What was the position of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

The parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were recognized under the terms of the “Baker rules” within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. According to those rules, the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh was accepted as an “interested party” in the conflict. However, at the beginning of the settlement process, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic insisted on its direct involvement in the negotiation process. The so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic argued that it was impossible to achieve anything unless all parties to the conflict were involved. Thus, until 1997 the unrecognized republic joined the process and signed the ceasefire agreement of 1994 along with Azerbaijan and Armenia. In 1998, when the former president of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Robert Kocharian, became the head of the Republic of Armenia, he proclaimed that as President of Armenia, he would also represent the interests of the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh. After that, the unrecognized republic was excluded from the negotiating process. Until the Second Karabakh War, Armenia supported the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s intention of being included in the talks. However, Azerbaijan rejected the participation of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the initial stages of the peacebuilding process but did not rule out the possibility of it being included in subsequent stages if the parties agreed on the basic principles.[1]

Until the Second Karabakh War, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic rejected any possibility of being part of Azerbaijan under any autonomy arrangement. It stressed that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh determined their sovereignty through a referendum that was held in 1991.[2] The official authorities of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic claimed that the process of the referendum and declaration of independence was based on Soviet Union legislation and international law.[3] In addition, until the Second Karabakh War, Nagorno-Karabakh had maintained its existence as a de facto independent state, and a new Armenian generation has grown up that has never lived under the sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s authority argued that if any achievements were to be made in the peace process, the principles relating to territorial integrity must not be a precondition for settling the conflict. The so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic officially claimed sovereignty over the territories of the former NKAO and Shaumyan district, while the occupied territories of seven districts of Azerbaijan were identified as a “security belt,” and these territories were the subjects of negotiation to return to Azerbaijan.[4]

The return of IDPs to their homes was a complicated aspect of the conflict. Before the First Karabakh War, more than 80% of all IDPs lived in the seven Azerbaijan districts that Armenia occupied as a result of the war, and only the remaining 20% lived in the NKAO. The official authorities in the separatist state consider it impossible to repatriate Azerbaijani people inside Nagorno-Karabakh, especially Shusha, the city that Azerbaijanis entirely populated before the war.[5] Although Armenia officially had no sovereignty claims over the seven adjacent territories of Azerbaijan, since 2000, it has been carrying out a settlement program for Armenians from around the world in these occupied territories of Azerbaijan.[6] Azerbaijan interpreted this “resettlement program” of Armenia in the occupied territories not only as a violation of the principles of international law but also as a barrier to the process of settling the conflict.

Despite the unsuccessful attempts by the OSCE Minsk group to settle the conflict, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic supported the mediation role of this organization.[7] Moreover, the unrecognized state tried to initiate capacity-building measures by organizing various programs to decrease hostility between the communities.[8] While at the official level, it stresses that it would use every opportunity to settle the conflict by peaceful means prior to the Second Karabakh War, it continued to strengthen its military capability. Its victory, together with Armenia, in the First Karabakh War was a source of strength for the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. However, at the same time, insecurity and a fear that the war might flare up again meant that official authorities distrusted their victory.[9]

Thus, determining the region’s status was the first task in settling the conflict for the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which believed that it would be impossible to achieve anything unless it was directly involved in the negotiation process. In addition, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic insisted that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must not be a precondition for settling the conflict since the Armenians in Karabakh would never agree to live under the sovereignty of Azerbaijan.

[1] Pashayeva, Gulshan and Göksel, Nigar, “The Interplay of the approaches of Turkey, Russia and the United States to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh,” SAM review, 2011, p. 23.

[2] “Declaration on Proclamation of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic,” HyeTert, September 2, 2020; https://hyetert.org/2020/09/02/declaration-on-proclamation-of-the-nagorno-karabakh-republic/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[3] “Independence or Reunification?” Office of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Washington; http://www.nkrusa.org/nk_conflict/independence_or_reunification.shtml. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[4] “Declaration on Proclamation of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic”.

[5] Lynch, Dov, “Separatist States and Post Soviet Conflicts”, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 4, 2002, p. 837.

[6] Harutyunyan, Melania, “Deputy Prime Minister of Artsakh spoke about the resettlement of Artsakh,” Arovat, July 27, 2013; https://www.aravot-en.am/2013/07/27/155729/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[7] “Prospects for Peace,” Office of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Washington; http://www.nkrusa.org/nk_conflict/prospects_peace.shtml. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[8] “Prospects for Peace”.

[9] Lynch, “Separatist States and post Soviet conflicts,” p. 840.