Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

At the end of 1987, the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (hereinafter Armenian SSR) openly laid claim to the territory of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (hereinafter NKAO) of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan (hereinafter Azerbaijan SSR). That marked the beginning of the expulsion of Azerbaijanis from the Armenian SSR and the NKAO, as well as initiated taking a number of illegal decisions aimed at unilateral secession of the NKAO from the Azerbaijan SSR.

The collapse of the USSR finally freed the hands of the Armenian nationalists. At the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992 the conflict reached the military phase. Armenia began combat operations on the territory of Azerbaijan. Over the period of 1992-1993 a considerable area of Azerbaijan was occupied by Armenia, including Nagorny Karabakh and seven adjacent districts. The war unleashed against Azerbaijan led to the deaths and wounding of thousands of people; hundreds of thousands became refugees and were forcibly displaced and several thousand disappeared without a trace. Most serious international crimes have been committed in the course of the war.

In general, the legal and political constituents for the settlement of the conflict are based on the norms and principles of international law, laid down in the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as in the appropriate documents and decisions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international organizations. These documents confirm, inter alia, that the occupation by force of the territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan constitutes a flagrant breach by the Republic of Armenia of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

By disregarding the resolutions of the Security Council and General Assembly, with which the primary responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security lies, and by misinterpreting the essence of other relevant documents, Armenia clearly demonstrates who is actually pursuing the destructive and militaristic policy.

While accusing Azerbaijan of “anti-Armenian propaganda, instilling racial hatred and intolerance against the Armenians”, Armenia disregards the fact that, unlike itself, which has purged its territory of all non-Armenians and become a uniquely mono-ethnic state, Azerbaijan has preserved its ethnic diversity to the present day.

Instead of trying to contribute to restoring peace, security and stability in the region and putting an end to the protracted conflict, Armenia, which bears the primary responsibility for unleashing war against Azerbaijan, gives preference to escalation with unpredictable consequences. The stance of Armenia, as it is reflected in the aforementioned memorandum and other similar documents and statements, testifies that it is far from even thinking to engage in a sober and efficient search for peace.

The Republic of Azerbaijan considers the provocative attitude of Armenia and its bellicose rhetoric as an open challenge to the ongoing peace efforts and political settlement perspectives, unconcealed propaganda for war of aggression and a serious threat to regional peace and security.

The information below is illustrative as to the aggressive, annexationist and discriminatory policy of Armenia based on historical, ethnic and religious prejudices and aimed at creating a mono-ethnic culture both within its own country and in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

In this regard, Azerbaijan expects that the international community would convince Armenia to cease its destructive policies, to respect the generally accepted norms and principles of international law and to negotiate in good faith with a view to finding a durable solution to the conflict.

While presenting its own interpretation of the chronology of events at that time, the Armenian side usually passes over in silence a number of important factual aspects pertaining to the real situation on the ground.

Thus, the present-day stage of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict began at the end of 1988 with the attacks on the Azerbaijanis in Khankandi (during the Soviet period – Stepanakert) and Armenia resulting in a flood of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons.

On 20 February 1988, the representatives of the Armenian community at the session of the Soviet of People’s Deputies of the NKAO adopted a resolution seeking the transfer of the NKAO from the Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenian SSR.

On 22 February 1988, near the settlement of Asgaran on the Khankandi-Aghdam highway, the Armenians opened fire on a peaceful demonstration by the Azerbaijanis protesting against the above-mentioned decision of the Soviet of People’s Deputies of the NKAO. Two Azerbaijani youths lost their lives in consequence, becoming the first victims of the conflict.

