What can be the outcome of a potential dialogue between Stepanakert and Baku with the EU as a mediating entity?

After the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was brokered by the Russian Federation on November 9, 2020, and due to the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, the European Union has now made intensified efforts to strengthen its role as a successful mediator in the peaceful negotiations between the conflicting parties. Brussels aims to ideally achieve a peace treaty between Yerevan and Baku before the end of the term of the EU Parliament or the current EU Commission, thereby solidifying its presence and influence in the South Caucasus.

I. Kurze Vorgeschichte

The history of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the 19th century. In 1921, during the formation of the Soviet Union, the territory of Karabakh, which was inhabited by 94% Armenians, was assigned to the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. In 1923, it became an administratively autonomous region called Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians criticized their status as an enclave and repeatedly requested the transfer of the region to the Armenian Soviet Republic in the following years. However, the central government of the USSR rejected all requests.

On February 20, 1988, the Parliamentary Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh decided to join the Armenian Soviet Republic. This initiative was rejected by both Azerbaijan and the central government in Moscow. However, on December 1, 1989, the parliament of the Soviet Republic of Armenia decided to reunite with Nagorno-Karabakh. The situation in the South Caucasus escalated significantly when the first pogroms against the Armenian population took place in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. People who had previously lived peacefully together in a federative state (Soviet Union) suddenly found themselves in conflict.

II. Aktive Phasen der Waffengänge

  • Erster Karabach-Krieg 1991-1994 und der „4-Tage-Krieg“ im 2016

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Baku attempted to gain control of the region with military support. In response, the Republic of Armenia intervened with its own military resources to prevent the defeat of the originally voluntary self-defense forces of Nagorno-Karabakh and halt the expulsion of the Armenian population from the region. The war began in late 1991 and ended in May 1994 with a ceasefire agreement achieved through intensive Russian mediation between Yerevan, Stepanakert (Nagorno-Karabakh) on one side, and Baku on the other. This brought an end to active combat operations. The Armenian side gained new territories, and Nagorno-Karabakh obtained a territorial connection to the Republic of Armenia.

In April 2016, while Germany held the chairmanship of the OSCE, the so-called „4-Day War“ broke out. Azerbaijan attempted to militarily resolve the conflict through a blitzkrieg strategy. After days of fighting and significant losses in military personnel and equipment, the Azerbaijani side was only able to capture a few outposts of the Armenian defense army. This outbreak of war ended on April 5, 2016, thanks to the intensive and timely mediation of Russia.

  • Der „44-Tage-Krieg“ im 2020

Due to a large-scale offensive that began on September 27, 2020, the Azerbaijani forces managed to break through the contact line in the southeastern section and reach the internationally recognized border of the Republic of Armenia within a few weeks. After 44 days, on November 9, 2022, the war was ended by a ceasefire agreement, which was achieved through intensive diplomatic efforts by the Russian government. According to this agreement, the Armenian government had to cede more territories to Azerbaijan than it could achieve through the 44-day military operation. As a result, Nagorno-Karabakh lost its direct land connection to Armenia. Due to the complete withdrawal of the Armenian Defense Army units and limited resources, Nagorno-Karabakh is unable to provide the necessary defense units to ensure the safety of its own population. There are officially 1,960 Russian soldiers stationed in the region to ensure the security of the Armenian population and control the 5 km wide „Lachin Corridor,“ which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

III. Konfliktparteien und Verhandlungen im Überblick

Since 1992, the OSCE has made extensive efforts to find a peaceful solution to this conflict. In 1993, this received a new impetus through four resolutions from the UN Security Council. In March 1995, the co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group of the OSCE was established, which includes the permanent members of the UN Security Council – the USA, Russia, and France. On July 10, 2009, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group published the basic principles for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. They took into account the interests of the conflicting parties, particularly the right to self-determination of peoples and the preservation of the territorial integrity of states. An essential component of this solution is also the sustainable renunciation of the use of violence or its threat.

The OSCE conducted international discussions with Yerevan and Baku, with limited consideration given to the position of Nagorno-Karabakh. The representatives of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group regularly visited Stepanakert. Armenian diplomacy attempted to include Stepanakert as an independent party in the negotiations, but this approach has been unsuccessful so far. On the international level, only the Republic of Armenia, which is internationally recognized, could represent the interests of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Although the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group, which were based on mutual compromises, were largely unsuccessful, they helped prevent the outbreak of a war. After the events of the 2020 war and due to the fact that Yerevan no longer wants to discuss the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the negotiating format of the OSCE has lost significance. Additionally, it is currently difficult to imagine bringing together the co-chairing states after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine from a geopolitical perspective.

VI. Initiative der Europäischen Union

  • Resolution of the status question as an interim goal of the negotiations.

