of the parties was condemned.


Ten days after Resolution 874 was passed, Armenian forces violated the cease-fire and attacked the Zengelan region of Azerbaijan. Approximately 50.000 Azerbaijanis crossed the Arax River and fled to Iran. The Security Council passed Resolution 884 on November 12, 1993 and as had become standard practice at this point, reiterated the principles of the previous Resolutions. Furthermore, it stated that continuation of the conflict in and around the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan would endangber peace and security in the region. It also stated that it condemned the violations of the cease-fire and particularly the occupation of the Zengelan district and the city of Goradiz, attacks on the civilians and the bombardments of the territory of Azerbaijan. The resolution demanded immediate cessation of armed hostilities, withdrawal of occupying forces from the Zengelan district and the city of Goradiz and from other recently occupied areas of Azerbaijan and strongly urged the concerned parties to make effective and permanent the cease-fire and continue to seek a negotiated settlement of the conflict within the context of the CSCE Minsk Process.


On December 21, 1993, Azerbaijani forces launched a counter-attack. They succeeded in retaking Goradiz and Agdam and seized some territory in the Kelbajar region as well. Although a cease-fire that would come into effect on March 1, 1994 was signed as a result of a Russian initiative, low intensity fighting continued. On March 22 Armenian forces went on the offensive and retook almost all of the above mentioned regions. These last hostilities showed that Azerbaijan could not liberate its occupied territories while also proving that Armenian forces could not advance any further. This situation made a lasting cease- fire possible.


On May 9, 1994 Rasul Kuliev, the chairman of the Azerbaijani National Assembly, signed in Bishkek a cease-fire protocol which had already been signed by the chairman of CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and the chairs of Armenia, Karabakh and Kyrgyzstan legislatures. In summary the protocol called for a cease-fire and deployment of international forces to act as peacekeepers. The ratification of the protocol in the Azerbaijani Parliament met some difficulty.  Some opposition deputies claimed that the protocol had effectively recognized Karabakh as an independent entity and that it sanctioned the deployment of Russian troops in the region under the guise of a peace keeping force.  After reassurances given by President Aliev that Russian troops would not be permitted into the conflict zone, the Parliament of Azerbaijan ratified the protocol [46].


Thus the hostilities that had been ongoing for six years came to a halt but although ten years have passed since then, peace could not be established between Azerbaijan and Armenia.


The main reason for the defeat suffered by Azerbaijan in Karabakh is the internal turmoil in the country and the implementation of inconsistent policies. While a single President starting from independence until cessation of hostilities ruled Armenia, Azerbaijan saw three. Furthermore, Mutalibov and Elchibey did not leave their offices under normal circumstances and the country witnessed numerous power struggles that at times superceded the conflict in Karabakh. Yet another factor that complicated affairs for Azerbaijan was that its successive Presidents did not follow similar policies regarding Karabakh. Mutalibov’s pro-Moscow policies did not bring about a solution. Elchibey disregarded Moscow entirely and his pan-Turkish policies did not find wide support in either Turkey or the Turkic states of Central Asia. It was during his tenure that the Armenians took certain Azerbaijani territories outside Karabakh. Haydar Aliyev made Azerbaijan a member of the CIS, hoping that Russia would then be willing to assist to only find that this would not be the case and that he would have to witness the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani towns such as Agdam, Fizuli, Jebrail, Kubatly, Goradiz and Zengelan.


As for Armenia, the insistent policy it had been pursuing to separate Karabakh from Azerbaijan since the 1960’s finally paid off during the disintegration of the USSR. It has been argued that since an annexation of Karabakh by Armenia would have constituted a violation of universal principles such as the inviolability of borders and respect for territorial integrity, the Armenians of Karabakh were used as proxies that could utilize the argument of a peoples right to self-determination, thereby separating Karabakh from Azerbaijan and declaring an independent state. This fictitious state, however, was not recognized by anyone.                                               


On the other hand, economic measures implemented by Azerbaijan and Turkey against Armenia coupled by roads frequently severed due to internal unrest in Georgia quickly turned Armenia into a country under a blockade. The economic crisis caused about one million Armenians to move to other countries, mainly Russia. The Armenian economy could not develop and funds sent by the diaspora and aid received from the World Bank and the European Bank for Construction and Development became vitally important.


Another result of the Karabakh conflict was that Armenia became dependent on the Russian Federation. Russia became Armenia’s primary economic partner. Armenia needed Russian support in nearly all fields and gave this country military bases. In time, Armenian authorities saw the benefits of a more balanced approach and tried to develop closer ties with the U.S. and EU states. This policy termed “complementarity” could not be properly implemented due to the dependence of Armenia on Russia. Today Armenia essentially looks like a satellite of the Russian Federation.



As for Turkey, it tried to establish and maintain good relations with Armenia. With this aim, Turkey became one of the first states to recognize Armenia, supplying this county with electricity and delivering 100.000 tons of grain. Armenia however, was captive to its historic prejudices and strived to gain recognition for its claims of genocide while at the same time it refused to recognize the borders of Turkey. On the other hand Turkey’s assistance to Azerbaijan was limited. To compensate this almost passive policy, Turkey conducted intense diplomatic activities aimed at halting the fighting and reaching a lasting solution that would take into consideration Azerbaijani interests. These efforts did not yield any tangible results. In short, the Turkish policy of establishing good relations with Armenia while simultaneously contributing to the resolution of the Karabakh conflict was unsuccessful.


The Russian Caucasus policy could be summarized as regaining the influence that the USSR has had in this region. However because it chose to support separatist activities in Abkhazia and Adjaria, Moscow has serious problems with Georgia and because of the policies it followed regarding Karabakh it has considerable difficulties with Azerbaijan. This made Armenia Russia’s sole close partner in the region and this status was further augmented when Russia obtained military bases in Armenia. It is pointed out that the two states are in a strategic partnership today. This close relationship shows that the Karabakh conflict cannot be resolved without the contribution of Moscow.


Regarding the U.S. certain facts must be taken into consideration when analyzing its Caucasus policy in general and Armenia policy in particular. Due to strategic considerations, the U.S. wishes to see security established in the region and therefore supports the solution of the Karabakh conflict. However a politically active Armenian diaspora in the United States operates as much in favor of Armenia and Karabakh as it does against Turkey and Azerbaijan. For instance, although it was Azerbaijan that was attacked, Congress cited the Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia to make an amendment in the Freedom Support Act (Section 975), thereby preventing the U.S. Government from granting humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan. One factor that is in favor of Azerbaijan is its very significant oil reserves. The fact that Azerbaijan gave western companies the right to produce and transport its oil was highly appreciated in the United States.


After the cease-fire in Karabakh, the CSCE Minsk Group accelerated the negotiation process. Starting in 1997 the Group conducted its efforts through the Russian, American and French co-chairs. Azerbaijan complained that these countries looked more favorably upon the Armenian position; Russia due to strategic considerations and France and the U.S. due to the Armenian diaspora. Nevertheless these three states have continued to guide the peace process until today.


A plan prepared by the Minsk Group co-chairs in May 1997 gave Karabakh an autonomous status within Azerbaijan and the right to its own constitution. It also called for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani provinces and the town of Shusha, which would be policed by OSCE forces. Karabakh would be granted the status of a free economic zone [47]. This plan was accepted by Azerbaijan.


The President of the region of Karabakh, Robert Kocharian, became Prime Minister of Armenia in May 1997. Arkady Gukasian won the Presidential elections in Karabakh in September and went on to reject the Minsk Group plan, claiming that it discounted the achievement of independence. He then proposed the creation of a federal or common state in which Azerbaijan and Karabakh would be of equal status.


In December 1997 the Minsk group presented to the parties a plan that was said to contain a few stages. According to this plan Armenian forces would first pull out of all Azerbaijani territories except for Shusha and Lachin and the refugees would be allowed to return. The status of the Shusha and Lachin corridors would be determined later.