On 26-28 February 1988, 26 Armenians and Azerbaijanis were killed as a result of the disturbances in Sumgait. It is notable that one of the leading figures in these events was a certain Edward Grigorian, an Armenian and native of Sumgait, who was directly involved in the killings and violence against the Armenians and the pogroms in the Armenian neighborhoods. By decision of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court of the Azerbaijan SSR dated 22 December 1989, Grigorian was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. The Court found Grigorian to be one of the organizers of unrest and massacres. Depositions by witnesses and victims show that he had a list of flats inhabited by the Armenians and, together with three other Armenians, called for reprisals against the Armenians, in which he took part personally. His victims (all Armenians) identified Grigorian as one of the organizers and active figures in the violence. In fact, events in Sumgait, being necessary to the Armenian leadership as a means of launching an extensive anti-Azerbaijani campaign and justifying the ensuing aggressive actions against Azerbaijan, had been planned and prepared in advance. The events in Sumgait also could hardly be managed without outside powerful support. As The Times wrote, the KGB leadership tried “to weaken the Kremlin’s authority and powerbase” and “organized acts of provocation, using genuine local dissatisfaction as a base, in cities across the Soviet Union, including Sumgait and Baku ...”.

Following the aforementioned petition of 20 February 1988, a number of other declarations and decisions were taken by both the Armenian SSR and the local Armenians of the NKAO with the view of securing the unilateral secession of Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s view is that “following the collapse of the USSR, on the territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR two States were formed: the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Nagorny Karabakh” (hereinafter - “NKR”) and that “the establishment of both States has similar legal basis”, while the process by which the latter entity became “independent” reflected the right of self-determination.

However, this approach is fundamentally flawed. On the eve of the independence of Azerbaijan, the unlawfulness within the Soviet legal system of attempted unilateral secession of Nagorny Karabakh without Azerbaijan’s consent was confirmed at the highest constitutional level. Azerbaijan did not so consent, so that the definition of the territory of Azerbaijan as it proceeded to independence and in the light of the applicable law clearly included the territory of Nagorny Karabakh. Azerbaijan was entitled to come to independence within the territorial boundaries that it was recognized as having as the Azerbaijan SSR within the USSR.

The assertion of secession from an independent Azerbaijan on the grounds of self-determination contradicts the universally accepted norm of territorial integrity, as discussed in the report “On the Fundamental Norm of the Territorial Integrity of States and the Right to Self-Determination in the light of Armenia’s Revisionist Claims” circulated by the request of Azerbaijan as a document of the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Not only has Azerbaijan not consented to this secession (indeed it has constantly and continuously protested against it), but no state in the international community has recognized the “NKR” as independent, not even Armenia, even though Armenia provides indispensable economic, political and military sustenance without which that entity could not exist.

It follows from the aforementioned that Armenia’s claims as to the “independence” of Nagorny Karabakh are contrary to and unsustainable in international law.

At the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992 the conflict turned into a military phase. Taking advantage of the political instability as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and internal squabbles in Azerbaijan, Armenia initiated with external military assistance combat operations in Nagorny Karabakh.

The first armed attack by the Republic of Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan after the independence of the two Republics – an attack in which organized military formations and armoured vehicles operated against Azerbaijani targets – occurred in February 1992, when the town of Khojaly in the Republic of Azerbaijan was notoriously overrun and its population was subjected to an unprecedented massacre. This bloody tragedy, which became known as the Khojaly genocide, involved the extermination or capture of thousands of Azerbaijanis; the town was razed to the ground. Over the night from 25 to 26 February 1992 the Armenian armed forces with the help of the infantry guards regiment No.366 of the former USSR, the personnel of which was composed mainly of Armenians, implemented the seizure of Khojaly. The inhabitants of Khojaly that remained in the town before the tragic night tried to leave their houses after the beginning of the assault in the hope to find the way to the nearest place populated by the Azerbaijanis. But these plans have failed. Invaders destroyed Khojaly and with particular brutality implemented carnage over its peaceful population. As a result, 613 civilians were killed, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly. Another 1,000 people were wounded and 1,275 taken hostage. To this day, 150 people from Khojaly remain missing.