After the „44-Day War“ in 2020 and the subsequent conflict in Ukraine, the European Union is now making a stronger effort to solidify its role as a successful mediator in peace negotiations between the conflicting parties. These efforts are viewed as successful by many experts and the Armenian government.

Brüssel ist es gelungen, die Konfliktparteien dazu zu bewegen, die gegenseitige Anerkennung der territorialen Integrität zu akzeptieren. Ein wichtiger Schritt dabei war die Anerkennung von Berg-Karabach als Teil der Republik Aserbaidschan durch die Republik Armenien, was politisch erstmals am 6. Oktober 2022 im Rahmen des Prag-Treffens erreicht wurde und am 14. Mai 2023 im Rahmen von einem weiteren Brüssel-Treffen erneut bestätigt wurde. Damit hat die EU zumindest eine entscheidende Frage im Konflikt zwischen Jerewan und Baku – die Statusfrage von Berg-Karabach – aus dem Weg geräumt und konzentriert sich nun auf die Verbesserung der Beziehungen zwischen Armenien und Aserbaidschan, wobei Berg-Karabach zu Aserbaidschan gehören wird.

To maintain the democratic reputation, it is crucial for the EU that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh can continue to live under Azerbaijani administration. For this reason, Brussels believes that Armenians in the former autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijani government should engage in a dialogue to establish peaceful coexistence. However, it is often overlooked that the EU and now the USA largely ignore the underlying causes of the conflict, particularly the violent actions of the Azerbaijani government against Armenian population groups in various Azerbaijani villages from 1988 to 1991, which led to the complete expulsion of Armenians from their birthplaces. Similarly, the aspirations of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh for independence, which was also the core issue of the conflict and always in focus of the OSCE Minsk Group, are ignored.

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In order for Armenian society in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to view the proposal from the West as an opportunity in line with Armenian interests, many politicians and experts have started replacing the term „the Armenians (or Armenian population) of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan“ with „Stepanakert,“ the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. The term „capital“ is related to the leadership and administration of a specific country in a political and international context. However, it is important to note that Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized by Brussels or Baku and does not possess a so-called „transitional status“ that would enable international negotiations. Therefore, there can be no dialogue between Stepanakert and Baku, and the EU proposal actually aims to accelerate the „reintegration“ of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijani statehood.

  • Internationale Mechanismen

Ein weiteres Instrument für den erfolgreichen Dialog sind internationale Mechanismen, die nicht aus dem Nichts entstehen, sondern auf dem internationalen Recht basieren. Organisationen, Gremien oder Allianzen treffen auf dieser Grundlage Entscheidungen, schließen Vereinbarungen und ergreifen geeignete Maßnahmen, die auf den realen Kräfteverhältnissen der beteiligten Parteien beruhen.

In the context of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the OSCE Minsk Group serves as such an „international mechanism“. This group has organized and led negotiations for the peaceful settlement of the conflict, with the conflicting parties being recognized as Yerevan and Baku from an international law perspective. The Minsk Group primarily relied on the UN Security Council resolutions of 1993. The concept for conflict resolution was developed through the Madrid Principles proposed by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group and further refined through numerous summit meetings and discussions with the conflicting parties.

However, it is important to emphasize that questionable experts, lobbyists, or even reputable non-governmental organizations cannot and should not replace the „international mechanisms“. Unfortunately, according to reports in the Armenian press, attempts are being made to organize such discussions between the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and indirect representatives of the Azerbaijani government in the United States and various locations in the EU. These initiatives aim to achieve a „reintegration“ of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan and thus bring about the final „resolution of the status issue“ of this region.

V. Schlussfolgerung

Explanation from November 9, 2020, which was achieved under the auspices of the Russian Federation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, primarily aimed at ending the bloody war, also had a geopolitical dimension, although this is not directly mentioned in the content. It is about preserving the central question of the conflict, namely the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, while taking into account the territories that the Armenian side lost during the 44-day war.

It is also important to note that despite its legal classification as part of Azerbaijani sovereignty, Nagorno-Karabakh has a disputed status, or at least had as of November 9, 2020. The final decision on this status should be made under the auspices of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. This should be based on fundamental principles of international law, including the right to self-determination, territorial integrity, and the renunciation of the use or threat of force.

Despite the difficult situation, Yerevan should strive to revive the engagement of the co-chair states of the OSCE Minsk Group, which in my opinion is the better option for saving Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). Therefore, Armenian diplomacy should pursue a clear, understandable, but carefully thought-out strategy and proceed extremely cautiously to convince international partners. Promoting the normalization of relations with Azerbaijan, as proposed by the EU to the Republic of Armenia, carries many risks for Armenian statehood.