In Armenia there were differences of opinion regarding the proposal of the Minsk Group. Armenian President Ter-Petrosian described the demands for independence for Karabakh as unrealistic [48] and favored a step-by-step approach to the resolution of the conflict. The Armenian administration in Karabakh stressed that all issues relating to the conflict should be resolved simultaneously and insisted on independence. As expected, Prime Minister Kocharian supported the view voiced in Karabakh. When his opinions on Karabakh were not supported by the Armenian Parliament President Ter-Petrosian resigned on February 3, 1998. Under the term of the Armenian Constitution Prime Minister Kocharian became acting President until presidential election. In the second round of voting held on March 30, Kocharian was elected President.


A OSCE peace plan tabled in November 1998 envisaged the formation of a “common state” comprising Azerbaijan and Karabakh. However this plan was rejected by Azerbaijan under claims that it threatened its territorial integrity. Azerbaijan stated that it supported the earlier proposal of the Minsk Group which provided for broad autonomy for Karabakh within Azerbaijan [49]. Later, on February 21, 2001 Azerbaijan made public the plans prepared by the Minsk Group. It became evident that the Common State envisioned gave Karabakh de facto independence, with its own constitution and armed forces and the right to veto any legislation enacted by the Azerbaijani Parliament.


The mistrust that Azerbaijan felt towards the Minsk Group led to the two Heads of State of Azerbaijan and Armenia to meet directly. The Minsk Group only played the role of facilitator. According to press reports during their meetings in March 2001 in Paris and in Key West in the U.S. in April, the two Presidents agreed on the following formula: Karabakh will legally belong to Azerbaijan but will enjoy a very broad autonomy. Armenia will be connected to Karabakh via a corridor and Azerbaijan will be connected to Nakhichevan with a similar corridor. It appeared that these corridors would be in Lachin and Meghri [50]. Armenian forces would pull out of the areas they had occupied and the railroad would resume its operations. This formula failed to deliver a result but the fact that the Heads of State as well as Foreign Ministers continued even today to meet raised hopes for an eventual settlement.


The Karabakh conflict was dealt with by some international organizations as well.


Above we have described the Resolutions passed by the UN Security Council. In these resolutions affirmation of the respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity of all states in the region, the inviolability of international borders and the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory were laid out as principles to be adhered to. Statements demanding the withdrawal of all occupying forces from occupied areas of Azerbaijan and expressing that Karabakh is a region of the Republic of Azerbaijan run contrary to the Armenian claims that Karabakh is an independent state that has taken territories that are in fact its own. However the Security Council Resolutions did not point out Armenia as an aggressor and did not condemn this state for its actions. 


The Council of Europe started taking a close interest in the Karabakh conflict after Azerbaijan and Armenia became members of this organization in 2001. Regarding this conflict, most recently the Parliamentary Assembly of this organization passed Resolution 1416 on January 25, 2005. This Resolution deserves to be examined closer since it is very recent and all European states are represented in the Council of Europe.


In this Resolution it is stated that the Parliamentary Assembly regrets that more than a decade after the armed hostilities started, the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. It goes on to point out that hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced, living in miserable conditions and stresses that considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces and that separatist forces control the Karabakh region. The Resolution states also that hostilities led to ethnic expulsion and the creation of mono-ethnic areas which resemble the results of ethnic cleansing. The Resolution adds that independence and cessation  of a regional territory from a state may only be achieved through a lawful and peaceful process based on democratic support by the inhabitants of such territory and not as a consequence of an armed conflict leading to ethic expulsion and the de facto annexation of such a territory to another state.


Furthermore the resolution reads as follows: “The Assembly  reiterates that the occupation of a foreign territory by a member state constitutes a grave violation of that state’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe” and goes on to remind that Armenia and Azerbaijan committed themselves upon their accession to the Council of Europe to use only peaceful means for settling the conflict and to refrain from any threat of using force against their neighbors.


