What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 Oct 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh Consultations

This afternoon (19 October) Security Council members will hold consultations on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). France, Russia, and the US called for the meeting amid the current escalation of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will brief the Council on the latest developments.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-chairs (France, Russia and the US) appear to be working on a presidential statement that would contain some of the main elements of the recent statements that they have made in their capacity as Minsk Group Co-chairs, and of statements by the Secretary-General. It appears that the text would call for adherence to a ceasefire and for the sides to resume negotiations under the facilitation of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, as well as for humanitarian access to those in need. At press time, it seems that the statement has not been shared with the wider Council membership. The adoption is possible in the coming days.

Heavy clashes involving artillery and air strikes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region erupted on 27 September with both sides blaming each other for initiating the fighting. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan reported military and civilian causalities. Following the request by Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, and the UK, Council members met under “any other business” on 29 September to discuss the issue. Following the meeting, Council members issued press elements in which they voiced support for the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate end to the fighting and a return to negotiations. They also expressed support for the central role of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, while urging the sides to work closely with them to resume dialogue without preconditions.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a dispute over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has an ethnic Armenian majority, and is backed by Armenia. It is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh’s effort to secede in 1988 was the catalyst for the war that ended with a ceasefire in 1994. During that war, over one million civilians were displaced and some 30,000 were killed. Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has been de facto independent and administered by ethnic Armenians, while Armenian forces have been in control of some territory surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have been spearheaded by the OSCE Minsk Group.  Since the latest flare-up of violence, the co-chairs of the Minsk Group have issued several statements calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and resumption of dialogue.

On 10 October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks in Moscow with the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan (Ceyhun Bayramov) and Armenia (Zohrab Mnatsakanyan). After lengthy negotiations, an agreement was reached on a humanitarian ceasefire that began the same day and included the exchange of prisoners of war and remains of the dead. While the specific terms of the ceasefire were to be agreed subsequently, both sides agreed to launch talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group C0-Chairs. The ceasefire did not hold, as both sides continued hostilities while accusing each other of violating the agreement.

A new humanitarian ceasefire agreement was reached on 17 October (and expected to commence on 18 October) following mediation efforts by France in coordination with the other Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. The fighting has continued, however, and once again both sides have accused each other of violations.   On 18 October, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement in which he notes “the latest announcement on the start of the humanitarian truce on 18 October” and indicates that he “expects both parties to fully abide by this commitment and resume substantive negotiations without delay under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs”.

In the wake of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the early 1990s, the Council was heavily engaged on this issue. In 1993, it adopted four resolutions that called on the sides to halt hostilities and establish a ceasefire. The resolutions also called on both sides to resume negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. After the 1994 ceasefire, the OSCE took a prominent role in diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. Since then, until the present flare-up in hostilities, the Council had only discussed this issue in the context of its annual briefings by the OSCE Chairperson-in-office and meetings on UNRCCA.

Council members remain united in their support for a negotiated solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and supportive of the efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. Although Russia and P3 members remain divided on many issues on the Council’s agenda, they seem to be coordinating their efforts on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.  Turkey, a key regional actor, has pledged its support to its ally Azerbaijan if needed, although it has denied accusations that it has provided fighter planes and allowed Syrian militants to enter the disputed region on behalf of Azerbaijan.