Analysis - Thursday, July 1, 2010 0:06 - 0 Comments

Some Thoughts on Peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh


Once more, while elaborating on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, perhaps we should not start by drawing all the obvious advantages of peace against war, and/or present the “status quo” against any type of grassroots-level cooperation. This would mean doing the same as fiercely proving that being healthy and wealthy is much better than being sick and poor.

With the major peace initiative in the Caucasus — the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement —falling apart on April 22 as Armenia legally suspended the ratification process blaming Turkey for setting preconditions, the viable peace process on Nagorno-Karabakh1 has become a target for greater attention. Moreover, on April 23, the Azerbaijani leadership warned that, “Armenia cannot achieve anything in the region without a solution to the Karabakh conflict” and declared that its army was ready “to hit any target on the territory of Armenia” (Mehtiyeva & Robinson, 2010).

Even before this, the Russian-Georgian five-day war was a real alarm to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. It broke out in a relatively short period of time — nearly 30 days of extensive militaristic build-up and bellicose statements won an excuse in early August for Georgia to try getting back the breakaway province with coercive measures and for Russia,  the legal pretext to invade Georgia proper. That showed how explosive the region is, no matter what programs and soft-power projects are carried out by the United States or European Union. When this short but bloody war upset the poorly established status quo in the South Caucasus — on the outskirts of Europe — the expert community seriously began to consider fostering peace efforts in the regional conflicts in a more comprehensive manner. The deployment of robust peacekeeping forces is perhaps one of the most established tools available in the hands of the international community.

The following year, in early August 2009, when the international community remembered the August War, then-ambassador of Azerbaijan to Moscow Polad Bülbüloğlu made a very interesting statement, later reiterated by others in Baku, which was not in line with the common language of Azerbaijani officials: “If the recent initiatives don’t bring tangible results and the peace agreement isn’t achieved, peace enforcement measures [against Armenia] will be the right of Azerbaijan, and we should employ it” [emphasis mine].2

Despite all the follow-up commentaries made, this statement was not merely a political one but had obvious legal meaning, which now needs to be explored. Perhaps this had been used as an add-on to a regular rhetoric, as discussed above.  Still it has additional meaning as well, and the statement comes as a reminder that at some point, the lands surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh will probably host peacekeepers who will, similar to UN traditional Cold War-era peacekeeping operations, stand between the adversaries — Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan — and try to secure the truce while parties will finally shape the “Big Deal” (i.e., comprehensive political solution and legal accords with regards to the conflict). While the “Big Deal” is still a dream, which unfortunately doesn’t seem achievable in the mid-term perspective, deployment of peacekeeping forces, if it happens, will be dislocated on a permanent basis.

Furthermore, obviously this deployment will have its consequences on the developments around the Iranian nuclear dossier, which is a high priority in the international security agenda. The recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, or, to put it more precisely, absence of any viable developments may, at first sight, kick off the issue of peacekeeping forces deployment, unless the patience of the international community gets “dog-tired.” Although with this in mind, if someone really wants to see any achievement of the OSCE Minsk Group, it worth noting that, despite all the bellicose statements, the parties are conscious enough not to violate the 1994 cease-fire with serious steps. Of course, this “no war — no peace” situation is not what we deserve. In the past few years, the mediators have made optimistic statements claiming the real breakthrough is not so far off or even that, “we are on the verge of a breakthrough” as stated by the former US envoy to the Minsk Group Matthew Bryza in a farewell meeting last April in Tsakhkadzor, Armenia. But no breakthrough so far has been achieved (Nikoghosyan, 2009). In fact, the irony is that the international mediators — the key players in the South Caucasus — do not unambiguously warn the sides that resumption of war is totally unacceptable and risky.

Instead, underscoring the commitment to peaceful resolution through negotiations has little effect, considering the growing magnitude of warlike statements. Of course but unfortunately, a new war, truly, is the most straightforward way to solve the problem. Hopefully, the sides of the conflict do not and will not consider this option seriously, taking into account the obviously tragic outcomes of such a “solution.” With this in mind, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s idea “to sign an agreement not to use force” sounds not so well thought out by the addressee and the international community.

In a nutshell, the peace enforcement that the Azerbaijani leadership was referring to did not fall under UN Charter’s Article 51 (the right of self-defense), since the peace process under the auspices of the OSCE is an internationally recognized “chamber” for this conflict and is still not cancelled or exhausted. Instead, that would constitute trans-boundary use of military force without the proper UN Security Council mandate, which is under Chapter VII (threats to peace) and would, sooner or later, directly or indirectly engage the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO (Armenia), and NATO (Turkey).

