What was the Bishkek Protocol, agreed on May 8, 1994, about?

The Bishkek Protocol was signed on May 8, 1994, at a meeting, in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, with the initiative of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Russian-backed regional organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan, the Federal Assembly, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on May 4-5, 1994. The Protocol stressed the importance of encouraging every possible option in order to avoid armed hostilities between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a situation that was not only harmful to the population of these two republics but also had a negative effect on the region as a whole and seriously complicated the international situation. In addition, seriously, the Protocol was in favor of the natural active role of the CIS and the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly; urged the parties to the conflict to a ceasefire at midnight from 8 to May 9, 1994; and proposed to the CIS member states’ parliaments dispatching of the CIS’s peacekeeping forces to the region.[1]

When the CIS countries’ parliamentary delegations met on May 4-5 to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and sign the Bishkek Protocol, Afiyettin Jalilov, deputy speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament and head of the Azerbaijani delegation in Bishkek, refused to sign the protocol and stated that he needed to get the approval of Heydar Aliyev, the President of the Azerbaijan Republic. According to Thomas de Waal, “the Azerbaijani leadership faced a stark choice. If they signed the protocol, they would embrace the best chance yet of peace but also have to give up military ambitions and confront a domestic backlash.”[2]

Since the Azerbaijani delegation refused to sign the Protocol without President Aliyev’s consent, the parties to the negotiation reached an agreement whereby the space for Jalilov’s signature would be left blank until approval from Baku was obtained. President Aliyev was in Brussels on an official visit during the Bishkek meeting. When he returned to Baku on May 8, Vladimir Kazimirov, Ambassador-at-Large and Plenipotentiary Representative of the President of the Russian Federation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict-resolution process and head of the Russian mediation mission, also visited Azerbaijan to negotiate the Bishkek Protocol with the Azerbaijani President. After a long negotiation, the Azerbaijani side concluded that it would sign the Protocol if two changes were made to the document.[3]

As a result, at the signing of the Bishkek Protocol on May 8, 1994, the following alterations were included in the document: “It is signed on terms that in paragraph 5 of this text in the third line from the top before the word “monitors” the word “international” will be added and in the sixth line from the top of the same paragraph the word “occupied” will be replaced with “seized.”[4] In addition, the Azerbaijani side also believed it was essential to add the signature of Nizami Bakhramov, the leader of the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh at that time. However, he was not present in Baku that day.[5] Thus, six men, including two Armenians and one Azerbaijani official, the parliament speaker, signed the Bishkek Protocol.

Regarding the importance of the Bishkek Protocol, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Kazimirov stated years later that at the time no other international institutions apart from the CIS were seriously interested in the normalization of relations and stopping the armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. He also stated the following:

The Bishkek meeting and protocol have quite undeservedly diverted the attention of the press and even researchers from a more important document – the CIS Council of Heads of State declaration of 15 April 1994, which for the first time highlighted the prime importance and urgency of an end to the bloodletting in such categorical terms and at such a level. Aliyev and Ter-Petrosyan were in agreement with this document, something which happened rarely. This made it possible to step up the mediating efforts of Russian diplomacy, which were crowned with success a month later.[6]

Regarding the Protocol, Nicholas Miller argued that even though several issues were listed in the Bishkek Protocol for subsequent resolution, the document did not address the causes of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the two South Caucasian republics, nor did it offer an assessment of the possible consequences of the fighting. According to Miller, the protocol, which Russia backed to preserve its interests in its southern neighborhood, just suggested to the parties to the conflict that the continuation of the military confrontation was against their interests.[7]

Consequently, whether Russian backed or not, the Bishkek Protocol procured the ceasefire agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia on May 12, 1994, which stopped the deadly military confrontation between the parties to the conflict and avoided expelling of the Azerbaijanis from their historical places and massacre of civil Azerbaijanis by the Armenian forces.

[1] “Bishkek Protocol,” May 5, 1994, Peace Agreements Database; https://www.peaceagreements.org/view/310. Accessed on December 3, 2022.

[2] De Waal, Thomas, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York University Press, 2003), p. 238.

[3] De Waal, Black Garden, p. 238.

[4] “Bishkek Protocol”.

[5] De Waal, Black Garden, p. 238.

[6] Kazimirov, Vladimir N., “We Must Remove Artificial Obstacles to Settling the Karabakh Situation,” in Aldis, Anne C., (ed.), Shaping An Environment for Peace, Stability & Confidence in South Caucasus: the Role of International & Regional Security Organizations (Conflict Studies Research Centre, 2002), pp. 63-64.

[7] Miller, Nicholas W., “Nagorno Karabakh: A War without Peace,” in Eichensehr, Kristen and Reisman, W. Michael (eds.), Stopping Wars and Making Peace: Studies in International Intervention (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2009), p. 64.