History of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and Probable Ways of its Solution.
            By Emin Hamidov.

    At the beginning of 1988 the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two states in the

Transcaucasus, over the  area called Nagorno-Karabakh broke out. As a result of this conflict

Azerbaijan lost 20% of its territories and numerous violations of human rights and ethnic

cleansing took place on the territories taken over by Armenian aggressors. At the very beginning

Major Powers in the international politics were deceived by the fact that the conflict was carrying

internal character. In fact, more thorough examination of conflict details points out to the fact

that the reality was distorted, and there is little doubt that it was done deliberately. As an

outcome of it the Major Powers were prevented from getting a clear picture of what was

happening and recognize this war as an attempt to alter internationally recognized borders by

means of force. Before getting down to the discussion of the legal aspects of this conflict and

ways of its solution I would like to provide a short historical background of the area which is

being argued upon.

 After unification with the Soviet Union in 1920-1921 the borders between transcaucasian

republics were not outlined immediately and one of the reasons for this was a problem of

drawing frontiers between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh and

Nakhichivan. During the next a couple of years Armenia and Azerbaijan were politically

struggling on the question of status of Karabakh and Nahkichevan within the Soviet Union. At

first this land was favored to Armenia according to the decision of the revolutionary committee

of Soviet Azerbaijan in December of 1920, which was issued under the Soviet pressure. On the

second of December when this decision was about to be made public, it met strong opposition

from the side of Azerbaijani leader Nariman Narimanov and the deployment of the act was

seized. After signing Turko-Russian friendship treaty on the 16th of March 1921, which stipulated

retaining of both regions under the control of Azerbaijani Soviet Republic, Nakhichevan

acquired the status of autonomous republic (NASSR) while Nagorno-Karabakh was granted the

status of autonomous oblast( region) only. One of the reasons for Stalin’s concessivness to the

Turkish Republic is that bolsheviks were positively inclined to Kemal Ataturk, who was

potential ally in the view of Moscow, since movements in both countries had the same features

of such as; getting rid of old regimes and fighting Western Powers, especially Britain. Another

reason according to which Soviets favored Azerbaijan over Armenia was the way how Bolshevik

ideology was received in the Caucasus. The industrial workers of Baku were more committed to

the ideas of bolsheviks than Party of Dashnak Tsutun who were loyal supporters of Tsarist


 Eventually the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was settled in the 1822 when at one of the

Kavburo meetings (Kavburo-Caucasian section of the communist party) they were discussing the

status of NKAO within the Azerbaijani SSR. According to the decree released on the 7th of  July

1923 it was given the status of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast ( region). The capital of

the NKAO was moved from Shusha to Khankendi which later on was renamed Stepanakert after

Stepan Shaumian, Armenian bolshevik. Though the issue was solved in favor of Azerbaijan,

Armenian aggressors did not give up the idea of taking NKAO away from Azerbaijan, and their

actions were always targeted towards achieving this aim. Their dormant dreams surfaced in the

1987 with Mikhail Gorbochov’s coming to the power in USSR and his twin policies of Gastnost

and Perestroyka. Armenians started to claim the cesession of NKAO from Azerbaijan stipulating

this claim by the right of a nation to self-determination. In August of 1987 the issue came to the

point when the Academy of sciences of Armenia prepared a petition with hundreds of signatures

on it to be sent to the Supreme Soviet of the Union with request to put not only NKAO but also

Nakhichevan, where according to the latest census 97% of the population were Azeris, under

jurisdiction of the Armenian SSR.(1) Still it remains unclear how could they claim cessecion of

the territory which even does not have common borders with Armenia. This means that from the

very beginning that claim was contradicting the constitution of the Soviet Union article 78

(integrity of the sovereign state) and implied intervention and conquer of the indigenous Azeri

lands. The culmination of all the events connected with the cesession claims was the official

request of NKAO officials to Moscow authorities to put the above mentioned territories under

the jurisdiction of Armenian SSR in the February of 1988. From that moment on rights of Azeris

living in the territory of Armenia started to be violated and oppressed. Actions of ethnic

cleansing were systematic and thorough in Armenia, which means prepared beforehand. In 1988

first wave of refugees reached boarders of Azerbaijan. The first portion of refugees was settled in

the Sumgait, industrial city of Azerbaijan located near Baku.

