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MEDIA ALERT: RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY PUBLISHES NKR LETTER
DATE: July 15, 2009
TO: Media Colleagues
RE: RFE/RL PUBLISHES NKR LETTER
Today, the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty published NKR
Representative Robert Avetisyan’s commentary in response to a
publication on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. NKR
Representative said in part:
`Since 1997, Azerbaijan has been refusing to negotiate directly with
NKR, preferring to discuss the resolution with Armenia. NKR
appreciates Armenia’s role in the peace process, but it should be
understood from the onset that Karabakh’s elected officials must be
represented in the talks every step of the way. Indeed, politically
NKR is a separate state with its own democratic traditions, and, in
the long run, any serious progress towards resolving the conflict
cannot take place unless its representatives return to the
negotiating table and agree to share the responsibility for
implementing the hoped-for peace agreement’.
The full text of the letter is provided below. You can also view it
* * *
Radio Free Europe
July 14, 2009
Nagorno-Karabakh Must No Longer Be Barred From The Negotiating Table
by Robert Avetisyan
Just a month or two ago, it seemed to many observers that the
Karabakh conflict was closer than it had been for years to a
negotiated solution. But the much-trumpeted "breakthrough" never
This is not surprising. Once an active participant in the peace
process, the central party in the dispute — the Nagorno Karabakh
republic (NKR), which in 2009 marks the 18th anniversary of its de
facto independence, but whose international status has not been
formalized — is conspicuously absent from the talks today.
Since 1997, Azerbaijan has refused to negotiate directly with the
NKR, preferring to discuss the resolution with Armenia. The NKR
appreciates Armenia’s role in the peace process, but it should be
understood from the outset that Karabakh’s elected officials must be
represented in the talks every step of the way.
Indeed, politically the NKR is a separate state with its own
democratic traditions, and, in the long run, any serious progress
towards resolving the conflict cannot take place unless its
representatives return to the negotiating table and agree to share
the responsibility for implementing the hoped-for peace agreement.
Azerbaijan: Oil-Backed Warmongering Will Not Work
Many analysts believe that the high oil prices of the past few years
gave rise to the nationalist illusion in Baku that, by channeling
millions of petrodollars into upgrading its armed forces, Azerbaijan
could launch a new offensive and thus bring the NKR under its
control by force. Azerbaijani presidential administration official
Elnur Aslanov issued an implicit warning last month that the
"leadership of Armenia must understand that it is necessary to
protect its citizens from a new war" and should therefore stop
helping Nagorno-Karabakh defend its hard-won freedom.
Despite the temporary euphoria created by the influx of
petrodollars, and because of Azerbaijan’s history of military-backed
coups d’etat, the least desirable option for the country’s ruling
family is to start a war, during which the army could again snap out
of control. But rising military expenditures and the threat to
attack Nagorno-Karabakh again should still be taken seriously,
because that rhetoric could inspire opportunistic skirmishes on the
Line of Contact that currently separates the Azerbaijani armed
forces from the troops of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army. This
could lead to larger, possibly uncontrolled, clashes.
Azerbaijan’s zero-sum logic was visible from the very first days of
the conflict in February 1988, when Azerbaijan responded to
Nagorno-Karabakh’s peaceful and constitutional appeal to the Soviet
leadership to reconsider its status within the USSR with the
unprecedented massacre of ethnic Armenians in the Caspian city of
Sumgait, hundreds of miles away from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The events in Sumgait were the continuation of policies implemented
by Heydar Aliyev during his tenure as the first secretary of the
Communist Party of Azerbaijan in the 1970s and early 1980s. Aliyev
bragged in 2000-03 that for two decades he executed a policy of
economic and demographic discrimination against Nagorno-Karabakh in
a deliberate effort to force its majority-Armenian population to
emigrate. As a result of Aliyev’s strategy, the growth of the
Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh stopped, while the number of
ethnic Azeris increased artificially.
Following the collapse of the USSR in late 1991, Azerbaijan advanced
from pogroms to full-scale armed aggression. Reports compiled
between 1991 and 1994 by the Commission for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (CSCE, later renamed OSCE) document the openly declared
genocidal intentions of that military campaign.
