Nagorno-Karabakh Republic - Current Situation

Current Situation

Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto independent state, calling itself the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. It is closely tied to the Republic of Armenia and uses the same currency, the dram. According to Human Rights Watch, "from the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia provided aid, weapons, and volunteers. Armenian involvement in Karabakh escalated after a December 1993 Azerbaijani offensive. The Republic of Armenia began sending conscripts and regular Army and Interior Ministry troops to fight in Karabakh." The politics of Armenia and the de facto Karabakh republic are so intermingled that a former president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Robert Kocharyan, became first the prime minister (1997) and then the president of Armenia (1998 to 2008).

Still, successive Armenian governments have resisted internal pressure to unite the two, due to ongoing negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. In his case study of Eurasia, Dov Lynch of the Institute for Security Studies of WEU believes that "Karabakh's independence allows the new Armenian state to avoid the international stigma of aggression, despite the fact that Armenian troops fought in the war between 1991–94 and continue to man the Line of Contact between Karabakh and Azerbaijan." Lynch also cites that the "strength of the Armenian armed forces, and Armenia's strategic alliance with Russia, are seen as key shields protecting the Karabakh state by the authorities in Stepanakert." At present, the mediation process is at a standstill, with the most recent discussions in Rambouillet, France, yielding no agreement. Azerbaijan's position has been that Armenian troops withdraw from all areas of Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh, and that all displaced persons be allowed to return to their homes before the status of Karabakh can be discussed. Armenia does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as being legally part of Azerbaijan, arguing that because the region declared independence at the same time that Azerbaijan became an independent state, both of them are equally successor states of the Soviet Union. The Armenian government insists that the government of Nagorno-Karabakh be part of any discussions on the region's future, and rejects ceding occupied territory or allowing refugees to return before talks on the region's status.

Representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, France, Russia and the United States met in Paris and in Key West, Florida, in the Spring of 2001. Despite rumours that the parties were close to a solution, the Azerbaijani authorities — both during Heydar Aliyev's period of office, and after the accession of his son Ilham Aliyev in the October 2003 elections — have firmly denied that any agreement was reached in Paris or Key West.

Further talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocharyan, were held in September 2004 in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the sidelines of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit. Reportedly, one of the suggestions put forward was the withdrawal of the occupying forces from the Azeri territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, and holding referendums (plebiscites) in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan proper regarding the future status of the region. On 10 and 11 February 2006, Kocharyan and Aliyev met in Rambouillet, France, to discuss the fundamental principles of a settlement to the conflict. Contrary to the initial optimism, the Rambouillet talks did not produce any agreement, with key issues such as the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and whether Armenian troops would withdraw from Kalbajar still being contentious.

Talks were held at the Polish embassy in Bucharest in June 2006. Again, American, Russian, and French diplomats attended the talks that lasted over 40 minutes. Earlier, Armenian President Kocharyan announced that he was ready to "continue dialogue with Azerbaijan for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and with Turkey on establishing relations without any preconditions."

Unfortunately, according to Armenian foreign minister, Vardan Oskanyan, no progress was made at this latest meeting. Both presidents failed to reach a consensus on the issues from the earlier Rambouillet conference. He noted that the Kocharyan-Aliyev meeting was held in a normal atmosphere. "Nevertheless," he added, "the foreign ministers of the two countries are commissioned to continue talks over settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and try to find common points before the next meeting of the presidents."

The major disagreement between both sides at the Bucharest conference was the status of Karabakh. Azerbaijan's position was a promise to give Karabakh the "highest status of autonomy adopted in the world." Armenia favored a popular vote by the inhabitants of Karabakh to decide their future, a position that was also taken by the international mediators. The response to the Armenian position from Baku was that of a threat to Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. On 27 June, the Armenian foreign minister said both parties agreed to allow the residents of Karabakh to vote regarding the future status of the region. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially refuted that statement. According to Azeri opposition leader Isa Gambar, however, Azerbaijan did indeed agree to the referendum. Still, nothing official has confirmed this yet.

The ongoing "Prague Process" overseen by the OSCE Minsk Group was brought into sharp relief in the summer of 2006 with a series of rare public revelations seemingly designed to jump-start the stalled negotiations. After the release in June of a paper outlining its position, which had until then been carefully guarded, U.S. State Department official Matthew Bryza told Radio Free Europe that the Minsk Group favored a referendum in Karabakh that would determine its final status. The referendum, in the view of the OSCE, should take place not in Azerbaijan as a whole, but in Nagorno-Karabakh only. This was a blow to Azerbaijan, and despite talk that their government might eventually seek a more sympathetic forum for future negotiations, this has not yet happened.

On 10 December 2007 Azerbaijan's deputy foreign minister said Azerbaijan would be prepared to conduct anti-terrorist operations in Nagorno-Karabakh against alleged bases of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). Armenian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Vladimir Karapetian previously rejected the allegations as "fabricated" and suggested the accusations of the PKK presence were a form of provocation.

In 2008, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev declared that “Nagorno Karabakh will never be independent; the position is backed by international mediators as well; Armenia has to accept the reality” and that “in 1918, Yerevan was granted to the Armenians. It was a great mistake. The khanate of Iravan was the Azeri territory, the Armenians were guests here”. On the other hand, in 2009 president of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Bako Sahakyan declared that "Artsakh will never be a part of Azerbaijan. NKR security should never be an article of commerce either. As to other issues, we are ready to discuss them with Azerbaijan.". In 2010 president of Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan in his speech in the Chatham House of the British Royal Institute of International Affairs declared that "Karabakh was never a part of independent Azerbaijan: it was annexed to Azerbaijan by a decision of the Soviet Union party body. The people of Karabakh never put up with this decision, and upon the first opportunity, seceded from the Soviet Union fully in line with the laws of the Soviet Union and the applicable international law".

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