 As the actual power in both republics was concentrated in the hands of national

movements such as APF(Azerbaijani Popular Front) in Azerbaijan and ANM(Armenian National

Movement) in Armenia, which were strongly committed to their view point not leaving any room

for compromise, military solution of the conflict seemed to be very possible. In the December of

the 1989 the Supreme Soviet of Armenian SSR passed a resolution main idea of which was

incorporation of NKAO into the Armenian SSR, which was contradicting all legalities. A bit

after NKAO Soviet of people’s deputies pass an act for secession from Azerbaijan. I understand

this succession as NKAO was being driven politically by Yerevan and all statements concerning

the status of the war as being internal conflict are invalid.  In reply to these illegal acts the

supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan Republic reduced the status of NKAO to ordinary district of the

republic. Meanwhile the escalation of the conflict and increasing of the number of paramilitary

units was continuing. Armenians were funneling military equipment and weapons to NKAO

envisioning the military solution of the conflict. Observers have noted how planes loaded with

military equipment, coming from Beirut, landed in Yerevan and then transported to Karabakh.(2)

By June 1991 the quantity of the casualties were estimated at the number of 816 and from that

point on the aggressor started process of military take over. At the time when military actions

began Azerbaijan had poorly organized army, which at the same time was equipped two or three

times worse than army of the enemy. Moreover paramilitary units of Americans were also

supported by Russians. After the demise of the USSR and acquiring the independence,

Azerbaijan was the only republic which refused to become a member of another Union called

CIS (Common wealth of Independent States). At that time the President of Azerbaijan Republic

was the candidate from the APF Abulfaz Elchibey. Russia was trying to get Azerbaijan back to

the sphere of its economic and security influence and the best way for that was helping Armenia

in its conflict with Azerbaijan since Russia could not overtly post its military units on the

territory of independent Azerbaijan without mutual agreement. Up till now Azerbaijan remains

the only state in CIS that does not have Russian military bases. Helping Armenia in the

aggressive war against Azerbaijan was not the only way of exerting pressure on Azerbaijan

deployed by Russia. In 1994 government of  Azerbaijan in cooperation with State Oil Company

(SOCAR) have signed a long term contract with a number of Western Oil Companies on

elaboration of deep water oil field “Chirag” which has tremendous supply of oil, for at least next

twenty five years. To show its dissatisfaction with the estrangement of Azerbaijan farther and

farther to the west the Minister of foreign affairs of Russia Andrey Kozarev stated that Russia did

not recognize this contract as a legal one until the legal status of the Caspian sea was determined.

The fact that Russia raised the question of legal status of the Caspian sea serves  as an obvious

evidence that it did not want to loose its grip over Azerbaijan, which in fact it had already lost

not a long time before, and wanted to bring back its previous position on the Caucasus. Despite

the fact that Russia deployed so many political and military tricks in order to exert pressure and

influence on Azerbaijan and seize the estrangement Azerbaijan managed to resist it though at the

expense of the lands which were lost during the war. As it was mentioned above Azerbaijan lost

of about 20% of its territory. There is little doubt that Russia was on the side of Armenia in this

aggressive war against Azerbaijan and the reason behind that, as I have already mentioned above,

was Russia’s desire to reacquire its former status in the Transcaucasus and as Azerbaijan was the

only state to resist this attempt of political subjugation it was subjected to vicarious pressure.

Besides Russia’s help in this conflict Armenia was getting and continues to get support from

another major power USA, which policy towards this conflict was heavily influenced by its

domestic politics, in other words  by powerful Armenian lobby in the US Congress.  A good

evidence for this statement would be the Freedom Support Act 907a which was passed by the Us

Congress in 1992. According to this Act Azerbaijan was deprived of all kinds of US

governmental aid unless it “ respects international human rights standards, abandons its blockade

of Armenia, ceases its use of force against Armenia and NKAO and searches a peaceful solution

to the conflict”- text of the Act. Azerbaijan was the only State out of all CIS to be denied US aid

at that time. Though after Clinton’s coming to the power restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan were

relented by H.R. 3765 bill, which faced a furious opposition on the part of pro-Armenian

representatives. From the example given bellow one can understand how deeply the policy

makers in the US were misled by the Armenian lobby on the issue of NKAO.

             “I strongly argue that you [Rep. Hamilton, chairman of the House Committee on
           Foreign Affairs] retain the prohibition on American assistance to Azerbaijan until
          Azerbaijani troops cease their occupation of NKAO and stop their aggressive actions
         against the republic of Armenia ( Statement by Rep. Dick Swett, (D) New Hampshire).”(3)

  But in fact at that time Azerbaijan was not occupying NKAO, on the contrary NKAO and

surrounding territories belonging to Azerbaijan were under aggressive grip of Armenia.

