Drawing the Line: Maps meet principles in the search for a settlement over Nagorno Karabakh

Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents meet today in France to discuss the 15-year-old dispute over Karabakh status.
The Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are slated to meet in Paris today, February 10, for talks on the outlines of a possible settlement of the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh.

Ahead of this key meeting, the Foreign Relations Commission of the Armenian Parliament released a report on February 3 summing up the results of parliamentary hearings on “ways to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”. The hearings took place in March last year but the report has been published only now, despite a pledge by the commission to draft the document within two months.

The document, in particular, states: “The basis for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the settlement of the conflict must be the unconditional and unreserved application of the right to self-determination – as a matter of principle – with respect to the people of Nagorno Karabakh. Such an application is supported and determined by the following argument:

  1. The self-determination component: Nagorno Karabakh has proclaimed its self-determination legally – in full compliance with international norms and the laws in force at that time.
  2. The territorial component: the Nagorno Karabakh people have proclaimed self-determination over its own territory, which has never been under the jurisdiction of independent Azerbaijan.”

The full text of the document is available at http://www.regnum.ru/english/584766.html.

The question of a solution involving “territories in exchange for a status” is being much speculated upon in the run-up to the meeting between President Robert Kocharyan and President Ilham Aliev. In particular, it concerns a possible handover of part of the territories occupied by the Nagorno-Karabakh defense army in exchange for an internationally recognized status for the so far unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).

So far, there has been no official explanation of the agenda for the negotiations taking place in France and certainly no concrete proposals concerning the status of the NKR.

It is obvious, however, that one subject of negotiations is the areas known to the OSCE’s mediators in the Minsk Group by the following names – Aghdam, Fizuli, Jebrahil, Kubatli, Zangelan, Kelbajar and Lachin. The names of these regions are used in accordance with the Soviet administrative scheme that was still in force when the conflict broke out.

These regions cover an area of 8,810 square kilometers in total, or a little more than 10 percent of the territory of the former Soviet Azerbaijan (86,600 sq. km). This calculation in its turn is based on statistics from the pre-conflict period that were unchanged until the autumn of 1994, when the Embassy of the Azerbaijani Republic in Russia circulated a book “The Azerbaijani SSR – administrative-territorial division” which referred to the “Azeri territories occupied by Armenian forces.”

According to this source, the areas under occupation were as follows: Kelbajar – 1,936 sq. km, Lachin – 1,835 sq. km, Kubatli – 802 sq. km, Jebrahil – 1,050 sq. km, Zangelan – 707 sq. km, Aghdam – 1,094 sq. km, Fizuli – 1,386 sq. km. Taking account of the fact that Aghdam and Fizuli are not fully under the control of the Nagorno-Karabakh defense army (only 35 percent and 25 percent respectively, or 383 sq. km and 347 sq. km), then the total area of the territories held by Nagorno-Karabakh makes 7,060 square kilometers. This is less than 10 percent of the total land mass of Azerbaijan.

However, officially, Baku insists on the figure of “20 percent” of its territory being under occupation. Why?

Independent Azerbaijan’s first census was in 1999 and new regions of the republic were defined. Officially, the country has 78 regions, composed of 65 rural and 13 urban areas. According to the data published in 2000, the area of Kelbajar region already covers 3,054 square kilometers, that is, it exceeds its former size by 1,118 square kilometers.

Apparently, in pointing out the fact of the occupation of Kelbajar region to international mediators, official Baku is calculating from the new version of its administrative division in order to present a situation in which a fifth of its territory is occupied.

“One should understand that part of these territories, together with Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan, became a reason for the League of Nations not to recognize the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (ADR), that was proclaimed in 1920, as an entity in international law,” says Armen Ayvazyan, a political scientist.

“In particular, the League of Nations did not recognize the borders of the ADR in the form that the Muslims themselves had drawn on the map. The legal successor of that unrecognized state declared itself to be independent Azerbaijan. In officially renouncing its Soviet political heritage on August 28, 1991, Baku lost all rights to part of these territories – Nakhichevan and Karabakh.”

Alexander Manasyan, an expert on the Karabakh problem and a professor at Yerevan State University, argues: “In 1923, Lachin, Kelbajar, Kubatli, Jebrahil, Shahumyan, Khanlar, Getabek regions and other territories were separated from Karabakh as it was understood even by the Caucasus Bureau that was putting Stalin’s resolution of July 5, 1921 into effect. It was on the basis of the remaining territory that the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh was created (in the Soviet era).”

The question of territories, in the view of Armenian political analysts, should be considered separately from the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status. In particular, a resolution passed by the Presidium of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on February 18, 1929 handed over to Azerbaijan a territory of 4,739 square kilometers that previously belonged to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (whose territory covered 34,539 square kilometers).

Maps published from 1926-1928 (the Atlas of the USSR, Moscow, 1926; the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Moscow, 1926; the Maps of the Military-Technical Department of the Red Army, Rostov-on-Don, 1926-1928) show the Armenian SSR and the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh with a common and quite lengthy border exactly in the regions of Kelbajar and Lachin.

“It is obvious that, in discussing the issue of Lachin and Kelbajar linking NKR and Armenia today, one has to refer to the question of their original seizure from the Armenian SSR. Armenia’s rejection of NKR’s future existence as an enclave should be based, among other important arguments, on this important fact which is well documented,” says Manasyan.