What is the position of Armenia regarding the Karabakh issue?

Prior to the Second Karabakh war Armenia was constantly arguing that it participated in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh to protect the rights of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and provide them with security. However, since the very early stages of the conflict, Armenia had played a crucial role in how the war had developed and has forced all Azerbaijanis living in Armenia to leave their homes. The country’s Supreme Soviet also adopted a resolution calling for the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.[1] After the war began, Armenia carried out a military attack on the territories involved in the conflict. It succeeded in occupying not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan, with support from Russia. Therefore, Armenia was recognized as one of the principal parties in the conflict and represented the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh in the peace talks.[2]

The official Armenian position on settling the conflict before the Second Karabakh War was based on the following: any settlement must be found on the right to self-determination by the Nagorno-Karabakh population, an uninterrupted territory under the jurisdiction of Armenia for linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, and international guarantees for the security of Nagorno-Karabakh.[3]

In this respect, Armenia was arguing that Nagorno-Karabakh was never a part of independent Azerbaijan and that there are no legal, political, or moral grounds for Azerbaijan to demand sovereignty right over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and believing that the main principles of international law and those established in the former Soviet legislature also provided grounds for the self-determination right in the form of full independence for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.[4] Armenia, therefore, insisted that the region’s legal status must have been determined by a referendum that should be held in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, mainly populated by Armenians.[5]

In addition, Armenia demanded an uninterrupted corridor, a territorial link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, to provide security for Nagorno-Karabakh, which should have been under its jurisdiction. In this context, Lachin and Kalbajar, two occupied regions of Azerbaijan situated outside Nagorno-Karabakh, were considered possible corridors by the Armenian side.[6] Moreover, Armenia insisted that it would never give up its claims on the Lachin corridor since this is the only route that links it directly with Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, since 1994 it started to populate the Lachin region with Armenian families from Armenia and from all around the world by promising them financial and material assistance to strengthen its presence in the region.[7]

Although Armenia had officially declared that it favored a peaceful solution to the conflict, it was continuing to strengthen its military capability by providing a bigger budget to enlarge its military arsenal and purchase new weapons. As a result of the euphoria resulting from the First Karabakh War, the Armenian side believed that in the event of a new war in Karabakh, the country would be ready to defend itself from any attacks by Azerbaijan. The army and the church were the most trusted institutions by the people of Armenia, and there was a belief that the Armenian army was the strongest in the region.[8] Thus, it should be stated that the position of Armenia on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was shaped by the reality of the First Karabakh War, which ended with the country’s so-called victory.

However, the Second Karabakh War changed the reality for Armenia, and it lost its control over the Azerbaijani regions that were occupied in the wake of the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s. By signing the Trilateral Statement on November 10, 2020, the Armenian side agreed to withdraw all its military forces from all occupied territories, including Nagorno-Karabakh. Since then, parties to the conflict have engaged in negotiations to have final peace. When Azerbaijan offered the above-mentioned five principles for the normalization of relations between the two countries, “Armenia said it did not object, adding only that it also expected some “guarantee of the rights and freedoms” of the Armenians living there.”[9] In this regard, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan stated in his interview with ARMENPRESS that “For us, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a territorial issue, but a matter of rights.”[10]

However, unlike the political rhetoric, the action of the Armenian leadership regarding the peace negotiation is vice versa. It is obvious that since the Trilateral Statement of November 10, 2020, Armenia, both at the political and military leadership level, has tried to escalate the situation in either liberated territories of Azerbaijan or on borders between two states with the same kind of military provocation and adventures when peace negotiation progress intensifies and parties come close to the final agreement. Armenian political leadership, while failing to fulfill its obligations under the Tripartite Statement, always makes deferent statements at the negotiating table with the participation of international mediators. Later, it uses all possible ways to sabotage the peace agreement negotiations. It is argued that in the background of the Russian-Ukrainian War, the Armenian side gets support from France and possibly from Iran rather than Russia, its historical ally in this case, because Russia is in a big dilemma and cannot afford any support to Armenia. The recent declaration by France’s political leadership to take measures against Azerbaijan lays the basis for this argumentation. In fact, through its actions, Armenia also seeks to leave the trilateral format, change the agenda and bring in new mediators – for example, the US and the United Nations, but at the expense of Russia and its interests.[11]

[1] Fraser, Niall M., Hipel, Keith W., Jaworsky, John, and Zuljan, Ralph, “A Conflict Analysis of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Dispute,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1990, p. 659.

[2] Baguirov, Adil, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Basis and Reality of Soviet-era Legal and Economic Claims used to Justify the Armenia-Azerbaijan War,” Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008, p. 10.

[3] Minasyan, Sergey, Nagorno-Karabakh After Two Decades of Conflict: Is Prolongation of the Status Quo Inevitable? (Yerevan: Caucasus Institude, 2010), p. 24.

[4] Avakian, Shahen, Nagorno-Karabakh: Legal Aspect (Tigran Mets Publishing House, 2010), p. 25.

[5] “Displacement and Status in the Nagorno Karabakh Conflict,” Chatham House: Russia and Eurasia Meeting Summary, November 21, 2012; https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/Russia%20and%20Eurasia/211112summary.pdf. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[6] Poghosyan, Tevan, The Armenian ENP and Conflict Resolution in Nagorno Karabagh (Crisis Management Initiative, 2009), p. 15.

[7] Minasyan, Sergey, Nagorno-Karabakh After Two Decades of Conflict: Is Prolongation of the Status Quo Inevitable? (Yerevan: Caucasus Institude, 2010), p. 19.

[8] Poghosyan, Tevan, The Armenian ENP and Conflict Resolution in Nagorno Karabagh (Crisis Management Initiative, 2009), p. 13.

[9] Kucera, Joshua, “Armenia signals willingness to cede control over Karabakh,” Eurasianet, April 1, 2022; https://eurasianet.org/armenia-signals-willingness-to-cede-control-over-karabakh. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[10] “Armenia FM: ‘For us, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a territorial issue, but a matter of rights’,” ARMENPRESS, March 15, 2022; https://armenpress.am/eng/news/1077893.html. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[11] Osmanli, Ceyhun, “What is behind new border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan?” Modern Diplomacy, September 16, 2022; https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2022/09/16/what-is-behind-new-border-clashes-between-armenia-and-azerbaijan/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.