As news and accounts of the atrocity surfaced, the level of brutality was revealed: atrocities by Armenian troops included scalping, beheading, bayoneting of pregnant women, and mutilation of bodies. Even children were not spared. The facts confirm that the intentional slaughter of the Khojaly town civilians on 25-26 February 1992 was directed to their mass extermination only because they were Azerbaijanis. The Khojaly town was chosen as a stage for further occupation and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijani territories, striking terror into the hearts of people and creating panic and fear before the horrifying massacre.

In May 1992, Shusha, the Azerbaijani-populated administrative centre of the district within Nagorny Karabakh, and Lachyn, the district situated between Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh, were occupied. In 1993, the armed forces of Armenia captured another six districts of Azerbaijan around Nagorny Karabakh: Kalbajar (April 1993), Aghdam (July 1993), Jabrayil (August 1993), Gubadly (August 1993), Fuzuli (August 1993) and Zangilan (October 1993).

After the open assertion by Armenia in the late 1980s of its territorial claims on Azerbaijan and the launching of armed operations in the Nagorny Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan such well-known terrorist organizations as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), the Commandos of Justice of the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian Revolutionary Army, transferred the centre of their activities from the countries of the Middle East, Western Europe and North America to the territory of the former USSR.

In all, as a result of terrorist acts against Azerbaijan carried out since the late 1980s by the Armenian secret service and some Armenian organizations closely connected with it, including criminal acts against road, rail, sea and air transport and ground communications, over 2,000 citizens of Azerbaijan have been killed, the majority of them women, the elderly and children.

Furthermore, there are unquestionable facts testifying about the active use by Armenia of mercenaries to attack Azerbaijan.

In sum, the ongoing armed conflict in and around the Nagorny Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan has resulted in the occupation of almost one fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan and made approximately one out of every eight persons in the country an internally displaced person or refugee, 20,000 people were killed, 50,000 people were wounded or became invalids, about 5,000 citizens of Azerbaijan are still missing. It should be particularly emphasized that the Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons were forced to flee because Armenia and its military forces had the clear aim of ethnic cleansing and of creating a mono-ethnic culture there.

On 12 May 1994, the ceasefire was established. However, Armenia continues to violate the truce. Since summer of 2003 there has been an acute increase in the Armenian side’s violations of the ceasefire. In addition to shelling and killing Azerbaijani soldiers along the ceasefire line, Armenians also attack civilians residing in the adjacent territories.

The aggression against the Republic of Azerbaijan has severely damaged the socio-economic sphere of the country. In the occupied territories 6 cities, 12 towntype villages, 830 settlements, and hundreds of hospitals and medical facilities were burned or otherwise destroyed. As a result of aggression, hundreds of thousands of houses and apartments and thousands of community and medical buildings were destroyed or looted. Hundreds of libraries have been plundered and millions of books and valuable manuscripts have been burned or otherwise destroyed. Several state theatres, hundreds of clubs and dozens of musical schools have been destroyed. Several thousands of manufacturing, agricultural and other kinds of factories and plants have been pillaged. The hundred kilometers long irrigation system has been totally destroyed. Flocks of several hundreds of thousands of sheep and dozens of thousands of cattle have been driven out of the occupied territories to Armenia. About 70 per cent of the summer pastures of Azerbaijan remains in the occupied zone.

The regional infrastructure including hundreds of bridges, hundreds of kilometres of roads and thousands of kilometres of water pipelines, as well as thousands of kilometres of gas pipelines and dozens of gas distribution stations have been destroyed.

The war against Azerbaijan has also had catastrophic consequences for its cultural heritage both in the occupied territories and in Armenia.

Contrary to the numerous statements of the official Yerevan that Armenia is not directly involved in the conflict with Azerbaijan and occupation of its territories and that “Nagorny Karabakh gained its independence according to the domestic and international legal norms” (document A/63/781-S/2009/156 is yet another example of such misinterpretation), there are ample evidences testifying against such allegations and proving the direct military aggression of the Republic of Armenia against a sovereign state. At the same time, “NKR” in its current manifestation is an ethnically constructed illegal entity and its organs must also be so tainted. The area of Nagorny Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories remain under the effective control of Armenia.

