What was UN Security Council Resolution 853, adopted on July 29, 1993, about?

The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 853 during its 3259th session on July 29, 1993. This Resolution was based on the report submitted on July 27, 1993, by the Chairman of the Minsk Group of the CSCE (now OSCE) (S/25184). While reaffirming Security Council Resolution 822, Resolution 853 expressed the UN Security Council’s deep concern about the deterioration in relations between the two parties to the conflict, the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic, and the tensions between them, which had the potential of endangering peace and security in the region. According to Resolution 853, the Security Council reaffirmed the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic, condemned the capture of the Aghdam region and other occupied areas of Azerbaijan, and demanded the immediate cessation of all hostilities and the withdrawal of the occupying forces from Aghdam and other occupied regions of the Azerbaijan Republic without any conditions. Furthermore, to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict, the Security Council endorsed the continuing efforts of the Minsk Group, including efforts to implement previous resolutions, and requested that the Secretary-General, in consultation with the Chairman-in-Office of the CSCE as well as the Chairman of the Minsk Group, continue to report to the Council on the situation.[1]

It is noteworthy that when the Security Council adopted Resolution 853, it did so using its authority under Article 34 in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations,[2] which indicates that the Security Council may investigate any dispute if there is a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security; shall seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, restore to regional agencies or arrangements, or the peaceful means of their own choice; and call upon the parties to settle their disputes by such means.[3]

As mentioned above, Resolution 853 was accepted following the occupation of the Aghdam region of Azerbaijan on July 23, 1993. Geographically situated outside the boundaries of former NKAO about thirty kilometers northeast of Stepanakert, it covers an area of 1,094 sq. km and, until the occupation, had a population of approximately 153,000 people, who were mainly ethnic Azerbaijanis.[4]

Capturing Aghdam gave Armenians the chance to control a strategic strip of territory on the east side of Nagorno-Karabakh, and it was also crucial for the Armenian leaders, who considered it a key area for attacks from Azerbaijan against Armenian military objectives situated in Askeran, Aghdara, and Khankendi. Additionally, Armenians thought that by occupying one of the largest regions of Azerbaijan in the eastern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, they “would change the course of the whole war.”[5] Therefore, the Armenians used the political turmoil and disarray in the capital city of Azerbaijan in the summer of 1993 as an opportunity, and they managed to capture Aghdam after the withdrawal of the Azerbaijani military units from the front line. These units were led by Surat Huseynov, a ‘revolutionary military leader’ who demanded the resignation of Elchibey. After long and heavy fighting for over a month, the Armenian forces finally seized Aghdam on July 23.[6]

According to Human Rights Watch, after capturing Aghdam, the Armenian forces perpetrated severe violations of the rules of war, including “hostage-taking, indiscriminate fire, and the forcible displacement of civilians.”[7] Human Rights Watch also reported that Aghdam and the villages surrounding it were looted and burned systematically for several weeks.[8] On this last point, The New York Times wrote that “a soldier strutted out of a house carrying a porcelain sink and a wrench in one hand, while another filled the sidecar of his motorcycle with the contents of someone’s garage. A tanker truck wheeled into town and headed for the wine and cognac factory.”[9] Quoting a Western diplomat active in the OSCE Minsk Group, Human Rights Watch also said that “the burning and looting of [Aghdam] was not the result of undisciplined troops, but was a well-orchestrated plan organized by Karabakh authorities in Stepanakert.”[10] During the offensive, Armenian aggressors occupied 883 sq. km. of the total 1094 sq. km. territory of Aghdam, including one city and 80 villages. The material damage caused by the occupation of Agdam was estimated at $6.179 billion.[11] During the one-month offensive by the Armenian forces, 5,897 Azerbaijanis died in Aghdam, considered one of the deadliest episodes of the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. According to a report by the US Refugee Committee, 128,584 residents of Aghdam became IDPs.[12]

The Armenians denied the offensive against the Aghdam region of Azerbaijan. They argued that their forces had just taken defensive action. Referring to the Armenian government, Vafa Guluzade, a senior adviser to Abulfaz Elchibey, the President of Azerbaijan at that time, said, “I spoke with Yerevan today… And officials there are once more hiding behind the fiction that they do not control the forces in Karabakh. It is clear that they are trying to stir up more chaos in Azerbaijan as a pretext not to fulfill the terms of the peace plan.”[13] Human Rights Watch also reported that “eyewitness accounts, however, clearly refute their denials.”[14] The US State Department stated further that the Aghdam attack “cannot be justified on the grounds of legitimate self-defense.”[15]

As a result, following the occupation of Aghdam on July 23, 1993, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 853, which was based on the report by the Chairman of the Minsk Group. For its part, Azerbaijan immediately declared that it accepted the Resolution. However, Armenia accused the Minsk Group of favoring Azerbaijan and said that the decision in Resolution 853 was biased. Therefore, despite the demands by the UN Security Council to cease all hostilities and immediately withdraw from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan, the Armenians strengthened their offensive and occupied other Azerbaijani territories in the following months.[16]

[1] United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 853,” s/RES/853, July 29, 1993.

[2] Sadigbeyli, Rovshan, “The Implications of the 1993 U.N. Security Council Action for the Settlement of the Armenia – Azerbaijan Conflict,” Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2009, p. 366.

[3] “Chapter VI: Pacific Settlement of Disputes,” Charter of the United Nations; https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-vi/index.html. Accessed on December 2, 2022.

[4] Babanly, Yusif, “Why and How Agdam Fell,” Foreign Policy News, July 22, 2013; https://foreignpolicynews.org/2013/07/22/why-and-how-agdam-fell/. Accessed on December 2, 2022.

[5] Babanly, “Why and How Agdam Fell”.

[6] Cornell, Svante E., Small Nations and Great Powers: Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus (Routledge Curzon, 2001), p. 89.

[7] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Seven years of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (USA: Human Rights Watch, December 1994), p. 19.

[8] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Seven years of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, p. 27.

[9] Bonner, Raymond, “War in Caucasus Shows Ethnic Hate’s Front Line,” The New York Times, August 2, 1993; http://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/02/world/war-in-caucasus-shows-ethnic-hate-s-front-line.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. Accessed on December 2, 2022.

[10] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Seven years of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, p. 27.

[11] “27 Years Pass since Occupation of Azerbaijan’s Agdam Region,” Trend, July 23, 2020; https://en.trend.az/azerbaijan/karabakh/3273698.html. Accessed on December 2, 2022.

[12] Babanly, “Why and How Agdam Fell”. See also: “Profile of International Displacement: Azerbaijan,” Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council, February 25, 2005, p. 29.

[13] “Azerbaijan Says Armenians Are Gaining Ground in Heavy Fighting,” The New York Times, June 13, 1993; http://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/13/world/azerbaijan-says-armenians-are-gaining-ground-in-heavy-fighting.html. Accessed on December 2, 2022.

[14] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Seven years of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, p. 21.

[15] Migdalovitz, Carol, “Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict,” CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Order Code IB92109, August 8, 2003, p. 4.

[16] Gurbuz, Vedat, “The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict and Azeri Policies, 1988-1994,” Review of ARMENIAN STUDIES, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2003.