Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
Azerbaijan continues to create its heroic history. At such a fateful moment of the victorious liberation operation, it makes sense to remember the history of the Karabakh conflict.
Claims of settlers
The roots of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem go back to the period of the Russian conquest of the South Caucasus. In the first third of the 19th century, the Russian Empire resettled Armenians from the Ottoman Empire and Iran to the lands of Northern Azerbaijan. As a result of this resettlement policy, Armenians began to settle en masse, including in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1911, the prominent Russian orientalist Nikolai Shatrov admitted that "of the 1.3 million Armenians currently living in Transcaucasia, over one million are not indigenous, but were resettled by us... Armenians settled mainly on the fertile lands of Yelizavetpol (present Ganja, R+) and the Erivan province, where there were negligible numbers of them before. Armenians were settled in the mountainous part of the Yelizavetpol province (Nagorno-Karabakh, R+) and around the Goycha Lake."
The settlement of Armenians on the Azerbaijani lands changed the ethnic composition of the population of the South Caucasus, including, first of all, the territory of North Azerbaijan. By settling the obedient Armenians in the South Caucasus, the Russian Empire tried to put an end to the traditional influence of the Ottoman and Iranian states, but the main thing was to finally assert its dominance in the region.
The history of direct interstate conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia goes back a little over a century. It all started back in 1918, when, as a result of the fall of the Russian Empire, the independent republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia emerged in the South Caucasus. Although the Republic of Armenia (Ararat) was created under the insurmountable pressure of external forces on the historical lands of Azerbaijan (in some areas around the Goycha Lake and the city of Irevan with its suburbs), Armenia has later made repeated claims to other Azerbaijani territories, including Nagorny Karabakh. During the rule of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (May 1918-April 1920), Armenia carried out a number of aggressive military campaigns in Karabakh. However, the National Army of Azerbaijan managed to oust the Armenian military from the territory of the ADR and was able to assert its right to Karabakh.
After the establishment of the Soviet rule in the South Caucasus, the Soviet leadership in 1923 decided to leave Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous region within the Azerbaijan SSR, taking into account the original economic and cultural unity of Nagorno-Karabakh with Baku. Nevertheless, the Armenian SSR continued to put forward claims to annex the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) to Armenia. However, this plan did not get the approval of the Soviet leadership, as it understood well the danger of redrawing borders within a single union state. Therefore, the Soviet leaders repeatedly thwarted attempts by Armenian nationalists to undermine the foundations of peace between the two union republics and other ethnic groups within the state.
Yet, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted again in the political arena of the USSR in February 1988. It began with demands for the annexation of NKAO of the Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenian SSR. The conflict developed amidst the forcible deportation of over 200,000 Azerbaijanis, the indigenous population of the Armenian SSR, and the subsequent tragic events in the Azerbaijan SSR. This was followed by the bloody invasion of Baku by a large contingent of Soviet troops in January 1990.
While the Armenian side’s goal was to ensure "miatsum", that is–the annexation of NKAO to Armenia, Azerbaijan strove to protect its territorial integrity. However, the Soviet leadership led by Mikhail Gorbachev not only turned a blind eye to the growing nationalist aspirations of Armenians, but actually supported Armenia's territorial claims.
As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia became one of the triggers for the collapse of the USSR. After the collapse of the Union, the conflict turned into an open armed interstate confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that is, the Karabakh problem de jure became an international issue.
Occupation, truce and negotiation
In the first half of 1992, Armenia intensified aggression against Azerbaijan. The Armed Forces of Armenia was supported externally and occupied the strategically important districts of Azerbaijan – Shusha and Lachin. The bloodiest event in the course of the Karabakh conflict was the genocide of Azerbaijanis during the capture of the city of Khojaly by the Armenian military. On the night of February 26, 1992, Armenian military groups with the support of the 366th motorized rifle regiment of the former Soviet army killed 613 people with particular cruelty, including 106 women, 63 young children, and 70 elderly. More than 1,000 civilians, including 76 children, were seriously injured and became disabled.