In reality, the actions of Armenia, up to and including the resort to force, constitute a violation of the fundamental norm of respect for the territorial integrity of states, as well as a violation of other relevant international legal principles, such as the rule prohibiting the use of force.

It has been internationally recognized that Azerbaijani territories are under occupation and that Armenia has been actively involved in the creation and maintenance of that situation. The existence of and exclusive Armenian presence in the occupied territories is expressly recognized by the political organs of the United Nations, by the European Union, OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, together with recognition by individual states. Accordingly, Armenia is an occupying power within the meaning of the relevant international legal provisions.

The critical period for the determination of the status of Armenia as an occupying power of Azerbaijani territory is the end of 1991 for this was the period during which the USSR disintegrated and the new successor States came into being, thus transforming an internal conflict between the two Union Republics into an international conflict.

Taking advantage of the favourable results of military actions, Armenia is trying to consolidate the current status quo and impose finally a fait accompli situation through measures aimed at preventing the expelled Azerbaijani population from returning to their places of origin. Such measures include, inter alia, continuing illegal settlement practices and economic activities in the occupied territories accompanied by serious and systematic interference with property rights.

Sources, including the Armenian ones, report on tens of thousands of settlers, who have moved into the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, including districts adjacent to the Nagorny Karabakh region, such as Lachyn, Kalbajar, Zangilan and Jabrayil. Facts testify that this is being done in an organized manner with the purpose of annexation of these territories. In 2000, “the resettlement programme” has been adopted with the declared purpose to increase the number of the population in the Nagorny Karabakh region to 300,000 by the year 2010.

Armenia continues to take purposeful measures to build up its military presence in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The arms control mechanism is not effective in the territories of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia. Accumulation of a great number of armaments and ammunitions in these territories, which are beyond international control, poses serious threats to regional peace and security.

Highly alarmed by the far-reaching implications of this activity, Azerbaijan has requested to address the situation in its occupied territories within the General Assembly. This initiative proceeded from the strong belief that the only way for reaching a just, complete and comprehensive settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is an approach based on the full and unequivocal respect for the letter and spirit of international law.

On 29 October 2004, the General Assembly decided to include the item entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” on the agenda of its fifty-ninth session. On 11 November 2004, a report on the transfer of population into the occupied territories of Azerbaijan was submitted to the General Assembly. The General Assembly’s consideration of this agenda item played a crucial role in attracting attention to the issue of the illegal transfer of settlers into the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, as well as in initiating urgent measures for putting an end to this dangerous practice.

A visit to the occupied territories of the OSCE fact-finding mission from 30 January-5 February 2005 became a logical consequence of Azerbaijan’s initiative to raise the issue on the situation in its occupied territories before the General Assembly. The main outcome of the mission’s activity was the report based on comprehensive facts, both provided by Azerbaijan and obtained during study of the situation on the ground. The mission clearly confirmed the transfer of settlers into the occupied territories, thus underlining the concerns of Azerbaijan. In their turn, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmen, proceeding from the conclusions contained in the mission’s report, have emphasized the inadmissibility of changes in the demographic composition of the region and urged appropriate international agencies to conduct needs assessment for resettlement of the population located in the occupied territories and return of the internally displaced persons to their places of permanent residence. The report and recommendations of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmen that were based on it, laid down a basis for further consideration and resolution of the problem.

The issue of the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan has been also included in the agenda of the subsequent sessions of the General Assembly.

On 7 September 2006, the General Assembly adopted resolution 60/285 entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” as proposed by Azerbaijan in regard to the incidents of massive fires taking place in the occupied territories.

