The process of mediation efforts for the settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan within the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) has been ongoing since February 1992. At the Additional Meeting of the CSCE Council of Ministers, held in Helsinki on 24 March 1992, a decision was adopted to convene as soon as possible a conference on Nagorno-Karabakh in Minsk under the auspices of the CSCE to provide an ongoing forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the crisis on the basis of the principles, commitments and provisions of the CSCE.
In general, the legal and political constituent for the settlement of the conflict is based on the norms and principles of international law, laid down in the UN Security Council resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 as well as in the appropriate documents and decisions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international organizations. As mentioned above, the UN Security Council resolutions were adopted in 1993 in response to the occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan and reaffirmed respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the international borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan and all other States in the region. The Council demanded immediate cessation of all hostile acts, immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of occupying forces from all occupied regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and called for the restoration of economic, transport and energy links in the region, ensuring the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes. The UN Security Council also approved the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group towards achievement of the peaceful solution to the conflict and called for a search of ways to achieve conflict settlement within the OSCE Minsk process. None of these resolutions was implemented by Armenia.
On 12 May 1994, a ceasefire was established. According to the decision taken at the CSCE Budapest Summit (5-6 December 1994), Heads of States and Governments of the CSCE participating States set up the institution of the Co-Chairmanship of the Minsk Conference for the coordination of all mediation efforts within the CSCE framework. The Budapest Summit tasked the CSCE Chairman-in-Office to conduct negotiations aimed at the conclusion of political agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, the implementation of which will remove the consequences of the conflict and will allow for the convening of the Minsk Conference. The Summit also adopted a decision on the deployment of CSCE multinational peacekeeping forces after the achievement of the agreement between the Parties on the cessation of the armed conflict, and the establishment of the High Level Planning Group (HLPG) located in Vienna and aimed at the preparation of the peacekeeping operation. It superseded an earlier Initial Operation Planning Group (IOPG), which was established in May 1993.
The OSCE Chairman-in-Office issued on 23 March 1995 a mandate for the Co-Chairmen of the Minsk Process (DOC. 525/95).
At the OSCE Lisbon Summit, which was held on 2-3 December 1996, the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and the OSCE Chairman-in-Office recommended the principles, which should be the basis for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But Armenia did not accept these principles and was the only one out of 54 OSCE participating States not to support them.
The OSCE Chairman-in-Office made a statement with the inclusion of those principles. They are as follows:
- territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic;
- legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh defined in an agreement based on self-determination which confers on Nagorno-Karabakh the highest degree of self-rule within Azerbaijan;
- guaranteed security for Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population, including mutual obligations to ensure compliance by all the Parties with the provisions of the settlement.
After the Lisbon Summit the institution of the triple Co-Chairmanship, including Russia, France and the USA, was established in 1997 (since 1992 the Chairmen of the Minsk Conference were Italy in 1992-1993, Sweden in 1994, Russia and Finland in 1995-1996). In April 1997 the negotiations were suspended and substituted by visits of the Co-Chairmen to the region. On 1 June 1997, the Co-Chairmen presented a draft of a comprehensive agreement on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which consisted of the Agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict and the Agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite the readiness of Azerbaijan to start constructive consultations on the essence of the mentioned documents, Armenia categorically rejected the proposed approach.
On 19-23 September 1997, the Co-Chairmen, during their visit to the region, presented new proposals based on a “stage-by-stage” approach to the settlement, according to which it was planned at the first stage to liberate 6 occupied districts, to deploy the OSCE peacekeeping operation, to return the displaced persons to the liberated territories and to restore main communications in the conflict zone. At the second stage the problems of Lachyn and Shusha were to be solved and the main principles of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh were to be adopted. As a result, the OSCE Minsk Conference ought to be convened. On 10 October 1997, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in their joint Statement in Strasbourg stated that “the recent proposals of the Co-Chairmen were a hopeful basis for the resumption of negotiations within the framework of the Minsk Group”.
But after the resignation in February 1998 of Levon Ter-Petrossian, the President of Armenia, and with the coming to power in March 1998 of Robert Kocharian, the next visit of the Co-Chairmen to the region took place, when Armenia officially withdrew the consent to the proposals on the “stage-by-stage” settlement of the conflict.
On 9 November 1998, the Co-Chairmen put forward proposals based on the concept of a “common State”. According to this concept, Nagorno-Karabakh would have the status of a State and a territorial unit in the form of a republic, which, together with Azerbaijan would constitute the common State within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan rejected those proposals since they violated its sovereignty and contradicted the Lisbon principles.