In March 1992, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) joined the settlement of the conflict and established its own peacekeeping institution known as the Minsk Group (MG). The group received a mandate not only to conduct negotiations on the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, but also to prepare an appropriate document with concessions from both sides with the subsequent approval of the comprehensive peace agreement by convening a Minsk conference.
Meanwhile, fights in Karabakh soon turned to a full-scale war. In the fall of 1993, with significant external military support, Armenia could take advantage of the internal political chaos in Azerbaijan and completed the creation of the so-called buffer zone around the illegal puppet regime created by the occupiers of Azerbaijani lands. Armenian Armed Forces occupied not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the adjacent seven districts of Azerbaijan: Aghdam, Jebrayil, Zangilan, Kalbajar, Gubadly, Lachin and Fizuli. Not a single Azerbaijani remained in this entire territory. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani nationals became internally displaced persons.
The fact of the Armenian occupation of the internationally recognized territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan was recorded in four UN Security Council resolutions nos. 822 (April 30, 1993), 853 (July 29, 1993), 874 (October 14, 1993), and 884 (November 12, 1993) that provide for the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian occupation forces from the Azerbaijani territories.
On May 12, 1994, the parties to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict signed a ceasefire protocol in Bishkek with the mediation of Russia. Thus began the predominantly political and diplomatic stage of the conflict, during which attempts were made at the negotiating table to agree on a model of long-term peace.
However, the negotiation process led by the OSCE Minsk Group since 1997 under the co-chairmanship of Russia, the United States and France has not demonstrated any progress. Although initially it was planned to find peaceful ways to implement international legal documents on the Karabakh settlement, primarily the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
During the period led by the OSCE Minsk Group, a number of proposals and even plans for the settlement of the conflict have been developed. But from the very beginning, the priority of the Minsk Group was to discuss, as the most optimal settlement plan, a stage-by-stage option, which provided from one to several stages of the liberation of the occupied territories outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, followed by discussions on and the coordination of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In December 1997, co-chairs presented the ‘revised’ version of a phased settlement, taking into account the wishes of the parties. The then President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan was inclined to accept the option, but the "Karabakh clan" rushing to power in Armenia did not accept his position. As a result, Armenia was struck by a government crisis that led to Ter-Petrosyan's resignation in February 1998.
Since then and for almost 20 years, the Minsk process has become almost frozen. The "Karabakh clan" represented by the former presidents of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, who alternately replaced each other, rejected any possibility of keeping Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. Taking into account Armenia's categorical approach, the co-chairs submitted a set of proposals in November 1998 designated as a "common state" project. The plan suggested the establishment of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. But this approach was rejected by Baku, since, in fact, it represented a kind of legitimization of the consequences of the seizure of Azerbaijani territories. Azerbaijan also rejected a so-called all-in-one attempt to promote the settlement of the conflict through withdrawing the Armenian military from the districts around Nagorno-Karabakh together the definition of a new status for Nagorno-Karabakh.
During the negotiation process, Azerbaijan insisted on the only settlement formula, which would be in line both with the international law and the interests of long-term peace. In essence, Azerbaijan offered the conflict be settled on the basis of the norms and principles of international law and the UN Security Council resolutions, which demand the withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the occupied territories, the return of internally displaced persons to their native lands, and the provision of a high degree of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan after the return of the expelled Azerbaijanis, when the region will again become bi-communal. Under the influence of Azerbaijan's impeccable political and legal position, the co-chairing states of the Minsk Group developed the so-called Madrid principles of the settlement. They were first presented at the November 2007 talks in Madrid. The Madrid principles stipulate the withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, the return of internally displaced persons to their native lands, the provision of an intermediate status to Nagorno-Karabakh until the final status is agreed upon during the negotiations and following the results of the popular will. These principles were reaffirmed by the heads of state of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in L'Aquila (July 10, 2009) and Muskoka (June 26, 2010).
