After a nationwide vote was held in the territory declaring its independence from Azerbaijan, long-standing hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in bloodshed in February 1988, sparking the start of the Karabakh dispute. Early in the 1990s, the conflict reached a full-scale war, which was followed by a period of low intensity until a four-day escalation in April 2016 and another full-scale war in 2020.
The Conflict Mediation Process
In the early stages of the conflict, Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkey, and France attempted to mediate between the warring parties. Yet, cease-fire agreements were frequently breached immediately after they were signed.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) members met in Helsinki in 1992 and discussed the possibility of intervening in the conflict. The CSCE Council asked the Chairman-In-Office to hold a conference on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute under the CSCE’s auspices as soon as feasible to provide a continuing venue for dialogue toward a peaceful resolution of the situation based on the CSCE’s principles, commitments, and provisions. This conference was intended to be held in Minsk, but it never happened.
Formation of the Minsk Group
The Minsk Group, which was established in 1992 to resolve the conflict, has maintained its position as the primary negotiator. Nagorno-Karabakh was granted the right to take part as an interested party with the status of “elected and other representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh” under the terms of the Minsk Group’s mandate. Yet, because Armenia and Azerbaijan depicted the enclave from opposing angles, the problem of Nagorno Karabakh’s status remained.
The representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh brought up the issue of their attendance at Minsk Group meetings and requested that they take part directly in the dialogue process. The Minsk Group’s participating nations acknowledged Karabakh as a party to the war by the resolution agreed upon at the CSCE Budapest Summit in December 1994.
Many nations have attempted to take action since 1992, both inside and outside the Minsk Group’s boundaries, but each attempt has been rejected by one or more parties. In 1994, Russia mediated a cease-fire. The “Bishkek Protocol” was signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), which is not recognized internationally.
Armenia maintained de facto sovereignty over the NKR and the neighboring districts it had expelled Azerbaijani forces from throughout the conflict. Even though both governments are formally at war with one another, the conflict has remained “frozen” since that time.
Lisbon Summit 1996
There have been several breakdowns in the negotiations between the two countries. At the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE, formerly CSCE) Lisbon Summit in 1996, Azerbaijan was successful in introducing three principles that predetermine the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
All Minsk Group members agreed with these principles, and the only OSCE member state to disagree with them was Armenia. These are the following:
- The territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan;
- The legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh is established by a self-determination agreement, which grants Nagorno-Karabakh the highest level of autonomy inside Azerbaijan.
- Assurance of security for the whole population of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia disagreed with the idea of territorial integrity and expressed worry over the vague terms “self-determination” and “self-rule.” They contended that the three principles’ adoption ruined the negotiation process and dictated how the problem would be resolved.
The fact that Azerbaijan frequently uses the word “autonomy” rather than “self-rule” should also be taken into consideration because this further complicates the situation. An agreement that would grant Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy rather than self-rule was unacceptable to the Armenians.
In late September 2020, heavy fighting broke out along the Azerbaijan-Nagorno-Karabakh border. 7,000 military and civilians were killed, and many soldiers from Armenia and Azerbaijan were injured. Both nations originally rebuffed calls for discussions from the United Nations, the United States, and Russia and vowed to battle on.
The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War came to an end on November 9, 2020, after several failed attempts by the international community to bring about a cease-fire. Russia, reinforced by Russian peacekeepers, successfully brokered the agreement, which ended the six-week conflict.
The most serious provocation since 2020 resulted from repeated violations of the 2020 ceasefire, which eventually led to a two-day confrontation that started on September 13, 2022. The renewed violence in mid-September prompted several high-level diplomatic initiatives — including a meeting between the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, and the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, in Prague, in which the European Union agreed to deploy monitoring capabilities.
On October 31, 2022, Russian, Azerbaijani, and Armenian leaders gathered in Sochi. It appeared that no one could question Russian positions at the time because Russia had a firm grip on the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nonetheless, the US and the European Union have recently begun to actively participate in the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations.
Aside from the European Union mission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have also sent missions to Armenia at the latter’s request. In 2021–2022, Charles Michel, president of the European Council, hosted four summits between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Brussels.
In September 2022, the US brought the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to New York; the secretary of the Armenian Security Council and President Aliyev’s senior foreign policy advisor were brought to the White House. The US also suggested that a peace treaty be signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan by the end of 2022.
Following mediation efforts conducted by the EU and the US on October 6, 2022, the sides accepted the Prague statement, which recognized mutual territorial integrity along with the Alma-Ata declaration and approved deploying an EU civilian observer mission in Armenia.
Without effective efforts at mediation, continued ceasefire violations and heightened tensions pose a possibility of rekindling a major conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. If both nations firmly abide by a long-lasting ceasefire, withdraw and disengage their armed forces, make themselves accountable to international commitments and obligations, and continue border delimitation negotiations to achieve a peaceful resolution, tensions will lessen.
There cannot be permanent peace without reconciliation, and diplomacy is the only means to that aim. The three sides must agree that there should be a recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan together with actual self-government for Karabakh by local Armenians. This is the only real and lasting solution to the Karabakh conflict.
Territorial integrity and issues of national self-determination and self-government must be discussed jointly. Taking into consideration that there is no alternative solution that does not lead to inflammatory action, it is hoped that the two states will finally reach this conclusion on their own.
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