What were the Madrid Principles?

The Madrid Principles is a framework agreement that was presented by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the OSCE ministerial conference that was held in Madrid, the capital of Spain, in November 2007. The Madrid Principles were considered to be a continuation of the peace initiative retrieved from the so-called Prague Process, and they had their origin in the Basic Principles for the Peaceful Solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which was made public in June 2006.[1] It was the only document to emerge from the peace negotiations between the parties to the conflict since the ceasefire agreement of 1994 that was based on the provisions established in the governing legal document of the OSCE-Helsinki Final Act, which is the leading international law document that serves as a basis for treaties and agreements between states.

The Principles consist of a “phased-package” peace proposal based on the following:

  • The phased withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territories contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh, including the district of Kalbajar and the strategic Lachin corridor that links Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh;
  • The demilitarization of those previously occupied territories; the deployment of an international peacekeeping force;
  • Demining, reconstruction, and other measures to address the impact of the conflict and expedite the return to their homes of displaced persons;
  • A referendum among the Nagorno-Karabakh population to determine the region’s future status vis-à-vis the central Azerbaijani government in Baku.[2]

When the Minsk Group presented the Principles, the parties agreed on some of the points. However, there was deadlock over the last issue, relating to the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan was entirely against the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan and agreed to grant it only if there was a high level of autonomy.[3] In this regard, on October 24, at the start of his second presidential term, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said that “Karabakh will never be independent. Azerbaijan will never recognize it. Neither in five years, nor in 10, 20 years. Never.”[4]

Meanwhile, Armenia was demanding self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, on October 27, 2008, Armenia President Serzh Sarkisian stated on Armenian public television that “a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is possible if Azerbaijan recognizes the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination; if Nagorno-Karabakh has a land border with Armenia; and if international organizations and leading nations guarantee the security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”[5]

Referring to the abovementioned arguments put forward by Armenia and Azerbaijan on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh within the framework of the Madrid Principles, Bernard Fassier, Co-chair of the Minsk Group from France, said during the Azerbaijani-Armenian Peace Forum on March 24-27 in Vienna that “The status of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be agreed on now, as both suggested solutions – international recognition of Karabakh as an independent state, and its return back into Azerbaijan – are now impossible.”[6]

Therefore, the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group drafted an updated version of the Madrid Principles in 2009, which presented a reasonable compromise between both sides’ arguments on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh: self-determination, on the one hand, and territorial integrity, on the other, without the use of force.

[1] Potier, Tim, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Ever Closer to a Settlement, Step-by-Step,” in OSCE Yearbook 2009 (Nomos, 2010), pp. 205-206.

[2] Fuller, Liz, “Russia To Host Talks Between Armenian, Azerbaijani Presidents,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 1, 2008; http://www.rferl.org/content/Russia_To_Host_Talks_Between_Armenian_Azerbaijani_Presidents/1337251.html. Accessed on December 3, 2022.

[3] Potier, “Nagorno-Karabakh,” p. 206.

[4] Fuller, “Russia To Host Talks Between Armenian, Azerbaijani Presidents”.

[5] Fuller, “Russia To Host Talks Between Armenian, Azerbaijani Presidents”.

[6] Khachatrian, Haroutiun, “Armenia and Azerbaijan: OSCE Wants Civil Society Groups to Help Karabakh Peace Process,” EURASIANET.org, April 1, 2009. Retrieved from Abilov, “OSCE Minsk Group”, p. 154.