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Status of Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved at int’l level, and this should be taken into account

[Source Credit: ArmenPress]

YEREVAN, MAY 5, ARMENPRESS. President of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) Arayik Harutyunyan has said that there is no agreement within the 9 November 2020 trilateral statement to close the issue of the international status of Artsakh.

In an interview with ARMENPRESS, the Artsakh President said that no one should forget that the conflict emerged as a result of the dispute around the status of Artsakh, which was recognized by the civilized world from the very beginning.

ARMENPRESS: Mr. President, what is your position on the establishment of a checkpoint by Azerbaijan in the Lachin Corridor? First of all, it is important to note that there are already two illegal Azerbaijani checkpoints on the Artsakh-Armenia highway. One was installed near the Hakari bridge on 23 April, and the other near Shushi, where, on 28 April, the Azerbaijani police replaced the plainclothes proxies of the Azerbaijani government or "eco-terrorists" who had blocked the road since 12 December 2022. Therefore, regardless of the fact that the Azerbaijani side pretends to be conducting "border control" at the illegal checkpoint near the Hakari bridge, not only is the blockade of Artsakh continuing, but security risks and humanitarian problems are becoming more acute over time due to Azerbaijan's aggressive behaviour.

- My position has been reflected in the statement of the Security Council of the Republic of Artsakh dated 23 April, in which we called the blocking of the internationally recognised Lachin (Kashatagh) Corridor under the responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping forces, and the installation of the checkpoint absolutely unacceptable. With that, Azerbaijan ultimately took the people of Artsakh hostage, with an increasing risk of ethnic cleansing, and seriously jeopardised the continued functioning of the Trilateral Statement of 9 November 2020. We also appealed to the parties to the Trilateral Statement, and especially the Russian Federation, with a demand to immediately start discussions aimed at lifting the blockade of Artsakh, removing the Azerbaijani checkpoint and providing real guarantees for the security of the people of Artsakh. We continue to expect effective measures to be taken to address the security and humanitarian issues facing the people of Artsakh.

It is unacceptable and regrettable that Azerbaijan not only flagrantly violates the provisions of the Trilateral Statement, but also fails to comply with the binding decisions of the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore, we reasonably expect that all responsible actors of the international community will exert due pressure on Azerbaijan for the immediate and full implementation of the above-mentioned obligations.

ARMENPRESS: Recently, in an interview with Azerbaijani television, Ilham Aliyev once again presented an ultimatum to Artsakh Armenians, stating that "Armenians living in Karabakh must either accept Azerbaijani citizenship or find another place of residence". Speaking in an ultimatum language in itself clearly testifies to the uncivilised system of values professed by the leadership of this country, but, remarkably, on the other hand, it reveals a serious contradiction in the rhetoric of the leader of a neighbouring country. The point is that after the 44-day war, Aliyev constantly maintained that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had been resolved. Perhaps his aggressiveness and ultimatums are due to the fact that no one in the world except him makes such claims, and the conflict was not resolved at all. Otherwise, if it was resolved, why is he so nervous?

- First, as far as integration in general is concerned, the integration of the political leadership of Azerbaijan into the civilised world, political culture, human rights and democratic value system is much more demanded and preferable. I think that this would resolve many issues in Azerbaijan's relations with neighbouring states.

As for the Azerbaijan-Artsakh conflict, for the third year the President of Azerbaijan has been trying to convince the world that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has been resolved and that the notion of "Nagorno-Karabakh" no longer exists. But, yes, the problem is that he does not have the consent of the wider international community to all of this. At the international level, the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved, and this should be taken into account.

Sometimes it is helpful to look into the history of a conflict to answer questions. The legal grounds for the formation of Soviet republics and their territorial division disappeared with the abolition of the Soviet constitution. The new states were proclaimed on the basis of the right to self-determination of individual titular peoples living in those territories. In practice, the former Armenian SSR, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijan SSR simultaneously declared their independence in accordance with international law and Soviet legislation. The self-determined Nagorno-Karabakh did not participate in the formation of the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic. However, the newly-formed Republic of Azerbaijan made unfounded claims to Nagorno-Karabakh.

At the same time, the international community from the very beginning recognised the fact of disagreements over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. There is an extremely important circumstance here. On 30 January 1992, Azerbaijan, being recognised by only a few states, joined the CSCE on the same day as Armenia. The sovereignty of these two states was recognised by the CSCE on the condition that they, in turn, recognised the fact of disagreements over the ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh and agreed that the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh would be determined at a peace conference under the auspices of the CSCE. Both states gave such consent, thereby accepting the international status of Nagorno-Karabakh as a disputed territory and committing to resolve the dispute peacefully.