The resolution stresses the necessity of the urgent conduct of an environmental operation, and calls for assessment of the short-term and long-term impact of the fires on the environment of the region and its rehabilitation. For these purposes, the resolution emphasizes the readiness of the parties to cooperate and calls upon the organizations and programmes of the United Nations system, in particular the United Nations Environment Programme to cooperate with OSCE.

The OSCE fact-finding mission, carried out from 2 to 13 October 2006, assessed the short-term and long-term impact of the fires on the environment in the affected territories and confirmed, inter alia, that “the fires resulted in environmental and economic damages and threatened human health and security”.

On 14 March 2008, the General Assembly adopted at its sixty-second session resolution 62/243 on the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Seriously concerned that the armed conflict in and around the Nagorny Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan continued to endanger international peace and security, the General Assembly reaffirmed its continued strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders, demanding the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Assembly reaffirmed the inalienable right of the population expelled from the occupied territories to return to their homes. It has also recognized the necessity of providing normal, secure, and equal conditions of life for Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in the Nagorny Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which would allow to build up an effective democratic system of self-governance in this region within the Republic of Azerbaijan. The General Assembly also reaffirmed that no state shall recognize as lawful the situation resulting from the occupation of the territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan, nor render aid or assistance in maintaining this situation.

By paragraph 8 of resolution 62/243, the General Assembly requested the Secretary General to submit to the General Assembly at its sixty-third session a comprehensive report on the implementation of the resolution. This report was issued on 30 March 2009 and reproduced the replies received from Governments of States Members of the United Nations.

Since February 1992 the process of mediation on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict within the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (hereinafter CSCE) has continued. At the Additional Meeting of the CSCE Council of Ministers, held in Helsinki on 24 March 1992, a decision to convene as soon as possible a conference on Nagorny Karabakh in Minsk under the auspices of CSCE to provide an ongoing forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the crisis on the basis of the principles, commitments and provisions of CSCE was adopted.

In general, the legal and political constituents for the settlement of the conflict are based on the norms and principles of international law, laid down in Security Council resolutions 822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993) and 884 (1993) and General Assembly resolution 62/243, as well as in the appropriate documents and decisions of OSCE and other international organizations. The above-mentioned Security Council resolutions were adopted in 1993 in response to the occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan and reaffirmed respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the international borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan and all other states in the region. The resolutions demanded immediate cessation of all hostile acts, and immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of occupying forces from all occupied regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and called for the restoration of economic, transport and energy links in the region, ensuring the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes. The Security Council approved also the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group on the achievement of the peaceful solution to the conflict and called for the search of ways of conflict settlement within the OSCE Minsk process. None of these resolutions was implemented by Armenia.

On 12 May 1994, the ceasefire was established. According to the decision taken at the CSCE Budapest Summit (5-6 December 1994), Heads of States and Governments of the CSCE participating states set up the office of the Co-Chairmanship of the Minsk Conference for the coordination of all mediation efforts within the CSCE framework. The Budapest Summit tasked the CSCE Chairman-in-Office to conduct negotiations aimed at the conclusion of the political agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, implementation of which would remove the consequences of the conflict and would allow convening the Minsk Conference. The Summit also adopted a decision on the deployment of the CSCE multinational peacekeeping forces after the achievement of the agreement between the Parties on the cessation of the armed conflict, and the establishment of the High-Level Planning Group located in Vienna and aimed at the preparation of the peacekeeping operation. It superseded an earlier Initial Operations Planning Group, which was established in May 1993.

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office issued on 23 March 1995 the mandate for the Co-Chairmen of the Minsk Process.

At the OSCE Lisbon Summit of the Heads of States and Governments of the CSCE participating states, held on 2-3 December 1996, the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and the OSCE Chairman-in-Office recommended the principles, which should have been the basis for the settlement of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. Armenia was the only 1 out of 54 OSCE participating states not to support them.