In the Resolution, reference is made to UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 and Resolution 853 is particularly stressed. Also, member states are urged to refrain from the supply of any weapons and munitions which might lead to the intensification of the conflict or continued occupation of territory.


The Resolution goes on to reaffirm the right of displaced persons from the area of conflict to return to their homes safely and calls all members to provide humanitarian aid to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.


In the Resolution, regarding the future status of the region, the Assembly calls on the Government of Azerbaijan to establish contacts without preconditions with political representatives of both communities from the Karabakh region.


In the Resolution the Assembly suggests that if the negotiations under the auspices of the Co-Chairs fail, Armenia and Azerbaijan should consider resorting to the International Court of Justice.


Clearly Resolution 1416 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is not in accordance with Armenian views. Particularly two aspects are to the disadvantage of the Armenian side; the first is that Karabakh can not have an independent status since a lawful and peaceful process based on democratic support by the inhabitants of this territory, as required by the Resolution, did not take place in Karabakh. On the contrary, the Azerbaijanis were expelled from their homes and some were killed. This meant that an “armed conflict leading to ethnic expulsion” had taken place as stated in the Resolution. Secondly, the Resolution expressed that considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan were still occupied by Armenian forces and went on to stress that the occupation of a foreign territory by a member state constituted a grave violation of that state’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. While falling short of being an open condemnation of Armenia, these words were nonetheless harsh criticism.



In all the literature on the Karabakh conflict, the least mention is made of the position of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on this matter. In fact, this organization has taken numerous decisions regarding the conflict since 1994. Most recently the OIC Foreign Ministers in their meeting in Istanbul on June 14-16 2004, passed a Resolution numbered 10/31-P. 


The highlights of the said Resolution can be summarized as follows: It strongly condemned the aggression of the Republic of Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan, considered the actions perpetrated against the civilian Azerbaijani population in occupied Azerbaijani territory as crimes against humanity and condemned looting and destruction of the archeological, cultural and religious monuments on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Furthermore it demanded the strict implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884, and withdrawal of Armenian forces from all occupied Azerbaijani territories including the Karabakh region and strongly urged Armenia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.


This OIC Resolution called on the UN Security Council to recognize the existence of aggression against the Republic of Azerbaijan and demanded that the necessary steps under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to ensure compliance with its resolutions are taken [51]. The Resolution condemned aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and decided to take coordinated action to this end at the United Nations. Furthermore it called on all member states to instruct their Permanent Representatives at the United Nations in New York, while voting at the UN General Assembly, to give absolute support to the issue of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.  


The Resolution expressed full support for the three principles of the settlement of the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, contained in the statement of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office at the 1996 Lisbon OSCE Summit. The three principles mentioned are; the territorial integrity of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the highest degree of self-rule of the Karabakh region within Azerbaijan and guaranteed security for this region and its entire population. These principles were not ratified in Lisbon since Armenia did not accept that Karabakh remained within Azerbaijan.


            The Resolution asked all states to refrain from providing any supplies of arms and equipment to Armenia and to use such effective political and economic measures as required in order to put an end to Armenian aggression and the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.


Lastly, the Resolution called for enabling the displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes in safety. It also stated concern over the severity of humanitarian problems concerning the existence of more than one million displaced persons and refugees in the territory of Azerbaijan and urged all member states to extend their contributions to these people. Furthermore, it requested all member states, the Islamic Development Bank and the other Islamic Institutions to render urgent financial and humanitarian assistance to the Republic of Azerbaijan.


Clearly the OIC fully supports the Azerbaijani position in the Karabakh conflict, strongly criticizes Armenia and views some actions of this state as “crimes against humanity”. With more than 50 members, the OIC has a significant presence, especially in the United Nations. One incident displaying the weight of the said organization was witnessed when Azerbaijan demanded that the Karabakh conflict is discussed at the United Nations at the end of October 2004 and was opposed by most of the OSCE members who believed that such a course would harm the efforts of the Minsk Group. Ultimately it was the votes of the Islamic countries that allowed the issue to become an agenda item at the General Assembly.