While Armenia was receiving military and political support from two major Powers ( USA and

Russia) Azerbaijan was left on its own and the only State which stood up to defend Azerbaijan at

least verbally was Turkey. But since Turkey was also dependent on USA it could not pursue

policy very much different from that of US. This way Azerbaijan was left alone ,as I mentioned

above, to face the enemy which was getting considerable support from the near abroad( Russia)

and from overseas (USA).

 In general the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia represents a very interesting case

in the field of international law and international relations where the issue of integrity

of internationally recognized borders versus right of people on self-determination. In this case

the violation of the borders of the sovereign State is obvious and does not need any proof but

the fact wether the Armenians living in NKAO can be granted the term of people can be argued.

Armenians living there can not be called people since they have their Motherland in Armenia.

other words the Armenian population of NKAO is, in legal terms, “national minority”

the territory of different State. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political

Rights (ICCPR) article 27 “ national minorities should not be denied the right to enjoy their

common culture, profess their own religion or to use their own language.” Concerning the

question of self-determination of national minorities the same covenant states that “they have

right for internal self-determination which enables them to participate in the political life of the

country in which they live, pursue their economic, social and cultural development through its

deputies in the legislature ( Parliament of the country).” Self-determination for national

minority does not necessarily mean secession. One of the resolutions of UN on this issue states

the following:
           “Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs concerning the principle of equal rights and self-
            determination of people shall be constructed as authorizing or encouraging any action
          which would dismember or impair the territorial integrity of sovereign and independent

 This conflict also can be analyzed from three different legal view points which are the

Constitution of former USSR, treaty of CIS and finally view points based on International Law.

Armenia violated the constitution of the USSR by passing the resolution on integration of

NKAO with Armenia which was issued on December 1, 1989. This decision can be considered

illegal twice since it went against the decision of the Presidium of the USSR which was made

on the July 18th 1988 and was confirming the status of NKAO as an autonomous region within

Azerbaijan. This decision of Armenia to make NKAO its integral part binds it as an illegal

party to the conflict. Although Armenia claims to be absolutely neutral in this conflict and says

that it does not have any influence over the leadership of NKAO except for “friendly advice”

the   above mentioned decision and the fact that the Parliament of the Republic of Armenia has

representative deputies from NKAO serves as obvious evidence to prove the contrary.

Secondly Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent

States). One of the major principles of the treaty is the inviolability of the frontiers of the

constituent parts but the Population of NKAO held a referendum and after declaration of

independence they applied to the Commonwealth for membership as an “independent state”.

None of the CIS members recognized NKAO as an entity. Armenia did not recognize NKAO as

an independent State either. In terms of international law the distinction between refugees and

internally displaced persons might be a very serious concern. If we speak about refugees, then it

means that people were expelled from a country which is not their motherland and that is

already international conflict and international community is bound to intervene at least with

humanitarian aid, but if the conflict is referred as an internal conflict then international

community can freely stay away from it considering that it is an internal issue of the State.

Besides this Republic of Armenia also violates International law by sending armed forces to the

territory of Nagorno Karabkh and this fact was mentioned in the “Charter of Paris for a new

Europe”, which was completed in 1990. In this charter it was recognized that “Armenia violates

the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan on the above mentioned reason(sending armed troops to

NKAO) and in terms of legality it could have been legal only in case if U.N. security council

had authorized it.(5) Though Armenia refuses from the fact that it is involved in the conflict, it

is well proven and as an example we can take the conclusion of Human Rights watch/ Helsinki.

            “ As a matter of law, Armenian troops involvement in Azerbaijan makes Armenia
             a party to the conflict and makes the war an international armed conflict, as
             between the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan.”(6)

 Regarding the ways of peaceful, political solution of the conflict I would like to express

the following ideas. The fact which seemed to me worth drawing attention to the above

mentioned issue was that US, peace balancer in the whole world, had not gotten involved to the

peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the armistice was established and Minsk

Group of OSCE was assigned the leading role in these negotiations. Throughout the whole

period of its activity Minsk group of OSCE could not succeed in finding the peaceful solution

for the conflict. However it would have been unfair to say that they were not striving to bring

about peace. One of the plans proposed by OSCE was to retain NKAO within the territory of