With regards to the peacekeepers, obviously the deployment and its mandate should pass UN authorization under Chapter VI (peaceful resolution through negotiations). The forces will most probably be lightly armed to act only in self-defense and in defense of the mission’s mandate. And the core component of the forces should include civilian and police personnel for the sake of state-building efforts after the refugees’ return. There is nothing new to be invented in the mission and the mandate since Nagorno-Karabakh, at large, is not a unique case in itself. Yet one of the core questions is — who will be mandated, in other words subcontracted to contribute forces? A couple of exceptions immediately arise. Armenia has announced several times that it would not allow for Turkish soldiers on Karabakh soil.  Considering the Iranian and Russian factors, official NATO forces are also a no-go. Another regional security organization, the CSTO, has recently (March 18) signed an agreement with the UN that will enable it to be authorized by the UNSC to manage peace operations. Theoretically, the CSTO can deal with Karabakh more easily in case Azerbaijan joins it as a member. This will not be, at least, disputed by Iran, which definitely will have its say in the deployment issue.

Right now, the only legal way to move forward is with the OSCE mandate, which is the only framework legally authorized to deal with this peace process. The legal part of the issue, in other words the mandatory deployment of peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone, was established under the CSCE/OSCE Budapest Summit in 1994, right after the bloody phase of the war ended with a cease-fire agreement in May. A year later, on August 10, 1995, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office created a post of his Permanent Representative that was assigned with the duty to “assist the High Level Planning Group in planning an OSCE peace-keeping operation in accordance with the Budapest Summit Decisions” (OSCE, 2009, p. 34).

In a very limited manner the OSCE special envoys conduct a regular monitoring of the contact-line between the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. With a certain degree of reservation, this can be labeled as traditional-type peacekeeping, which, despite its lack of permanence on the ground, keeps the sides alarmed of cease-fire violations and creates the basis for a peace process. The OSCE monitors operate as the international community’s “watchdogs,” which has its positive impact on the process. Of course, this limited supervision would be fruitless if the sides — Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan — will not be able to determine a peaceful resolution.

In any case, no matter who will be mandated to act as a real, on-the-ground peace-builder in Nagorno-Karabakh, the efficiency in the wider context will be determined and conditioned by the readiness of the governments to be bound by the international community’s rules of the game. However, considering the scores of bellicose statements at this stage, showing absolute unavailability of the sides to move forward with the comprehensive solution, in the absence of any readiness to compromise, any peace operation can turn into a catastrophe. Moreover, the absolute majority of experts dealing with the issue are certain that faced with the warlike rhetoric of Azerbaijan, the international community is unable to give security guarantees to the Nagorno-Karabakh population after some of the regions of the “security belt” will be handed to peacekeepers and, subsequently, to Azerbaijan. On the flip side, the efficiency of the Blue Helmets will be totally conditioned by the mandate they will get and the set of compromises the sides will be ready to handle. If the latter will be absent, no matter what mandate and force composition, it will either fail in the mid-term perspective while keeping the “peace,” or will silently watch how the adversaries shoot at each other, without being authorized to engage, as had been the case with the UN-authorized operations. One can turn to the cases of DRC, Rwanda, or Sudan as examples of this occurring in the past. Hopefully, we will not see this happening again, especially in such a volatile region.


Mehtiyeva, A. & Robinson, M. (2010, April 23). Azerbaijan: Karabakh key to Turkish-Armenian peace. Reuters. Retrieved from

Nikoghosyan, H. (2009, August 10). On the verge of a breakthrough, again. Actual Policy Journal. Retrieved from

OSCE (2009, October 9). Survey of OSCE field operations, p. 34. Retrieved from


1 As we had multiple chances to mention, the “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” or “the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh” or other similar wordings do not absolutely reflect the whole mosaic and tough background of this ethnic conflict and its present. From our perspective, the better term, which will also illustrate the established frameworks for the peace process, is “unresolved dispute over the legal personality of de facto independent entity.” The same goes legitimately true about “partly resolved” South Ossetia and Abkhazia conflicts. For the sake of this contribution, to frame the discussion in a scholarly nature, the following neutral, but right wording will be used in the text: “Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.”

2 Refer to the Russian-language newspaper article that can be retrieved from

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