The resolutions passed by the UN Security Council, Council of Europe and OIC are not of a compulsory nature. However it is not realistic to assume that international conflicts can be settled without adherence to principles adopted by these organizations. These include the respect for territorial integrity, the inviolability of borders and refraining from the use of force to gain territory. That is why although it has been occupying Karabakh and some Azerbaijani territories for twelve years, Armenia has been unable to attain the acceptance of any party regarding its claims that Karabakh is an independent state or that it requires parts of Azerbaijani territory to defend Karabakh. 


A prompt resolution of the Karabakh conflict will be very beneficial for Armenia. The economic restrictions that Turkey and Azerbaijan are currently applying will be lifted and Armenia will able to reach Europe and the near east via Turkey. This, in turn, will have a profound effect on the Armenian economy. For Armenia, solving its problems with its neighbors will signify an improvement in the capacity for obtaining credit as well as bilateral and international aid. On the other hand this country will be able to divert significant funds now allocated to defense expenditures to urgently needed development projects. In short, Armenia will develop rapidly if it resolves the problems with its neighbors. For all this to be possible, it is expected of Armenia that it accepts that Karabakh is attached to Azerbaijan within the framework of a very broad autonomy and that it pulls out of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. On the other hand, for Karabakh it is economically more advantageous to be incorporated into Azerbaijan and not Armenia.


Azerbaijan also stands to benefit significantly from the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The war psychology that has been evident for close to 15 years will be dispelled, solutions will be found for the problems of the internally displaced persons and refugees and vast resources used for defense will be utilized in other areas. It is only to be expected that Azerbaijan, having solved the Karabakh conflict and with the oil revenue it stands to collect, will become the most powerful state in the South Caucasus.


If the conflict is resolved, the influence of the Russian Federation over Armenia will gradually weaken. It is also to be expected that the Russian bases in Armenia will close down eventually. On the other hand it is also possible that the resolution of the conflict and the peaceful atmosphere this will create will have a positive reflection on the other conflicts in the region such as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Chechnya. This would be to the benefit of both the Russian Federation and Georgia.


Iran has supported Armenia because it feared the possibility that its own 15 million strong Azerbaijani community may want to unite with those Azerbaijanis across the border. Therefore, an Azerbaijan that has solved the Karabakh conflict and has attained a higher economic standard will not be welcomed by Iran. Yet since this conflict can not continue indefinitely, Iran must work on resolving its potential ethnic problems by establishing good relations with Azerbaijan and by granting its non-Farsi population broad cultural rights.


The resolution of the Karabakh conflict will be in the interest of Turkey in the geopolitical sense since it would signify a major improvement in security in the Caucasus and signal the emergence of a more powerful Azerbaijan. In addition, the opening of the border with Armenia will increase trade with this country and also allow the utilization of Armenian roads for transportation to Azerbaijan. However the main problem for Turkey in its relations with Armenia is not the Karabakh conflict but the fact that Armenia does not recognize the territorial integrity of Turkey and continues its allegations of genocide. Therefore, the resolution of the Karabakh conflict will not be sufficient for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and it will be necessary to ensure a parallel solution to these bilateral issues as well.      


* Ambassador (Retired)

[1] Ömer Göksel İşyar, Sovyet-Rus Dış Politikaları ve Karabağ Sorunu (Soviet-Russian Foreign

   Policies and the Karabakh Issue) Alfa Yayınları, İstanbul, 2004, pp.227-216

[2] Kamuran Gürün, Ermeni Dosyası, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara, 1983, p.227

[3] Donebédian and C. Moutafian, Artash, Histoire du Karabagh, Sevig Press, Paris 1991,  p.93 

[4] Ibid, p.95

[5] Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, Record of World Events, London, 1988-2000, V:34,  p.36034