Azerbaijan ignored four consecutive UN Security Council resolutions
calling for a Karabakh cease-fire, and is therefore responsible for
the continuing consequences of the war it started. Azerbaijan must
appreciate the lessons of the early 1990s: all previous such
attempts by Baku to use force against Nagorno-Karabakh proved
infinitely more costly than the perpetrators anticipated.
Self-Determination: International Law And History Do Matter
Azerbaijan’s standard approach to arguing the legitimacy of its
claims on Nagorno-Karabakh is to stress the principle of the
territorial integrity of states while downplaying the right of
peoples to self-determination.
Although the territorial-integrity principle does apply to
Azerbaijan as a general theoretical notion — as it does to NKR,
Armenia, or any other state — it does not apply to Baku’s claims on
Nagorno-Karabakh. The reason is straightforward: in contrast to,
say, Spain (with its potentially secessionist Basque country) or the
United Kingdom (with its potentially separatist Scotland), no
independent Azerbaijani state ever controlled Nagorno-Karabakh —
neither in 1918-20, nor after 1991. It was the Soviet leadership
that imposed on Nagorno-Karabakh the subordinate status of an
autonomous region within the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic.
When the USSR began to weaken in the late 1980s, this artificial
"matryoshka doll" construct collapsed immediately, with Baku losing
any measure of direct power over Stepanakert three years before
declaring sovereignty in 1991.
Importantly, the NKR’s right to self-determination also hinges on
the fact that the region has for centuries been the centerpiece of
Armenian statehood. Nagorno-Karabakh — the historic Armenian
province of Artsakh — is the only territory where the self-rule and
political institutions of a compactly residing Armenian majority
were maintained continuously from the fifth century to the present
day, with the exception of several decades in the 18th and 19th
Artsakh is the birthplace of the earliest known Armenian
constitutional edict — the fifth-century document called "The
Canons of Aghven." It governed Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian kingdoms
and principalities hundreds of years before most European peoples
became nations, and 15 centuries prior to the time when the people
known today as "Azerbaijanis" were officially designated as such for
the first time in the Soviet census of 1939.
Among the dozens of Armenian medieval churches and monasteries and
hundreds of Armenian stone inscriptions (some dating from the fifth
century) on the territory of the NKR is the Monastery of Amaras. It
was founded by the foremost Armenian saint, St. Gregory the
Enlightener, shortly after he proclaimed Christianity the official
faith of the Kingdom of Armenia, which thus became in 301 A.D. the
world’s first Christian state. It was at Amaras one century later
that the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, St. Mesrob Mashtots,
founded the first-ever school where that script was taught.
The indigenous Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh is fiercely
protective of that centuries-old Christian heritage, now under
threat. The international community should continue investigating
the barbarous demolition of dozens of medieval Armenian churches and
cemeteries in the formerly Armenian-populated province of Naxcivan
and the region south of the city of Ganja.
Conflict Resolution: The Realities And The Peace Process
Azerbaijan’s and NKR’s political evolution differ fundamentally.
Defined by free and fair elections and a tradition of postelectoral
consensual coexistence of the government and the opposition,
Nagorno-Karabakh’s political system is irreversibly incompatible
with that of Azerbaijan. This is just one of the many reasons why
any attempts to propose a political future for these two countries
under the roof of one state are doomed to fail.
The negotiation process must be backed up by a commitment on the
part of all three states to confidence-building measures. Bellicose
rhetoric should be abandoned. And societies in all three states
should start preparing for reconciliation as official talks
continue. Only genuine reconciliation — achieved through official
contacts, confidence building measures and elements of second-track
diplomacy — can yield a stable peace.
The international community, for its part, should support this
approach to achieve progress.
The Karabakh dispute is a difficult one to solve, but the people of
Nagorno-Karabakh remain optimistic. We believe that reverting to the
original format of the peace talks, with the full participation of
the Nagorno-Karabakh republic, will restore the lacking balance and
provide Azerbaijan with tangible incentives to act constructively.
That would also credibly demonstrate Azerbaijan’s readiness to
co-exist peacefully with Nagorno-Karabakh, regardless of the outcome
of the negotiations.
* * *
This material is distributed by the Office of the Nagorno Karabakh
Republic in the USA (NKR Office) on behalf of the Government of the
Nagorno Karabakh Republic. The NKR Office is registered with the
U.S. Government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Additional
information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington,
The Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the United States is
based in Washington, DC and works with the U.S. government, academia
and the American public representing the official policies and
interests of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, Artsakh.