Winter 1998 (6.4)
The Nagorno-Karabakh Question
UN Reaffirms the Sovereignty and
Territorial Integrity of Azerbaijan
by Yashar T. Aliyev
In March 1992, a few months after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, both Azerbaijan and Armenia joined the United Nations in one of their first major efforts to integrate into the world community.
Above: Map showing Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan and the territory which Armenians are now occupying. Note the relationship of Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan-separated from mainland Azerbaijan by a narrow strip (46 km) of Armenian territory.
Both countries solemnly committed to uphold the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, which includes the peaceful settlement of disputes and the non-use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.
Since then, more than six years have passed. But throughout all these years, Armenia has been pursuing its territorial claims by implicitly waging an undeclared war against Azerbaijan. Explicitly, they have diligently sought the sympathy of the international community by declaring that Armenia is a small country totally blockaded by Azerbaijan which they blame for drawing them into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
UN Security Council Response
How has the UN Security Council responded to this situation, given that it is recognized as the highest international neutral broker to whom member States confer the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security?
The UN Security Council condemned the Armenian invasion and occupation of Azerbaijan's territories, making its position clear and unambiguous by passing four resolutions, which addressed Armenian aggression-Resolutions 822, 853, 874, and 884, which included the following provisions:
(1) Expressing serious concern at the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and at the tensions between them and continuation of the conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Azerbaijan Republic;
(2) Expressing grave concern at the displacement of a large number of civilians within the Azerbaijan Republic;
(3) Reaffirming the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and all other States in the region;
(4) Reaffirming the inviolability of international borders and the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory.
Ultimately, the Security Council condemned the seizure and occupation of the Kalbajar, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Zangilan districts and all other occupied areas in Azerbaijan and demanded the immediate cessation of all armed hostilities along with the unilateral withdrawal of occupying forces from all those districts and areas. That was 1993.
In May of 1994, a cease-fire was established. Thus, the Armenian side partially complied with some of the demands of the Security Council. But at the same time, they have totally ignored the demand to withdraw their forces from all occupied territories, despite the fact that in accordance with the UN Charter, Armenia had agreed to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.
Continuing on their defiant route of non-compliance, in 1998 Armenia proceeded to conduct Presidential elections on occupied Azerbaijan territories by arranging for mobile balloting boxes to be delivered to the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan to collect votes cast by the regular army of the Republic of Armenia stationed there. This fact was confirmed by the monitoring mission of the Organization for the Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE) and reflected in its report.
Such policy and conduct towards Azerbaijan is quite consistent, given the fact that back in 1988, before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Republic of Armenia adopted a resolution in their parliament for the "Reunification of the Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh." This resolution, by the way, has never been rescinded. The title of the resolution itself is based upon false premises because Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh together have never been a single state entity.
The Alleged "Blockade"
Under such circumstances, Armenia's charge against Azerbaijan for its so-called "blockade against Armenia" is a very skillful Armenian subterfuge that has served them well, especially among uninformed Americans. Obviously, severance of communications and transport connections is an inevitable result of any military conflict between two countries. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a single state in the world that willfully provides an aggressive neighbor with energy to enable it to continue its expansionist plans. Imagine Nazi Germany complaining that the Soviet Union had cut off its energy supplies. How absurd!
But in fact, there is no such thing as a blockade. One glance at the world map will prove it. Armenia borders not only Azerbaijan but also three other countries with which it is not at conflict-Iran, Turkey and Georgia-and, therefore, can use, and has used their transportation lines to receive the necessary goods that it bitterly complains about. However, as a result of Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, the entire Nakhchivan region (the non-contiguous part of Azerbaijan, which the Bolsheviks separated by a narrow 48 km strip of Armenian territory) is now totally cut off from the mainland of Azerbaijan.
If Armenia had really been blockaded and totally cut off from the outside world, the UN Security Council, of which the U.S. is a permanent member, would have acted accordingly, imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan. Instead, in January 1993, the President of the Security Council made a statement on behalf of the members of the Council expressing their deep concern at the devastating effect of interruptions in the supply of goods and materials, in particular energy supplies (for fuel and heating), to Armenia and to the Nakhchivan region of Azerbaijan.
The Council called upon the governments in the region to allow supplies to flow to both Armenia and Nakhchivan. Moreover, a separate paragraph of Resolution 853, which was adopted later (July 1993), reiterates the Council's call for restoration of economic, transport and energy links in the region. The highest international security organization, therefore, has more accurately characterized the situation not as a blockade against Armenia but as "interruptions in the supply of goods and materials" between both sides.
With regard to Armenia's interpretation of the principle of "self-determination," it should be noted that Armenia became outspoken about this policy only after expelling 200,000 Azerbaijanis from Armenia in 1988-1990. Armenia had been home for these Azerbaijanis for centuries. Today, no Azerbaijanis remain in Armenia. As a result, Armenia has become essentially a mono-ethnic State, where practically no ethnic minorities exist. Indeed, such a practice emulates Stalin: no minorities - no problems.