[6] Keesing’s, V:34,  p.36035

[7] Keesing’s, V:34,  p.36036

[8] Keesing’s, V:35,  p.36471, 36490

[9] Keesing’s, V:35,  p.36402

[10] Keesing’s, V:36,  p.37169

[11] idem

[12] Keesing’s, V:36,  p.37664

[13] Keesing’s, V:37,  p.38078

[14] Keesing’s, V:37,  p.38582

[15] Keesing’s, V:37, p.38418

[16] Keesing’s, V:38,  p.R120

[17] Keesing’s, V:38,  p.38733

[18] Mkrtchyan was shot death at his home on April 14, 1992. Karabagh Parliament called his death “an

   accident”. On that subject see Patrick Karam and Thibault Mourges, Les Guerres de Caucase,

   des Tsars à la Tchétchénie, Librairie Perrin, Paris 1995, p.91

[19] P. Donabédian and C. Mutafian, p.93

[20] Ayın Tarihi, December 24, 1991 ( Ayın Tarihi  (History of the Month) is published by the Turkish

    Directorate General of Press and Information on the web site www.byegm.gov.tr )

[21] Ayın Tarihi, March 19, 1992

[22] Ayın Tarihi, February 12, 1992

[23] Ayın Tarihi, September 10, 1992

[24] Araz Aslanlı, Tarihten Günümüze Karabağ Sorunu (Karabakh Issue from History to Present    

     Day) in Avrasya Dosyası (Eurasian File), Volume) 7, Number 1, 2001, Ankara, p.404

[25] Thomas De Wall, Black Garden, Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, New York

   University Press, New York, 2003, p.170;  Thomas Goltz, Azerbaijan Diaries, M.E. Sharp, New

   York, 1998, p.124 and Araz Aslanlı, p.404

[26] Idem, p.312

[27] Ayın Tarihi, March 7, 1992

[28] Ayın Tarihi, March 18, 1992

[29] Ayın Tarihi, March 19, 1992

[30] Ayın Tarihi, May 19, 1992

[31] idem

[32] Ayın Tarihi, May 21, 1992

[33] Kamer Kasım, The Nagorno Karabagh Conflict from its Inception to the Peace Process, in Ermeni

    Araştırmaları/Armenian Studies, Number 2, ASAM, Ankara, 2001, p.174

[34] Ayın Tarihi,

[35] The military “heritage” of the USSR was distributed by the Tashkent Agreement May 15,1992

    between the Soviet Republics.  Azerbaijan obtained 220 tanks, 285 guns and 220 military vehicles.

    But its share of 100 planes and 50 helicopters was not delivered. On that subject see Nazım

    Cafersoy, Elçibey Dönemi Azerbaycan Dış Politikası, Bir Bağımsızlık Mücadelesinin Diplomatik 

    Öyküsü,   (Azerbaijan Foreign Policy During Echibey Presidency, June 1992-June 1993, Diplomatic

    Story of a Struggle for Independence) ASAM, Ankara, 2001, p.73

[36] Keesing’s, V:38, p.39018

[37] Keesing’s, V:38, p.39156

[38] Keesing’s, V:39, p.39332

[39] Ayın Tarihi, April 8, 1993

[40] Ayın Tarihi, April 7 and 13, 1993

[41] Keesing’s, V:39, p.39475

[42] On October 6,1994 President Aliev dismissed Suret Huseinov as Prime   Minister in the

   wake of a coup attempt

[43] Keesing’s, V:39, p,39650

[44] Ayın Tarihi, September 6, 1993

[45] Keesing’s, V:39, p.39694

[46] Keesing’s, V:40, p.40019,20

[47] Keesing’s, V:43, p.41710

[48] Keesing’s, V:43, p.41878

[49] Keesing’s, V.44, p.42636

[50] Ömer E. Lütem, Facts and Comments, in Ermeni Araştırmaları/Armenian Studies, Number 2, ASAM, Ankara, 2001, p.211

[51] Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter of the United Nations is related to the “Action with respect to threats

   to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression”. This action could be realized by

   measures involving or not involving the use of armed force)  




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