20th anniversary of de facto independence for Nagorno-Karabakh

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is one of the ‘frozen conflicts’ in the border zones of the former USSR that could heat up following Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It is unlikely that the Armenian presidential elections held on Tuesday will change the current status of this small, self-proclaimed state.

On 20 February 1988, the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which belonged to Soviet Azerbaijan but had a majority Armenian population, approved a resolution that would have integrated it into Soviet Armenia. Several months later war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The conflict lasted until 1994, although no peace agreement has ever been signed.

Twenty years on, Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto independent state run by a provisional government, although it still theoretically lies within the borders of Azerbaijan and, in practice, is dependent upon aid from Armenia.

Presidential elections in Armenia were held last Tuesday and were won by Serge Sarkisian, the current Prime Minister and the natural successor to the outgoing President. The Karabakh issue was raised during the campaign, although the two majority candidates, Sarkisian and Levon Ter Petrossian - who was president of the republic between 1991 and 1998 - did not have radically different positions on the matter.

Both leaders accuse each other of "giving in" to Azerbaijan in order to resolve the conflict. Ter Petrossian has accused the current government of "prolonging negotiations in order to maintain the status quo of the disputed region," while Sarkisian charges his opponent with "wanting to give Karabakh up in 1998," according to IWPR. Similarly, other candidates have challenged the former President over his "defeatest" politics.

In 1992 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) created the so-called Minsk Group, a department specifically dedicated to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict through dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Earlier today PanArmenian reported that Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France (which leads the Minsk Group along with Russia and the US), congratulated the winner of the elections and declared that, "as co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, France will work towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict".

In an article published on 31 January, International Crisis Group (ICG) expressed its concern over the level of arms spending by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which, combined with the "belligerent rhetoric" used by politicians during elections, could spark a new surge of violence if the international community does not intervene. "The international community", says Sabine Freizer of ICG, "must impress on Armenia and Azerbaijan the need for progress in peace talks and stop ignoring the conflict in its aid packages".


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