In order to give additional impetus to the negotiations, direct talks between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia on achieving conflict settlement began in April 1999.
During their visit to the region in March 2002 the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmen proposed to conduct negotiations at the level of special representatives of the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The proposal was accepted by the heads of both states. On March 13-15 and July 29-30 2002, the two meetings of the special representatives of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan took place near Prague.
In 2004, direct talks between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan started within the so-called “Prague Process”.
On 25 January 2005 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted its resolution 1416 titled “The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference”. The Parliamentary Assembly reaffirmed the occupation of a considerable part of the territory of Azerbaijan and expressed its concern that the military action, and the widespread ethnic hostilities which preceded it, led to large-scale ethnic expulsion and the creation of mono-ethnic areas which resemble ethnic cleansing. The Assembly made it clear that the occupation of foreign territory by a member State constitutes a grave violation of that State’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and reaffirmed the right of displaced persons from the area of conflict to return to their homes safely and with dignity. The Assembly also recalled the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and urged the parties concerned to comply with them, in particular by withdrawing military forces from any occupied territories.
In May 2006 for the first time since 1997, when the current format of the Co-Chairmanship of the Minsk Group was established, a joint Mission of Representatives of the Co-Chair countries at the Deputy Foreign Minister level traveled to the region in order to make clear to the Presidents of both countries that 2006 was the necessary window of opportunity for reaching an agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to the Co-Chairmen report of 22 June 2006 in Vienna, a set of core principles had been proposed to Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian. They clarified that their approach was not aimed at solving all aspects of the conflict in one phase. Instead, according to the Co-Chairmen, their principles sought to achieve a major degree of progress, but deferred some very difficult issues to the future and envisioned further negotiations.
Nevertheless, the Co-Chairmen stated that since the two Presidents failed to agree, they had reached the limits of their creativity in the identification, formulation, and finalization of these principles. They made clear that if the two sides are unable to agree on those principles, which have been put forward, it is now contingent upon the parties themselves to work together to reach an alternative agreement that both find acceptable. The Co-Chairmen pointed out that they see no point right now in continuing intensive shuttle diplomacy and in initiating further presidential meetings.
In response to the statement of the Minsk Group Co-Chairmen and comments made on that by the Armenian side, which has traditionally attempted to distort the reality of the process of negotiations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan clarified, inter alia, that definition of the legal status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan is impossible under the conditions of continuing occupation and ethnic cleansing and, accordingly, envisages liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, demilitarization of the whole conflict zone, provision of appropriate international security guarantees therein and the return of the forcibly displaced population of Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani side once again reaffirmed its readiness to grant Nagorno-Karabakh the highest status of self-rule within the internationally-recognized territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan and based on its Constitution.
The Ministry also pointed out that with the aim of establishing inter-communal harmony, as well as creating objective conditions for defining the region’s status, and also taking into consideration the perspective of the region’s further development, Azerbaijan would be prepared to review, in conformity with the precedents existing in international practice, implementation of a complex of economic and other incentives for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh after the restoration of its ethnic composition as of the pre-conflict period.
Along with that, the Ministry reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s adherence to continuing talks to achieve lasting and fair peace in the region.
On 13 July 2007, the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a statement in which they provided an assessment of the emerging situation in the settlement process for the conflict in light of the meeting between the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the President of the Republic of Armenia Robert Kocharian in St. Petersburg on 9 June 2007. The Co-Chairmen stated that during the meeting the Presidents concentrated their discussion on a limited number of obstacles that stand in the way of agreement on a set of “basic principles” for the peaceful settlement of the conflict. The Co-Chairmen in their statement took note of the initiative to organize a joint visit to Yerevan, Baku and Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan of a group of intellectuals from Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Co-Chairmen welcomed and highly appreciated that event, which they consider as a first concrete confidence-building measure.
On 2 November 2008, the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation signed a Declaration in Moscow. The Declaration states that “the settlement of the conflict should be based on the norms and principles of the international law and the decisions and documents approved within this framework”, which includes among others the UN Security Council Resolutions of 1993 as well as the UN General Assembly Resolutions of 2006 and 2008. It also declares that the settlement of the conflict based on the norms and principles of international law will create favorable conditions for economic growth and all-round cooperation in the region. Thus, the document brings to naught the speculations by Armenia on priority of regional cooperation before the final settlement of the conflict and elimination of its main consequences.
In 2009, the negotiations on the settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan became more intensive. Six meetings between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and three meetings at the level of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs were held with the participation of the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group.