At about the same time, on the basis of the Madrid principles, Russia proposed a modified version of the Madrid Principles known as the Kazan Document or the Lavrov plan. Logically, it was a continuation of the Mayendorf Declaration signed on November 2, 2008 at the residence of the Russian president near Moscow by the heads of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. It is noteworthy that President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev positively evaluated the signing of the Mayendorf Declaration and said that “the negotiation process is entering its final phase... We are moving forward. This inspires optimism and strengthens the negotiation process. Although the conflict has not been settled since 1994, when the ceasefire was established, today there is probably more hope that it is resolved once and forever than several years ago.”
On June 24, 2011, the heads of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Kazan with the assistance of the Russian President. The venue of negotiations coined the term the "Kazan Document", which also provided for the gradual liberation of the occupied districts of Azerbaijan. In fact, the document contained a number of controversial issues and issues requiring more thorough elaboration. For example, the number of liberated districts at the first stage of settlement, the conditions of popular referendum, etc. These initiatives launched after the Madrid Principles created a real basis for the continuation of negotiations. It is no coincidence that in one of his recent statements on the victorious counteroffensive of the Azerbaijani army President Ilham Aliyev made it clear that over the years of negotiations he received signals about the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict, which motivated Azerbaijan to further support and participate in the peace process.
Failure of the peace process
However, all peaceful initiatives were ultimately rejected by Armenia, whose position boiled down to a refusal to return the occupied territories to Azerbaijan. The result was an uncontrollable rise of tension in the conflict zone, which culminated in full-scale hostilities in early April 2016. It was the largest-scale military escalation on the line of contact in Karabakh since the Bishkek armistice. Within a few days, the Azerbaijani army returned a number of strategic heights in the occupied territories. The need to change the status quo after the occupation of a fifth of the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan by Armenia has become obvious to all interested external forces. Baku made it clear that the war was not over, and therefore it was necessary to conduct substantive negotiations in order to achieve a concrete result. It required the development of a comprehensive peace agreement based on the principles and norms of international law.
Expectations that it will be possible to achieve this peacefully, following the results of substantive negotiations, appeared after the change of power in Armenia in 2018. One of the enemies of the "Karabakh clan" who positioned himself as a democrat politician, Nikol Pashinyan, came to power in Yerevan. The first months of his rule did show some positive touches in the peace process, including the reduction of tension on the line of contact, and the establishment of direct communication at the highest level between Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result, the foreign ministers of both countries agreed to take measures to "prepare peoples for peace." This was facilitated, first of all, by the peaceful policy of Azerbaijan, which actually gave the new, "velvet-revolutionary" leader of Armenia carte blanche to form a more constructive position of Yerevan in the negotiation process.
But, having strengthened in power, Pashinyan did everything possible to completely nullify and destroy the peace process. All his statements and actions on Karabakh demonstrated that did not intend to end the occupation policy of Armenia. On the contrary, he even was ready to strengthen it, including through such criminal steps as the settlement of Armenians from other countries on the occupied lands of Azerbaijan and the preparation of a "new war for new territories."
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs also contributed to the de facto failure of the peace process by indulging the aspirations of the aggressor. Although they tried to find a settlement formula, they preferred to take a purely observant position putting a sign of equality between the aggressor and its victim, the occupying and the occupied side. They did not do the main thing: to effectively seek a solution to the conflict on the basis of international law, UN Security Council resolutions - that is, to fulfill the mission for which, in fact, the Minsk Group was created.
Armenia's refusal to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions, withdraw its armed forces from the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, as well as the inconsistent position of international mediators that convinced the aggressor of its impunity, pulled the region into a new full-scale war. The last signal rang in the July 2020 battles caused by another military provocation by Armenia. Its attempts to break through the border in the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan became an indicator of the aggressor's irrepressible desire not only to maintain the status quo, but also to new conquests.
On September 27, the Armenian Armed Forces again started shelling the civilian population of Azerbaijan. It was the last straw of patience of the Azerbaijani people!
The people of Azerbaijani will certainly complement the history by liberating their native Karabakh and other occupied lands! All Azerbaijanis are writing this heroic page together...