However, after joining the CSCE, Azerbaijan immediately violated its international commitments. By turning Azerbaijani settlements in the NKR into military bases, Azerbaijan unleashed a large-scale military aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh, in turn, exercised their right to self-defence. Azerbaijan's aggression ended in a military defeat for itself. The Republic of Artsakh (NKR) was de facto established as a result of the victory in the first Karabakh war in 1992-1994. The line of contact between the armed forces of the NKR and Azerbaijan received international recognition. In the framework of the international negotiations, there is still no agreement either on the status of the NKR or on the line of demarcation between the NKR and Azerbaijan. Similarly, no agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was reached in the Trilateral Statement of 9 November 2020, which means that it continues to have the international status of a conflict or disputed territory, but never part of Azerbaijan.

Moreover, it should be recalled that with the 1991 declaration "On the Restoration of State Independence of Azerbaijan" and the 1991 Constitutional Act "On the Restoration of State Independence of Azerbaijan", Azerbaijan renounced the succession of Soviet Azerbaijan and declared itself the successor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which had existed in 1918-1920. In that pre-Soviet period, Nagorno-Karabakh was also considered internationally a disputed territory, officially recognised as such by the League of Nations. It is worth noting that at that time Nagorno-Karabakh had a much larger territory, and in the first years of its existence as part of the Soviet Union, it even had a common border with the Armenian SSR. From these facts, a very important question arises as to whether the disputed status and territories of Nagorno-Karabakh were not recognised by the founding documents that declared the independence of Azerbaijan.

ARMENPRESS: Once again violating its international obligations on the non-use of force, in 2020Azerbaijan resumed its offensive actions against the Republic of Artsakh, but nevertheless agreed to sign the Trilateral Statement on ceasefire with certain conditions. In particular, no matter how painful and unacceptable that was for us, nevertheless, in exchange for the transfer of some territories, Azerbaijan effectively committed to guaranteeing a secure land corridor between Artsakh and Armenia, as well as to stop their troops where they were at the time of the ceasefire. Azerbaijan immediately began to ignore not only the obligations it had assumed, but also the circumstances in which these were taken, trying to fit everything into the framework of an alleged manifestation of goodwill by Azerbaijan. In the meantime, there were specific agreements, right?

- Certainly. Azerbaijan forgot too early that it had assumed the obligation to guarantee the security of persons, vehicles and cargo moving along the internationally recognised Lachin Corridor in both directions. Azerbaijan is also trying to ignore the fact that it has committed to maintaining the line of contact in Artsakh. Other important measures have also not been implemented, including the release of prisoners of war, hostages and other detainees, and the return of internally displaced persons to their homes.

Yes, Azerbaijan undertook these obligations in return for the cessation of hostilities, saving the lives of thousands of their soldiers and the territories captured without a single shot.

There was no agreement within that document to close the issue of the international status of Artsakh. It should not be forgotten that the conflict emerged as a result of the dispute over the status of Artsakh, which was recognised from the very beginning by the entire civilised world. At the international level, that status has not yet been determined.

ARMENPRESS: Both at the beginning of the conflict and during the active hostilities, the negotiation process, and in the post-war period, Azerbaijan constantly distorted not only the essence of the conflict, but also the documents related to the conflict settlement. As the most recent example, the Azerbaijani side continues making efforts to distort the provision of the 2020 Trilateral Statement, which states that “peacekeeping forces of the Russian Federation are deployed in parallel with the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces” and present it as a demand for the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces, including the Defence Army of Artsakh, from the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

- With their unlawful demands and aggressive actions, the Azerbaijani side is trying to destroy the existing fragile security system of the Republic of Artsakh and its people. Demands to disarm the Artsakh Defence Army, as well as the bogus reasons used to obstruct its logistics are designed to do just that. It is clear that the real goals of Azerbaijan are completely different, namely to deprive the people of Artsakh of all security guarantees and force them to leave their native land, thus giving the official Baku the opportunity to occupy Artsakh without war.

The Azerbaijani interpretation of the Trilateral Statement are refuted by paragraph 4 of the document, which clearly defines the geography of the deployment of the Russian peacekeeping troops, and therefore also of the withdrawal of the Armenian forces. The line of contact and the Lachin Corridor are indicated as areas for the deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces.

In other words, paragraph 4 of the Trilateral Statement is an agreement on the withdrawal of our armed forces not from all of Nagorno-Karabakh, as Baku is trying to present, but from the areas of deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces. Since the peacekeepers are not deployed along the entire line of contact, and do not have an international mandate and authority or capacity to use force, units of the Defence Army of Artsakh have the right and obligation to carry out combat duty on the line of contact.