Then the OSCE Chairman-in-Office made a statement with the inclusion of those principles. They are as follows:

  • territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic;
  • legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh defined in an agreement based on self-determination which confers on Nagorno-Karabakh the highest degree of self-rule within Azerbaijan;
  • guaranteed security for Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population, including mutual obligations to ensure compliance by all the Parties with the provisions of the settlement.

After the Lisbon Summit the office of the triple Co-Chairmanship, including Russia, France and the United States of America, was established in 1997 (since 1992 the Chairmen of the Minsk Conference were Italy in 1992-1993, Sweden in 1994, Russia and Finland in 1995-1996). Since April 1997 the negotiations were suspended and substituted by the visits of the Co-Chairmen to the region. On 1 June 1997, the Co-Chairmen presented the draft of a comprehensive agreement on the settlement of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, which consisted of the Agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict and the Agreement on the status of Nagorny Karabakh. Despite the readiness of Azerbaijan to start constructive consultations on the essence of the mentioned documents, Armenia categorically rejected the proposed approach.

On 19-23 September 1997, the Co-Chairmen, during their visit to the region, presented new proposals based on the “stage-by-stage” approach to the settlement, according to which it was planned at the first stage to liberate six occupied districts, to deploy the OSCE peacekeeping operation, to return the displaced persons to the liberated territories and to restore main communications in the conflict zone. At the second stage the issues of Lachyn and Shusha were to be solved and the main principles of the status of Nagorny Karabakh were to be adopted. As a result, the OSCE Minsk Conference ought to be convened. On 10 October 1997, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in their joint Statement in Strasbourg pointed out that “the recent proposals of the Co-Chairmen were a hopeful basis for the resumption of negotiations within the framework of the Minsk Group”.

But after the resignation in February 1998 of President Levon Ter-Petrossian of the Republic of Armenia, and with coming to power in March 1998 of Robert Kocharian, the next visit of the Co-Chairmen to the region took place, when Armenia officially withdrew the consent to the proposals on the “stage-by-stage” settlement of the conflict.

On 9 November 1998, the Co-Chairmen put forward the proposals based on the concept of a “common state”. According to this concept, Nagorny Karabakh would have the status of a state and a territorial unit in the form of a republic, which, together with Azerbaijan, would constitute the common state within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan rejected those proposals insofar as they disregarded its sovereignty and contradicted the Lisbon principles.

Since then no new proposals have been made and the Minsk process practically has reached a deadlock.

In order to give an additional impetus to the negotiations, since April 1999 direct talks between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia on the achievement of conflict settlement have taken place.

During the visit to the region in March 2002 the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmen proposed to conduct negotiations at the level of special representatives of the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The proposal was accepted by the heads of both states. On March 13-15 and July 29-30 2002, the two meetings of the special representatives of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan took place near Prague.

Since 2004 the direct talks between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan have started within the so-called “Prague Process”.

Nevertheless, despite positive signs in the drive to find a settlement to the conflict, the parties could not achieve a substantial breakthrough. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmen reported on 22 June 2006 to the OSCE Permanent Council that during the past seven months they intensified mediation efforts and worked hard to achieve the agreement of both sides on basic principles for a settlement. For that purpose they visited Baku and Yerevan three times together and several more times separately, organized two meetings of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan and two summits between the Presidents of both states — first in Rambouillet in February and then in Bucharest in early June. For the first time since 1997, when the current format of the Co-Chairmanship of the Minsk Group was established, a joint Mission of Representatives of the Co-Chair countries at the Deputy Foreign Minister level travelled to the region in May in order to make clear to the Presidents of both states that 2006 was the necessary window of opportunity for reaching an agreement on Nagorny Karabakh.

According to the Co-Chairmen, a set of core principles had been proposed to Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian. They clarified that their approach was not aimed at solving all aspects of the conflict in one phase. Instead, in the words of the Co-Chairmen, their principles sought to achieve a major degree of progress but deferred some very difficult issues to the future and envisioned further negotiations.

