The Peace Process surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh has been a long arduous process with little success. Countless people have tried to resolve the conflict with essentially nothing to show for it. The frontlines remain dangerous with regular cease-fire violations. Yet, people continue to try.
The OSCE Minsk Group is mandated with coordinating peace talks and establishing a final peace in the region and is chaired by US, France and Russia. Since its inception in 1992, the Minsk Group has organized multiple peace talks, including the 2001 Key West talks in which my former organization Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) was involved, 2003 in Geneva, 2004 talks in Kazakhstan, 2006 in Poland and France, 2007 in Madrid, 2008 in Moscow, 2009 in Munich, 2010 in Astrakhan, and likely many more.
The peace discussions are held under Baker Rules named after United States Secretary of State, James Baker. These rules recognize two principal parties (Armenia and Azerbaijan) and two interested parties (the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno-Karabakh). The government of Artsakh consistently demands to be made a principal party to the talks while Azerbaijan refuses to allow that to happen. It’s unclear how making Artsakh a principle party will improve the peace talks, but at the same time, slighting an important party by not calling them “a principal” can only make the talks more difficult. As a rule, broad inclusion of all relevant parties is a necessity for effective peace talks, even if that means meeting with monstrous warlords. Relegating a party to an inferior position, especially one with a strong military force, is not helpful.
The closest the parties came to a complete peace agreement may have been in 2001, but even if the political leaders had come to an agreement, it’s not evident that the different peoples would have accepted it. The people of Artsakh are militant that the land is theirs and will likely kill and die again to hold it. The Armenians are generally aligned with the people of Artsakh but also are very interested in opening borders to solve some of the massive socioeconomic problems of the country. While the Azeri’s still have a displaced person population of 600,000 and have groups calling for a military attack to recapture the region.
There have been a few baby steps toward peace, including the Nagorno-Karabakh Declaration, the Astrakhan Declaration and the 2009 Madrid Principles (an updated version of the 2007 Madrid Principles). The N-K Declaration promotes the idea of a political solution and was the first signed agreement between the parties since the ceasefire. The Astrakahn Declaration is focused on humanitarian issues. The Madrid Principles lays out a pathway towards peace, and thus is the most important of the agreements. Unfortunately, while the Madrid Principles were signed by both sides, each side has been for or against the Principles at different times, with Azerbaijan currently being against them. International mediators tried to get each side to agree to “basic principles” which has significant concessions on both sides but essentially grants independence to Artsakh. The attempt failed.
Of the many questions that a peace agreement must resolve (land, independence, IDPs, etc.), one of the (imo) easier ones is the ~40km buffer zone that Artsakh controls around the land of Artsakh proper. As Artsakh doesn’t even claim the land as theirs, a necessary beginning step in a peace process would be returning control of the land to Azerbaijan. Unsurprisingly, Artsakh doesn’t want to give up its ~40km of buffer zone. They understandably like it that their weapons could inflict significant damage on Azeri infrastructure (e.g. oil refineries, telecom) while Artsakh’s low-density makes Azeri’s weapons less destructive. While not a solution for peace, it does ensure mutually assured destruction.
Azerbaijan has also attacked the Minsk Group, saying that they are biased against Azerbaijan. Russia directly aided Armenia in the war and continues to do military fly over and provide soldiers to Armenia. United States provides funding to Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the few countries to do so, and has a very strong Armenian lobbying community. France has a strong Armenian community, recently pushed for a Genocide bill against the wishes of Turkey and Azerbaijan. Regardless, as the Minsk group is the only group consistently working for a peaceful solution, Azerbaijan can’t reject them.
The peace process slogs on. The Minsk Group visited the region in May. They made a comment that both sides should respect the other side’s culture, while an Armenian commentary noted how they’re a couple years too late. With the recent election essentially continuing the same government, the former Human Rights Ombudsman doesn’t see any change in Armenian policy. Germany made a comment about self-determination without mentioning territorial integrity, understandably frustrating Azerbaijan. While NATO made a comment without mentioning self-determination.
Unfortunately, the peace process has produced very little. What the OSCE calls an unacceptable situation is and has been reality for over a million people for the last twenty years.
Read the conclusion in Part 4: The Current Day and the Near Future.