There is nothing in the Trilateral Statement about that can be construed as a commitment demilitarise the Republic of Artsakh and withdraw its own armed forces from the republic. Meanwhile, in addition to the non-implementation of the obligations under the Trilateral Statement, Azerbaijan continued its aggressive actions, including the unrestrained militarisation of the occupied and returned territories and creating conditions for further offensive actions against Artsakh and Armenia. By the way, it is worth recalling that in almost all conflict resolution packages, the international community provided for the demilitarisation of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, but Azerbaijan is doing the exact opposite. Therefore, given that the only source of threats in the region is the official Baku, the international community must be consistent in preventing new aggressive actions on the part of Azerbaijan, including through the demilitarisation of these territories under their control.

Being fully aware of the limitations of the peacekeepers, they must nevertheless contribute to creating conditions for a safe and dignified life for the citizens of Artsakh, including by respecting our right to self-defence. People at risk of ethnic cleansing must either be protected in accordance with the international norm of the “Responsibility to Protect”, or provided with the means and opportunities for self-defence. No matter how strong and threatening is the pressure from Azerbaijan, Artsakh has the right to self-defence, and the international community has the responsibility to protect. Regardless of the means and opportunities available to the people of Artsakh, they have the obligation and the right to defend themselves for their own survival. The international community must also decide how it can protect the people of Artsakh, either through political and diplomatic means or by providing the necessary means for self-defence.

ARMENPRESS: We would like to touch upon another thesis of the Azerbaijani propaganda machine, which is another attempt to distort the provisions of the 2020 Trilateral Statement. In particular, the Azerbaijani authorities claim that the Lachin Corridor is intended exclusively for the transportation of humanitarian cargo. What is your comment on this?

- Indeed, for a long time now, Baku has been arguing that the Lachin Corridor is intended only for the transport of humanitarian cargo, and that the use of the corridor for economic development or the security of Artsakh is allegedly prohibited by the Trilateral Statement. Azerbaijan has also regularly expressed dissatisfaction with the entry of citizens of other countries into Artsakh. Moreover, Baku seeks to establish its own passport and customs control in the Lachin Corridor, for which additional aggressive and unlawful actions have been taken in recent days.

In fact, paragraph 6 of the Trilateral Statement provides for the establishment of the Lachin Corridor, which shall link Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia and shall remain under the control of the Russian peacekeeping forces. It is well known that in the statement of 9 November 2020 and in other trilateral documents adopted later, there is no mention of restrictions on the entry and exit of persons, imports and exports, as well as the types of vehicles used. In any case, even in this case, we have been always willing to take additional measures to increase the level of transparency of cargo transportation along the Lachin Corridor. To this end, we have repeatedly made proposals to the Russian peacekeepers to install necessary technical means to improve their control functions. We have also repeatedly expressed our readiness to accept an international fact-finding mission, but all these initiatives were rejected by Azerbaijan.

And in the context of Azerbaijan's continued aggressive behaviour, it is at least incomprehensible that the attention and narrative of some actors are focused on purely humanitarian issues and additional control over cargo transportation. This means that they ignore the elephant in the room, which is the only source of threat in the entire region.

As for Azerbaijan's commitment to guarantee the safety of the two-way movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor, stipulated in paragraph 6 of the Trilateral Statement, it is clear that this obligation does not imply their physical presence there, but refraining from creating security problems as the main source of threat. It is clear that the regime of the 5-kilometre Lachin Corridor, which shall remain under the control of the Russian peacekeeping forces, already excludes any Azerbaijani presence and intervention there.

Attempts to unilaterally revise the provisions of the 2020 Trilateral Statement and transform the internationally recognised Lachin Corridor into a road controlled by Azerbaijan and used exclusively for humanitarian cargo transportation are not legitimate and therefore must be rejected.

ARMENPRESS: Then, what is the way out?

- The way out is our determined and long-term struggle, through the consolidation and effective realisation of all our national capabilities. The natural and indisputable right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination must eventually win, on the way to which the unconditional and unwavering support of the Republic of Armenia and the entire Armenian people is an imperative.

If we manage to demonstrate the necessary will and ability in this struggle, to prevent irreversible concessions and losses to the detriment of our vital interests, at least at this stage, then this will allow us to wage a long struggle for the defence and freedom of our homeland, and we will gradually receive due international attention and support. At the end of the day, only struggling nations succeed, and the rights in this world order are not just given like that, they must be earned and maintained through constant struggle.


(c) 2023, ArmenPress


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