Azerbaijan under the condition that NKAO would have been given the highest level of

autonomy ever known in the history of instate relations. But this proposal was denied by the

Armenian side. Despite the fact that the mission of mediator in this conflict was delegated to

OSCE United Nations Security Council also have passed several resolutions on this issue.(7)

These resolutions demanded cessation of hostilities and affirming the inviolability of the

internationally recognized borders and integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The resolutions

condemn occupation of Azerbaijani lands but fail to state whom they condemn and point out

the actual aggressor. Armenia itself is represented as a neutral country in all resolutions of UN

and it becomes undoubtly from the 884 resolution of UN Security Council:

             “Nothing with alarm the escalation in armed hostilities... Reaffirming
              the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic and all other states in
              the region... and the inadmissibility of use of force for the acquisition of
             territory... Expressing grave concern at the latest displacements of a large
             number of civilians... and particularly condemns occupation of the Zangilan
             district of the Azerbaijan Republic; ...calls upon the government of Armenia
            to use its influence to achieve compliance by the Armenians of the Karabakh
            region of Azerbaijan Republic of the resolution 822, 853 and 874.”(8)

This passaged poses Armenia as a neutral part in the conflict whereas the supreme Soviet of

Armenia passed the resolution concerning integration of NKAO with the Republic of Armenia

in 1989 December 1. All excuses of the same content as the one pushed forward by Vahan

Papazyan(9), minister of foreign affairs of Republic of Armenia, that above mentioned

resolution was passed by the Armenian SSR but not the Republic of Armenia and that’s why is

obsolete, are groundless  since the leadership of Republic of Armenia had to declare all those

decisions taken by the former state invalid in case if they were disagreed with them. No

statements on this issue were made by leadership of Republic of Armenia what allows us to

assume that they agree with those.

 Now after signing so-called  “Deal of Century”, oil contract between Azerbaijan and

International Oil Consortium where several huge American Oil Companies are represented

American presence in the Transcaucasus expanded and certain changes in the policy of the US

towards Azerbaijan are taking place. I believe that now, while  Russia suffers from the

aftermaths of economic crisis and Azerbaijan regains the support of US government through

the latter’s involvement into the oil industry of Azerbaijan is the best time to influence Armenia

politically and consequently and get the conquered lands back in a peaceful manner..

I am sure that due to the policy pursued by the President of Azerbaijan Republic, Heydar Aliev,

all state’s leaders in the world will get a lucid picture of the conflict occurring in NKAO,

condemn occupation of the indigenous Azerbaijani territories and support Azerbaijan in its

                                                                           efforts to get the conquered lands back.





(1) For an overview of the population distribution of NKAo and Nakhichevan between 1959
and 1979, see Alexander Bennigsen and S. Enders Wimbush, Muslims of the Soviet Empire.
London: Hurst & Co.,1985

(2)See Cullen, “ Areporter at large.”

(3) Armenian National Committee of America Press release, March 31, 1994, as quoted in
Human Rights Watch/ Helsinki, Azerbaijan: Seven Years of Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh,
New York: Human Rights Watch, 1994.

(4) U.N. General Assembly, resolution 2625 adopted on October24, 1970.

(5) Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Charter of Paris for a New Europe:
Paris, 1990.

(6) See human Rights Watch/ Helsinki, Azerbaijan: Seven Years of Conflict in Nagorno

(7) See U.N. Genral Assembly Resolution on “Emergency International Assistance to Refugees
and IDP’s in Azerbaijan”, November 19, 1993.

(8) U.N. Security Council, Resolution 884 of November 11th, 1993.

(9) Conference held by Vahan Papazyan at the Foreign Policy Institute in Stockholm, in
February 1996

1 “The legal aspects of the Karabakh Conflict”, Jeyhun Mollazadeh, Ph. D. President of US-
Azerbaijan Council. Azerbaijan International, winter 1993.

2 “Analysis of section 907 of the freedom Support Act”, Niyazi Mammedov, 1995-1996.

3 “ International Law on self-determination and Conflict in Nagorno Karabkh”, Erjan
Kurbanov, University of Maryland, USA.
Ethnopolitical Conflictsin theTranscaucasus, 1997.

4 “The Karabakh Problem: Old stubbornness and new hopes”, Nasib Nasibly, Ph. D.,
University of Chicago.

5 “Assessing origins of the Karabakh Conflict”, Alan Fogelquist, Ph.D.
Eurasia Research Center, Los Angeles , December 1996.