During the meeting between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan held on 22 November 2009 in Munich, the sides achieved some progress in drawing their positions closer on several issues.
In the framework of the 17th OSCE Ministerial Council held in Athens on 1-2 December 2009, the representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Countries – Foreign Ministers of Russia and France and the US Deputy Secretary of State made a joint statement. In addition, the OSCE Ministerial Council adopted a Statement on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. The aforementioned statements refer to basic principles envisaged in the Moscow Declaration and the Helsinki Final Act as important elements of the conflict settlement process.
Negotiations on settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict based on international norms and principles within the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan continued to be conducted during 2010. Negotiations carried out throughout the year were based on the updated Madrid principles presented by the Minsk Group co-chairmen in December 2009.
In the negotiations Azerbaijan’s position consisted of recovering territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, withdrawal of the occupant forces from the occupied territories, returning of the IDP to their homes, providing peaceful living together for Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, reconstruction of the destroyed territories and opening communications and in the next stage defining the status of MG/NK region with participation of both communities within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
In 2010 three meetings were held between the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the President of the Republic of Armenia - on 25 June in Sochi and 17 June in Saints Petersburg and on 27 October in Astrakhan, with mediation of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
As a result of the final talks the two sides adopted joint statement on returning corpses of hostages and prisoners of war, as well as people died as a result of violation of cease-fire with the mediation of OSCE Minsk Group and the International Red Cross Society. Returning the corpses of Mubariz Ibrahimov, National Hero of Azerbaijan and the martyr Farid Ahmadov and burying them in their motherland was achieved as an outcome of the talks.
Throughout 2010, the five meetings were held in total (on 17 July in Almaty, on 6 November in Moscow, on 19 November in Lisbon, on 22 November and 22 December in Moscow). One of the significant steps taken in the way to agreeing on regulation principals of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict was the joint statement by the heads of OSCE Minsk group co-chair states in Muskoka city in Canada on 26 June of the mentioned year. In the mentioned Statement the heads of states mentioned the importance of step-by-step resolution model which considers liberating the occupied territories, returning refugee and IDP to their home lands and other principals.
On 19-20 November 2010 at the final Declaration of NATO Summit held in Lisbon territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of regional countries, including Azerbaijan was supported and was called upon to solve the regional conflicts considering these principals.
Simultaneously, within this joint statement adopted by the heads of delegations of the OSCE Minsk group co-chair states and by the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, significance of resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict based on the principals adopted within the framework of OSCE Minsk group G-8 Summit held in Italy in 2009 and in Canada in 2010 was noted once again.
Upon the request of the Republic of Azerbaijan, concerned about continued illegal activities perpetrated by the Republic of Armenia in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, including the illegal settlement practices, economic exploitation and devastation of these territories, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs conducted a Field Assessment Mission (FAM) to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan surrounding its Nagorno-Karabakh region from October 7-12 2010, with the aim to assess the overall situation there. The FAM revealed once again the continued policy of illegal settlement of ethnic Armenians in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan as well as infrastructure changes and economic activities conducted in these territories in violation of Forth Geneva Convention and additional Protocols relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, to which Armenia joined in 1993. The major statement of the FAM in its report prepared after the visit was that the status quo in the occupied territories is unacceptable and Armenia should put an end to its illegal practices continuing in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
In 2011, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia held two meetings at the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation, H.E. D.Medvedev: on March 5, in Sochi and on June 24, in Kazan. The meetings were concluded without any result. The main reason of the failure was an obstinate and destructive stance of Armenia, which is still aiming to consolidate the current status quo and impose finally a fait accompli situation. Furthermore, on September 29, President Ilham Aliyev had a meeting in Warsaw with OSCE Minsk group co-chairs and the personal representative of current OSCE secretary-general.
In 2012, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia held a meeting at the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation, D.Medvedev: on January 23, in Sochi. A joint statement was adopted which supported OSCE Minsk group co-chairs’ activity till the peaceful resolution of the conflict and stability is achieved in the region. Moreover, in the Chicago Summit Declaration (Article # 47), issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Chicago on 20 May 2012, territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Azerbaijan was supported and peaceful settlement of the conflict based upon these principles was urged.
Time has passed but Azerbaijan maintains its interest, motivation and patience in this very hard process of negotiations. It seems that hardness of these talks has nothing in common with objective criteria and reasons but more caused by factors of subjectivity and internal political difficulties inside Armenia. Azerbaijan believes that the international community will not allow the Armenian side to further abuse the right of Azerbaijani nation to live within its own territory including its Nagorno-Karabakh region.