Reassessing the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in the Aftermath of the Russia-Georgia War


After the Russia-Georgia war, it has been widely understood that the three stalemated conflicts between Georgia-Abkhazia, Georgia-South Ossetia and Armenia-Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh could easily be transformed into a new cycle of violence and put the stability of the South Caucasus region at risk. “In fact, Russian-Georgian war followed by annexation of the part of Georgian territory by Russian Federation changed the very basis of the international order emerged in the part of the world after the year 1991. Certain international consensus and rules, which were a milestone of stability and security in the Eastern Europe (or Western Newly Independent states – Western NIS) does not exist anymore.”[1]

In this context, the symposium on the theme “Reassessing the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in the Aftermath of the Russia-Georgia war” by the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston last year gave an excellent opportunity for Armenian, Azerbaijani and other experts, practitioners and policy analysts to discuss and reassess the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and ways out of a deadlocked situation lasting almost 16 years.

It is well-known that the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is considered the most daunting issue for regional security in the South Caucasus. Since 1994, when a cease-fire was reached between the parties, many attempts have been made to find a political solution to this conflict.

The geopolitical situation was noticeably changed after the Russia-Georgia war and a number of different interventions were introduced by regional and non-regional actors which directly or obliquely could have favorable influence on ways to reach a comprehensive solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The following initiatives could be listed among them: “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform;” Moscow Declaration; Eastern Partnership and Nabucco pipeline project; Joint Statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict;  the preliminary version of the Basic Principles for a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; and Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.

One of the first multilateral diplomatic initiatives announced in Moscow on August 13, 2008 was the “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform” (CSCP) offered by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Aimed at promoting peace, stability and cooperation in the Caucasus region among all three South Caucasus countries including Turkey and Russia, the CSCP is an updated version of an older idea on the establishment of a “Stability Pact for the Caucasus,” proposed by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in 2000. However, an agreement on a CSCP is not easy to reach today due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, complicated Turkish-Armenian relationships and current Russian-Georgian relations that seriously suffered in the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia war.

The Moscow Declaration signed in November 2008 by the Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents demonstrated by itself an example of Russia’s increasing interest to play a more active and persistent role as a broker in this process and restore its reputation after the war with Georgia. It became the second signed document since May 1994, when a cease-fire agreement was reached due to Russia’s mediation efforts. It contributed to an intensification of negotiation processes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. To date, six meetings have been held between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in 2009 and one, most recently in Sochi on January 25, 2010. However, no tangible results have been achieved in this process yet.

The European Union’s new initiative, the so-called “Eastern Partnership,” was inaugurated in May 2009 by the leaders of six post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It can be viewed in this context as a next step in bringing the South Caucasus region closer to the European Union. At the same time, the realization of the Nabucco pipeline, one of the important projects contributing to European Energy Security (Azerbaijan is considered one of the transit and possible supplier countries), could be very beneficial for the diversification of the current natural gas suppliers and delivery routes to Europe. Possible incorporation of the South Caucasus states into the geopolitical and energy security framework of the European Union could also trigger the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Joint Statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict issued on July 10, 2009 by the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group’s Co-Chair countries and a preliminary version of the Basic Principles for a settlement to the conflict prepared in November 2007 in Madrid (the so called “Madrid principles”) gave a new impetus to the negotiation process. A preliminary version of the Basic Principles stipulate the return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation[2]. Work on an updated version of this document is in progress, and the parties reached an agreement thus far only on the wording of the preamble of this document in Sochi on January 25, 2010. However “following his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Memmedyarov[3] said Azerbaijan accepted the principals in general terms. Noting that Armenian side has contradictory statements over the principals, Memmedyarov cited a positive peace atmosphere in case Armenia approached the issue from a positive point of view”[4]. Thus, if the parties are able to overcome a few disagreements and accept the revamped Madrid Principles it will laid the foundation for the comprehensive peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh region.

The Armenian-Turkish rapprochement also intensified after the Russian invasion of Georgia. The efforts started with “soccer diplomacy” in September 2008 ended with the two protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations and on the development of bilateral relations between Armenia and Turkey on October 10, 2009 in Zurich. However, their ratification by the Parliament of Turkey seems quite questionable now. This is due to the fact that Turkey closed its border with Armenia in response to the Armenian occupation of Kelbajar, one of the adjacent Azerbaijani districts located outside Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, it insists on the return of occupied territories to Azerbaijan as a precondition for opening the border and establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia. At the same time, the continuous work of Armenian lobby groups to recognize 1915 events as genocide through resolutions in foreign parliaments, including the United States Congress, creates serious impediments for the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.

[1] O. Sushko. “The end of “International order – 1991,” Impact of 2008 Russia-Georgia war on Ukraine,” Heintish Boll Stiftung, Warshaw, November, 2008, p.1.

[2] The White House – Press Office – “Joint Statement on the Nagorno Karabakh Conflict,” July 10, 2009

[3] Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan – GP

[4] Azerbaijan waits for Armenian response to Madrid principle, TRT, March 27, 2010 (

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