Nagorno-Karabakh Isn't Disputed Territory — It's Occupied

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It is actually very simple. Contrary to the statements made in the mass media when it covers the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this mountainous region of Azerbaijan is not disputed in any way. It is occupied. So says the international law and recently that same opinion follows from the ruling of the international judicial body - European Court of Human Rights.

Despite the allegations of Armenia (that have in fact occupied sovereign territory of Azerbaijan) that the remaining ethnically Armenian population of the region has exercised the right to self-determination, it has been proven false again and again. For once, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are not "people" in the meaning of UN Charter to enjoy such a right. Armenians have already exercised that right in Armenia, where they have an internationally recognized state. Thus, making them a national minority on the territory of Azerbaijan and not some kind of "Nagorno-Karabakh people". Otherwise, Armenians would have a right to self-determination in U.S., Russia, France and other countries where they have  large communities, creating a horde of small states. This is simply illogical.

No state have recognized the separatist entity in Nagorno-Karabakh, including Armenia. No state have recognized Armenian claims on this region as well. So basically there is no dispute on the attribution of the region.

The European Court of Human Rights have actually engraved all of the above into the international jurisprudence.  On 16 June 2015 Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights have come up with two judgments on the reciprocal cases Chiragov and Others v. Armenia and Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan.

Both cases seemed to have very close and even balanced judgments and  that Court intended not to stir political side of the question. However, closer examination shows that this is far from reality and it was impossible for the Court to escape some very serious issues related to the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh.

For example, in Chiragov v. Armenia case, Court addresses the separatist entity "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" specifically in brackets to show that it is not in any way recognized officially. It also establishes the fact that there are no Azerbaijanis left in the occupied territories of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast' as well as in the adjacent seven regions. Thus, basically acknowledging that Armenians were able to carry out complete ethnic cleansing on those territories. Those ethnic cleansings resulted in around 750.000 internally displaced persons living in Azerbaijan now and additional 250.000 refugees of Azerbaijani origin expelled from Armenia itself.

Moreover, the Court recognizes Armenian military and financial control over so-called "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" and comes to the opinion that Armenia has "effective" control in Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, Armenia have been found in violation of the corresponding articles in the aforementioned case. Precisely due to the effective control it has over Nagorno-Karabakh.
So if one state has an "effective control" over the recognized territory of the other state there cannot be any doubt of the occupation. Therefore there cannot be any dispute over the attribution of the Nagorno-Karabakh region per se. Occupation of someone's sovereign territory does not make that territory disputed in anyway.

The conflict itself being a territorial can be resolved. Even ethnic complication can be lifted given the right attitude towards the resolution. The rights of the Armenian minority to culture, language and religion can be guaranteed without violation of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Armenians can be equal citizens of Azerbaijan enjoying minority rights and largest possible autonomy there is. Azerbaijan have already expressed this proposal many times through its government.

Interestingly, mass media is somehow following up on twisting the real discourse and disregarding all of the international legal data on the subject. Basically trying to be "neutral" when reporting on the conflict. However, neutrality does not in any way mean objectivity. And objectivity is what the image of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict really lacks today. So the discourse that mass media shapes now,  instead of playing in favor of conflict resolution actually helps the hostilities escalate.

If mass media will continue to shape its "neutral" discourse and will not begin to lean on the facts, it will only embolden the Armenia's position of staying on their grounds of occupation, lack of will for resolution, preservation of status quo and destructive stance on violence as opposed to the compromise that would allow Armenia to ensure the rights of its minority in Azerbaijan as true caring kin-state.

Bryant McGill very sharply pointed out that: "Where wise actions are the fruit of life, wise discourse is the pollination". In order for the resolution of the conflict to bring some fruits, the discourse should first of all turn to the wise one. While the Nagorno-Karabakh is not a disputed region of Azerbaijan, the discourse around it should become the subject to a very profound change.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws
        The National Interest 

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