Therefore, Armenia has no right whatsoever to advocate for the right of self-determination within another country, especially when it is pursuing unfounded territorial claims in that country-claims which have been endorsed "de jure" by the Armenian Parliament.
Incidentally, for generations, thousands of Azerbaijanis lived in Armenia without enjoying any form of autonomy. The Armenian population of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, on the other hand, enjoyed autonomy in the political, social and cultural spheres. It was a Soviet-styled autonomy (perhaps incomplete and imperfect), but nevertheless, an autonomy with freedom to use the Armenian language in public (for example, the region's legislature), educational (Stepanakert Pedagogical Institute), cultural (Stepanakert Dramatic Theater) sectors as well as in media.
Two further observations. There is no denying that the Nagorno-Karabakh region is the Motherland of local Armenians whose ancestors were settled there early in the 19th century when they were assisted by Russians to immigrate from Persia and Turkey under, to use the modern language, the Czarist Russia's "resettlement program." Historic records and documents by a famous Russian diplomat and writer Alexander Griboyedov confirm this deliberate resettlement plan.
Consider the vital statistics of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which occupies the southeastern part of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains and covers an area of 4,388 sq km, or 1,714 sq. miles. The territory stretches for 120 km from north to south, and 35-60 km from east to west. Before the conflict broke out in 1988, the population of the region was recorded as 187,000. Of these, 137,200 were Armenians (73.4%) and 47,400 Azerbaijanis (25.3%). There were 2,400 individuals of other nationalities (1.3%). For comparison, Rhode Island covers 1,545 sq. miles and has a population of 990,225.
Nevertheless, a legitimate desire of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians to improve all aspects of their lives and to strengthen their ties with Armenia is understandable and met no resistance. However, these aspirations do not entitle them to independence justified by the right of "self-determination." In principle, the Armenian people have already exercised their right for self-determination. There is an independent state-the Republic of Armenia-which is a member of the United Nations, the OSCE, the World Bank Institutions, etc. Has there ever been a single nation having two separate states (excluding those countries which have been historically split such as Korea, Germany, Yemen, etc.)? Secondly, what is the Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh supposed to do? Desist? Or are they to proceed along the same "logic" of self-determination and create another Azerbaijani entity within an "independent Nagorno-Karabakh?" Such an absurdity leads only to deadlock or is the right to self-determination only available to the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh?
The late member of the Russian Parliament (Duma), Galina Starovoitova wondered about this problem and even asked the UN Secretary General about it on CNN (May 5, 1993). During a live satellite television conference Ms. Starovoitova asked: "Mr. Secretary General, do you, the United Nations think-tanks, try to work out some definitions, some pre-conditions and criteria for self-determination of the emerging independent States? What is your opinion about the possibility of recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state and thus stopping this war in Azerbaijan?"
The Secretary General replied: "Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the United Nations. Thus, we have recognized the territorial integrity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, so the United Nations cannot promote the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh." The Secretary General, in his fundamental and comprehensive report entitled "Agenda for Peace" emphasized that if every ethnic, religious or linguistic group claimed statehood, there would be no end to the fragmentation that would take place throughout the world. Peace, security and economic well being for all would become ever more difficult to achieve. He further pointed out that the principle of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of States within the established international system, and the principle of self-determination for peoples must not be permitted to work against each other in the period ahead. And this, despite the fact that both principles are of enormous value and importance. This is a conceptual approach.
The UN General Assembly's Response
In December 1998, at the 53rd session of the UN General Assembly, Armenia and Azerbaijan tested their respective positions in relationship to an agenda item on the cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE is the 54-member international body, which has created a special mechanism - the Minsk Group - to be responsible for finding a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
It was the Azerbaijani delegation, which amended the draft resolution on this item with language reaffirming, in substance, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. In accordance with the rules of procedure, this amendment was to have been voted upon first.
However, the Armenian delegation tried to block the amendment by introducing a motion not to take action on it. Such a procedural measure is often employed for the sole intention of killing a proposal simply by causing no action or no decision to be made about it. In this case, the motion had to be voted upon before the amendment was. However, when the vote was taken, Armenia lost. The General Assembly rejected the motion to not act upon Azerbaijan's amendment. There were 32 States which voted against the motion; Armenia alone favored it. Subsequently, Azerbaijan's amendment was adopted by a vote of 114 in favor to 1 against (Armenia).
It is very tempting to conclude these remarks on a "victorious" note. But the truth is that there can be no "victory" for either party in this bitter conflict. In 1993, following the adoption of the first resolution (882) by the Security Council on the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict, the UK delegation made a very astute observation: "The only realistic solution, given United Nations and OSCE principles, is for continued Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, with real autonomy for the local Armenian population. But if parties choose instead to continue the conflict, they are condemning themselves to years of economic and social misery and forsaking the historic opportunities that are offered by their hard-won independence."
Yashar Aliyev has been Counselor of the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations since 1992. He resides in New York.
From Azerbaijan International (6.4) Winter 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.