The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Answering Some Intriguing Questions
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The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Answering Some Intriguing Questions

By Dr. Sitakanta Mishra

Associate Professor of International Relations, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gujarat, India

The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Answering Some Intriguing Questions

Q.1: Armenia signed an agreement on a ceasefire and the withdrawal of its occupation forces from the territory of Azerbaijan. The problem is that she took this step after the military defeat. From the point of view of international law, what are the responsibilities of the party that lost the war?

The ‘realist’ paradigm suggests that one should not waste time arguing over the morality of the situation, because in practice “might makes right” or “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. It would be futile to expect that the defeated party in a war will assume the onus and meet its responsibilities voluntarily. This is not to suggest that the winning party should be harsh. In an interdependent world of today, it would not be possible to impose unilateral decisions in the post-war period as multiple players get involved normally in any conflict. Therefore, first, the concerned parties can amicably negotiate to settle the score. Or, second, the concerned parties can knock on the doors of the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2003 as a treaty arrangement between member states to provide a neutral international court. The ‘war guilt’ can be fixed following the above-mentioned ways. One can draw lessons from WWII and the Treaty of Versailles (under clause 231 – the ‘War Guilt Clause’) where Germany had to accept complete responsibility for the war.

Q.2: The Azerbaijani authorities announced that they would demand from Armenia $ 50 billion for the damage caused. But, as we know, Armenia does not have that kind of money. How does international law regulate the recovery of compensation funds from a party that does not have enough funds? 

Though the WWII situation and Germany’s case cannot be extrapolated to the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, significant inferences can be drawn from WWII history. The demand for reparations by Azerbaijan from Armenia through sound logical, the conflict between them is yet to end fully. It would be prudent to form a coalition of states concerned to ponder how to root out the causes of the conflict. Whether both conflicting parties should seek arbitration or adjudication method as bilateral negotiation seems unproductive to settle the competing claims and grievances.

As far as the extraction of reparation is concerned, Azerbaijan with support from its supporters can approach the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), a claims reparation program created by the United Nations Security Council in May 1991, located in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNCC was established with the objectives to receive and decide claims against Iraq submitted on behalf of individuals, corporations, and governments (including mass claims on behalf of similarly situated individuals), and to pay compensation for such claims.

Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Map

Q.3: As everyone knows, the signing of a ceasefire agreement, which is essentially a camouflaged form of Armenia's surrender, became possible with the direct participation of Moscow. If the Armenian side, overthrowing the Pashinyan government, brings radicals to power and resumes hostilities, how will the Russian leadership react to this? Suspicions are not taken from the ceiling, it is enough to look at what moods prevail in Yerevan ...!

Conflict and the end result of conflict has a direct repercussion on the domestic politics of every country. It would be safe to assume that there might be political upheaval in Armenia which might culminate in a radical takeover of power. This would derail the temporary peace process in vogue. However, Russia, being a regional big-brother may not allow the situation to further deteriorate as this would invite critical questions on its ability as a global leader. Russia seems to have sufficient hold and ground on the conflict situation at the moment and it would not allow things to slip from its grip. On the other hand, Armenian leaders, be the moderates or radicals, will not be able to afford Russia’s wrath or loss of Moscow’s backing.

Q.4: The President of Azerbaijan has said that during the negotiations after the withdrawal of the Armenian forces, the issue of the status will not be discussed. Karabakh will not have any autonomy. Moreover, this statement did not receive any objections from Russia. Why? 

It is not prudent to draw any conclusion on the outcome of this protracted conflict or the ongoing negotiation process at this moment. Which way the conflict or its resolution will unfold is too early to predict. However, Azerbaijan having the upper hand in the current situation must bargain hard and explore all options to settle the conflict forever. Azerbaijan must channel aggressively the dominant presence of Russia and its influential role to its advantage.

Q.5: Suspicions were expressed that the Armenian side could carry out provocations against the Russian peacekeepers in order to provoke them to return fire. Everything in order to bring the program of Armenia's drift towards NATO to its logical end. Are there mechanisms to prevent provocations against Russian peacekeepers? 

I think Armenian leaders are matured enough and aware of the consequences of confronting Russian peacekeeping efforts. The fear rather emanates from non-state entities/mercenaries thriving in the region, any vested interest groups who would derail the peace process by resorting to violence to muddy the situation. The stakes of America and NATO in settling the conflict cannot be side-lined. Armenia would lean towards the US and NATO if the peace process does not address its grievances to its satisfaction. As the US is going through a political leadership transition amidst the COVID-19 health crisis and the President-elect will take some time to settle, Washington DC would not overlook Russia’s presence and role at once before putting its finger into the muddy waters.

Q.6: During the hostilities, Armenia launched missile strikes on civil and strategic targets on the territory of Azerbaijan outside the conflict zone. President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly said that those responsible for this will be brought to justice. How does this procedure go? Is the Hague Tribunal the only institution with the function of an international judicial and penitentiary body? 

The civilian casualty in any conflict is unwarranted and cannot be justified. The Armenian missile strikes on civil zones beyond the conflict zone in Azerbaijan tantamount to a war crime. This atrocity can be brought to the UN forum for global condemnation and swift action by the comity of nations. Beside the Hague Tribunal, UN Security Council, and International Court of Justice (ICJ), the issue can be raised at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well which prohibits “Attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population” (Rule 54). 

Q.7: India, as an active participant and a serious player in the Eurasian space, is extremely interested in the stability in the South Caucasus. And the Karabakh conflict was one of the main dangers. Can we say that the resolution of the Karabakh issue is a pleasant event for India?

India has not publicly articulated its policy on South Caucasus yet, but the conflict in Eurasian theatre is undoubtedly a sensitive issue for New Delhi. Indian diplomacy has to walk a tight rope between the conflicting parties and outside powers. As far as Armenia is concerned, India has signed a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty (1995), which prohibits India from providing military or any other assistance to Azerbaijan. More importantly, India has received Armenia’s unequivocal support on the Kashmir issue whereas Azerbaijan, says Achal Malhotra, “not only supports but also promotes Pakistan’s narrative on this issue.” in 2008, India had gone to the extent of voting against Azerbaijan’s resolution in UNGA which demanded “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan”. Meanwhile, it would be difficult for India to endorse the Armenian demand for Nagorno-Karabakh’s right for self-determination, as it might prove to be a double standard when it comes to the Kashmir issue.

However, Azerbaijan is equally important a partner for India in the energy sector and connectivity projects. Though bilateral trade and investment between the two is low at present, the ONGC/OVL has made relatively small investments in an oilfield project and LNG supply in Azerbaijan. Moreover, Azerbaijan falls on India’s dream project – the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) route, connecting India with Russia through central Asia; it can also connect India with Turkey and beyond through Baku-Tbilisi-Kars passenger and freight rail link. Given India’s competition with China in operationalizing connectivity-corridor projects, Azerbaijan is having strategic significance for India.

Therefore, India does not fancy a dichotomous diplomatic situation; rather it would project its non-aligned posture arguing for a negotiated settlement of the conflict regionally, as regional conflicts are better resolved through a regional approach. Ideally, India would not favor the involvement of any outside entity, including Turkey. But, given the inevitable presence of multiple players in the conflict, India has expressed its support for the efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group (co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States) to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of IndraStra Global.