Hrachya V. ARZUMANIAN, PhD *
The Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) conflict, as known to us in its current state, refers to prolonged conflicts and was originated during the period of formation of the USSR. In its efforts to overcome the international isolation and achieve international recognition, the Bolshevik Russia, upon a voluntary partisan decision adopted within the framework of regulating its bilateral relations with the Kemalist Turkey, transferred Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) unto the Azerbaijani SSR. In 1923, on the part of the territory of historical Artsakh, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (region) was formed (NKAO). Henceforth, during the entire Soviet history in the 1930s, 60s and 70s the Artsakh problem surfaced as actual in one or another form yet it was never addressed or resolved.
The disintegration of the USSR by the end of the 20th century was accompanied with the awakening of old ethnic conflicts, including the Artsakh conflict. The attempts of the Artsakh Armenians to resolve the problem through peaceful means in 1988-1990, within the framework of the legal norms of the USSR caused the brutal reaction by the central Soviet leadership and authorities of the Azerbaijani SSR. In a number of Azerbaijani cities, including the capital Baku, pogroms and mass killings of the Armenian population took place; on the territory of NKAO the troops of the Ministry of Interior of the USSR forcefully deported Armenians. In the final run, by 1991 all Armenian population living in Azerbaijan was displaced and ceased to exist.
The attempts to resolve the problem with Artsakh in a similar way triggered the necessity to declare on September 2, 1991, the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in full conformity with the legal norms of the still-existing USSR. From the first days of its formation the republic had to organize self-defense against the armed forces of the newly-proclaimed Republic of Azerbaijan which had declared itself the legal successor of the Republic of Azerbaijan of 1918-1920. Thus, on the territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR two state formations came into being – the Republic of Azerbaijan, recognized by the international community, and the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh.
By the year of 1992, the military operations of Azerbaijan against Artsakh turned into a large-scale military offensive compelling the Artsakh Armenians to face the challenge of physical survival in an existential conventional warfare. To confront this challenge, the newly-created political and state structures of Artsakh had to speedily create a Defense Army capable of retorting big-scale military offensives as different from the irregular ones characteristic of 1988-1991. This task was successfully accomplished and Artsakh could emerge victorious in the military campaigns of 1992-94.
The currently existing borderline between Artsakh and Azerbaijan is the result of those hostilities and is fixed in the Agreement on cease-fire mediated by Russia and signed in Bishkek in 1994. The signatories were Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia which, as a recognized state by the international community, acts as the guarantor of Artsakh’s security. Minor changes of the border took place in the April of 2016, when Azerbaijan attempted to yet another time resolve the problem through large-scale military offensive. Conflict settlement negotiations are held in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship – Russia, USA, and France.
The successful military building in Artsakh could have been impossible without respective state building and political processes. Artsakh is currently a state which proved able to create and develop state institutions. The military escalation in April of 2016 with the new and failed attempt by Azerbaijan to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh through military force revealed the necessity to make changes in the overall chain of command and military-political decision-making by the highest leadership of Artsakh. Hence, respective amendments were introduced in the Constitution of Artsakh. The military actions of 2016 also proved the vitality of Artsakh’s choice targeted at democratic institution-building and development. A state can succeed in an existential war only if it relies on the entire society within the framework of respective democratic institutions and procedures. Currently Artsakh continues its state- and society-building within the general framework of the Armenian statehood the components of which are the internationally recognized Republic of Armenia and the unrecognized, yet de-facto existent Republic of Artsakh which demonstrates continued viability in the aftermath of 1992-1994 and 2016 large-scale military offensives.
The military actions of 2016 vividly demonstrated that principles on which the interaction of the two Armenian states is anchored, the regional and global situation assessments, as well as the methods of conflict resolution have to be reviewed. It is largely dependent on the qualitative changes undergoing in the global political system, the international environment of security and within the strategic context.
* Director of the Ashkar Center for Strategic Studies, Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh