Karabakh conflict: A major test for international system and international law
By Mahmut Niyazi Sezgin
Counsellor of the Turkish Embassy in Ljubljana
On 27th September a new wave of clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted following the attacks of the Armenian army especially to the north-western parts of Azerbaijan, in an attempt to sabotage the newly constructed and soon to be operational Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will carry Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe. TAP marks the largest supply diversification project of Europe and a major shift in the European natural gas landscape, as well as a new source of significant revenue for Azerbaijan. Not wishing TAP become operational and Azerbaijan gain a new source of revenue, Armenia launched its third attack to Azerbaijan this year, the first two being on 12-16 July and 23 August respectively.
As a result of the attacks and provocations of the Armenian army, Azerbaijani army started a counter offensive, with an aim to liberate all of its territories and give an end to the 30 years of occupation and continued provocations from the Armenian side. The military conflict between the two countries, which has been continuing for almost a month is already cited as the "Second Karabakh War" in the media.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia attacked Azerbaijan and as a result of the military clashes referred as the Karabakh War, occupied almost 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan, not just Karabakh region, but also provinces surrounding Karabakh. During the Karabakh War 30 thousand Azerbaijani civilians were killed, 50 thousand of them wounded and became permanently disabled, approximately 1 million Azerbaijanis became Internally Displaced Persons and a complete ethnic cleansing in occupied regions has been implemented. The war also inflicted heavy psychological pains to millions of Azerbaijanis. Especially the massacre of 613 Azerbaijani civilians including 63 children in the Khodjaly province in 1992 created a heavy trauma for all Azerbaijanis. (For more information about the First Karabakh War see Twitter account @karabagtruths. Coverage of exclusively European and American media outlets about the war)
Beside the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis, Armenian forces have also systematically destroyed Azerbaijani cultural heritage in the occupied regions. 4.500 Azerbaijani historical, religious and cultural monuments were demolished, including 67 mosques and hundreds of cemeteries. Some mosques have been deliberately used as pig stables for humiliation. Items of Azerbaijani cultural heritage have been plundered by the Armenian army from the museums in the occupied regions and sold at auction houses in Europe and America. (For more information about the destruction of Azerbaijani cultural heritage by Armenia see
Conditions of sustainable development and ecology of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan were also severely harmed. Forests have been cut off on a massive scale to the level of deforestation and trees and logs have been exported, mines have been plundered (only from the gold mine in Kalbajar province more than 10 tons of gold has been extracted and exported annually by Armenia), water reservoirs contaminated, wild animals and fish were hunted massively to the extinction of many species; wildlife, flora and fauna of the region were obliterated; toxic, hazardous and nuclear wastes of Armenia were dumped to the Azerbaijani territories under occupation. (For more information about the destruction of Azerbaijani ecology by Armenia see www.virtualkarabakh.az)
The war ended with the 1994 Ceasefire Agreement and Armenia has continued to keep all occupied territories of Azerbaijan in its de facto possession, which in time turned into a de facto territorial expansion of Armenia, and no peace agreement could have be signed since then.
Who is right, who is wrong?
To understand who is right, who is wrong in a conflict, generally it is sufficient alone to check the location, where the conflict takes place. Only this fact -location of the conflict- can tell you who is the aggressor and who is the defender in a conflict. In other words, "person A" cannot be defined as "defender", if his conflict with "person B" is taking place within the apartment of "person B". This is just simple mathematics and logic.
So let's check where the Karabakh War is taking place. A short glance at the world political map will show that the Karabakh War has been taking place within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Is it possible for a country to attack another country within its own borders? It is very clear that it is Armenia, who is attacking Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan is only using its right of self-defense under the UN Charter. From the beginning of the conflict, there has been no attack by Azerbaijan to the internationally recognized territories of Armenia.
Why is Armenia attacking Azerbaijan?
There are mainly two reasons put forward by Armenia to justify its attack to Azerbaijan and occupation of Azerbaijani territories for 30 years:
- "Karabakh is a historical Armenian territory, so it must belong to Armenia, not Azerbaijan
- Armenian minority in Karabakh is under threat by the Azerbaijani government"
Actually Karabakh is just one aspect of the policy of "Greater Armenia", which demands territories from all its neighbors. Armenia demands southern Georgia from Georgia (Javakheti region), Karabakh and Nakhchivan from Azerbaijan and eastern parts of Turkey from Turkey (This last territorial demand is also expressed in the Armenian constitution). Although not vocal, Armenia also demands northern parts of Iran from Iran as part of the "Greater Armenia".
Neither of the above-mentioned reasons put forward by Armenia to justify its occupation of the territories of its neighbor, Azerbaijan, are acceptable according to contemporary international law or any kind of universal human values of the 21st century. Historical claims or protection of ethnic minorities can by no means be used as the basis of any kind of violence or use of force. Under the UN Charter, use of force is only possible in case of an attack to one's country. Inviolability of territorial integrity of states is the most basic principle of international law. It is the equivalent of inviolability of the physical body of individuals.
Failed Peace Process
OSCE Minsk Group was formed to mediate the negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The Minsk Group so far worked on different formulas, including the Madrid Principles, to reach a peace agreement, however no progress has been achieved due to the unwillingness of the Armenian side to withdraw its army from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, since the international community has not imposed any sanctions on Armenia for occupying the territories of its neighbor. Armenia also continues to ignore the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884), all of which are taken unanimously, which call for the "immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan".
Present day facts
Below are the most critical facts regarding the military clashes continuing since September 27:
- Azerbaijan conducts military operations exclusively within its own territory and there has been no military threat to Armenia by Azerbaijan (only to the Armenian armed forces located on the territory of Azerbaijan),
- Armenian army does not only attack Azerbaijan from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, but also from the territories of the Republic of Armenia,
- Armenian army does not only attack to Azerbaijani forces in the conflict zone, but to the whole of Azerbaijan,
- Armenian army launched two attacks with ballistic missiles from the territories of the Republic of Armenia to the civilian settlements in Azerbaijani city Ganja, which is located 100 km away from the military conflict zone and killed tens of civilians in their sleep,
- There have been 3 humanitarian cease-fire agreements during the conflict so far. The last one seems to have been violated reciprocally. However, the first 2 cease-fire agreements were violated by Armenia, the second one was violated 2 minutes after its entering into effect,
- Since the beginning of the clashes there have been many calls from different countries for peace and cease-fire, yet paradoxically there has not been a single call from any country to Armenia to withdraw its army from Azerbaijani soil, which is the only reason of the conflict.
- Azerbaijan officially declared that it will stop all its military activities, if Armenia declares that it will withdraw its army from Azerbaijan.
Turkey is a part of South Caucasus; neighbor to both Armenia and Azerbaijan and conflict zone is very close to Turkey. It is natural that the peaceful settlement of Karabakh conflict is of critical importance for Turkey's security.
Since the beginning of the conflict Turkey declared its strong political support to Azerbaijan. It is a known fact that Turkey and Azerbaijan are brotherly countries, yet Turkey supports Azerbaijan not because of brotherly relations, but because Azerbaijan is 100% rightful in its struggle to restore its territorial unity. Because every state has the right to preserve and protect its territorial unity, which is no different than an individual's right to preserve and protect his/her bodily integrity. Although Turkey and Azerbaijan are brotherly countries, Turkey would never support Azerbaijan if it would attempt to occupy the territories of the Republic of Armenia. But Azerbaijan has no such intentions, and even not reciprocated the military attacks launched from the territory of Armenia.
Lessons from Karabakh conflict
In the last two decades, international relations system is unfortunately shifting from "international law" towards "the law of the jungle". International mechanisms do not work, security and stability are not maintained and peace and justice are not provided by the system. Even UN Security Council decisions are not implemented, aggressors are not sanctioned. Power politics and interest networks dominate over law, peace and justice. This a clear and unfortunate setback for the world order. It is a shame for humanity that there are still countries, which attempt to conquer territories in the 21st century.
If this trend cannot be reversed, if nations will become more and more convinced that even the UN Security Council decisions are meaningless and justice can be achieved only by use of force, then we will be back to a new era of arms race and we will see local armed conflicts in every corner of the world, much more than what is already present today. The only way to stop this trend is to strengthen international mechanisms obliging the parties to comply with it, to respect and honor international law above selfish national interests and to work more concretely and resolutely to provide justice for all.
Azerbaijan has patiently waited for almost 30 years for the international mechanisms to bring a peaceful resolution to the occupation of its territories by Armenia and tried every peaceful way. In fact, Azerbaijan must be congratulated for its patience and its adherence to international law for such a long time. Now, how can one blame Azerbaijan that it provides peace with its own power, if the humanity in the 21st century cannot promise it a peaceful solution? Can Azerbaijan be expected to show patience to the occupation of its territories forever? Can the territorial expansion of Armenia and the dreams of "Greater Armenia" be tolerated under the universal human values we reached in the 21st century?
Azerbaijan is struggling to restore its physical unity. There cannot be a more sacred and honorable cause for any nation. Therefore, it must be a moral obligation for every nation and every individual to support Azerbaijan in its rightful struggle and call Armenia to withdraw its army from Azerbaijan's territory. Because Karabakh is not only a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it is a very critical test for the international system, order and law for the coming decades.