Nevertheless, the Co-Chairmen stated that since the two Presidents failed to agree they had reached the limits of their creativity in the identification, formulation and finalization of these principles. They made clear that if the two sides were unable to agree on those principles, which had been put forward, it was now contingent upon the parties themselves to work together to reach an alternative agreement that both found acceptable. The Co-Chairmen pointed out that they saw no point in continuing the intensive shuttle diplomacy and in initiating further presidential meetings.

In response to the statement of the Minsk Group Co-Chairmen and comments made on that by the Armenian side, which has traditionally attempted to distort the reality of the settlement process, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan clarified, inter alia, that definition of the legal status of the Nagorny Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan is impossible under the conditions of continuing occupation and ethnic cleansing and, accordingly, envisages liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, demilitarization of the whole conflict zone, provision of appropriate international security guarantees therein and return of the forcibly displaced population of Azerbaijan to their homes.

Azerbaijan once again reaffirmed its readiness to grant Nagorny Karabakh the highest status of self-rule within the internationally recognized territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan and based on its Constitution.

The Ministry also pointed out that with the aim of establishing inter-communal peace and harmony, as well as creating objective conditions for defining the region’s status, and also taking into consideration the perspective of the region’s further development, Azerbaijan would be prepared to review, in conformity with the precedents existing in international practice, implementation of a complex of economic and other incentives for the population of Nagorny Karabakh after the restoration of its ethnic composition as of the pre-conflict period.

Along with that, Azerbaijan’s adherence to continuing talks to achieve lasting and fair peace in the region has been repeatedly reaffirmed.

On 13 July 2007, the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a statement in which they provided assessment of the emerging situation in the settlement process for the conflict in light of the meeting between the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and the President of the Republic of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, in St. Petersburg on 9 June 2007. The Co-Chairmen stated that during the meeting the Presidents concentrated their discussion on a limited number of obstacles that stood in the way of agreement on a set of “basic principles” for the peaceful settlement of the conflict. The Co-Chairmen further stated that the Presidents could not overcome these remaining differences. The Co-Chairmen in their statement took note of the initiative to organize a joint visit to the Nagorny Karabakh region, Yerevan and Baku of a group of intellectuals from Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Co-Chairmen welcomed and highly appreciated that event, which they considered as a first concrete confidence-building measure.

In its statement following the adoption by the General Assembly on 14 March 2008 of resolution 62/243, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan made it clear that the draft paper on “basic principles” for the peaceful settlement of the conflict, prepared by the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, contained more disagreements and unsettled issues rather than clarity.

On 2 November 2008, the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation signed a Joint Declaration in Moscow. This document states, inter alia, that the signatories “will work towards improving the situation in the South Caucasus and establishing stability and security in the region through a political settlement of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, on the basis of the principles and norms of international law and the decisions and documents adopted in this framework, which will create favourable conditions for economic development and comprehensive cooperation in the region”. Thus, the heads of three states underlined that the principles and norms of international law and the decisions and documents adopted in this framework, which undoubtedly includes in the first place the Security Council resolutions of 1993 as well as the General Assembly resolutions of 2006 and 2008, are the basis of a political settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The conflict settlement issue is being routinely addressed at all OSCE Summits and Ministerial Council meetings, which stress generally the importance of the peace dialogue and efforts to achieve an early settlement of the conflict based on the norms and principles of international law.

The issue of the consequences of the conflict also remains on the agenda of the Council of Europe. Thus, consideration of the matter in question during the January 2005 session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly resulted in adoption of resolution 1416 entitled “The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference”. The Parliamentary Assembly reaffirmed the occupation of a considerable part of the territory of Azerbaijan and expressed its concern that the military action, and the widespread ethnic hostilities which preceded it, led to large-scale ethnic expulsion and the creation of mono-ethnic areas which resemble the terrible concept of ethnic cleansing. The Assembly made it clear that the occupation of foreign territory by a member state constitutes a grave violation of that state’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and reaffirmed the right of displaced persons from the area of conflict to return to their homes safely and with dignity. The Assembly also recalled the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and urged the parties concerned to comply with them, in particular by withdrawing military forces from any occupied territories.

Although the mediation efforts conducted for already quite a long period of time within the framework of OSCE have not always been consistent and have yet to yield results, Azerbaijan continues to be committed to solving the conflict by political means and in a constructive manner.

The strategy of the Government of Azerbaijan is aimed at the liberation of all occupied territories, the return of forcibly displaced population to their homes, and the establishment of durable peace and stability in the Nagorny Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, as well as in the entire South Caucasus.

The final stage of the settlement process provides for elaboration and definition of the model and legal framework of the status of the Nagorny Karabakh region within Azerbaijan. That being said, Azerbaijan believes that the process of definition of any status shall take place in normal peaceful conditions with direct, full and equal participation of the entire population of the region, namely, the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities, and in their constructive interaction with the Government of Azerbaijan exclusively in the framework of a lawful and democratic process.

A number of important steps have to be taken to reach a stage where the parties concerned can start consideration of the self-rule status for the Nagorny Karabakh region within Azerbaijan.

Firstly, the factor of military occupation must be removed from the conflict settlement context. Delay of return of the territories, which is not justified by any substantial reasons, can complicate the already difficult settlement process.

Secondly, the demographic situation which existed in the region before the outbreak of the conflict must be restored. It is clear that the status may only be defined through direct participation of both Azerbaijani and Armenian communities, living side-by-side in Nagorny Karabakh.

Thirdly, the regime of interaction between the central authorities of Azerbaijan and local authorities of the Armenian community must be established, until the new legal status of self-rule for the Nagorny Karabakh region is elaborated.

Another important element is a rehabilitation and economic development of the region. This step is essential for the process of normalization of life and restoration of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the two communities. It should include restoration and development of economic links between the two communities, as well as between the central authorities of Azerbaijan and the Nagorny Karabakh region, and restoration and opening of communications for mutual use by both sides in both directions. This will in particular provide a connection for the Armenian population of the Nagorny Karabakh region with Armenia, and for Azerbaijan with its Autonomous Republic of Nakhchyvan through the Lachyn road.

The fifth element entails cooperation between the two communities in the humanitarian sphere, and implementation of the special programs on education and tolerance.

As for the implementation of the peace agreement to be signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it will be guaranteed by the commitments undertaken by the two sides under the Agreement, and by the relevant international guarantees.

It is obvious at the same time that the success of the peace process depends on a constructive approach of both sides, as well as on the active contribution of the international community, especially of the OSCE Minsk Group and its Co-Chairmen.

However, it is very difficult to hope for a substantial breakthrough judging from a position, on which Armenia persists. Indeed, it is exactly for the purpose of unilateral secession that Armenia wants to retain control over some occupied districts surrounding Nagorny Karabakh, prevents the displaced Azerbaijani population from returning to their homes and thus excludes equal consideration of opinions of both communities. It is obvious that this approach of Armenia cannot serve as a sound basis for the conflict resolution.

While being committed to solving the conflict peacefully and in a constructive manner, Azerbaijan, however, will never accept a solution compromising its territorial integrity, ignoring the rights of its people and legalizing the current status quo. To hold otherwise would be tantamount to legitimizing the consequences of ethnic cleansing and other serious breaches of the rule of law and human rights.

The conflict can only be solved on the basis of respect for the territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan, and peaceful coexistence of Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in the Nagorny Karabakh region, fully and equally enjoying the benefits of democracy and prosperity.

The continuation of the “no peace-no war” situation without concrete prospects for the soonest resolution of the conflict is the main source of instability in the whole South Caucasus.