Nagorno Karabakh Republic Turns 14: September 2 marks historic day for NKR

On September 2, 1991, the joint session of the regional council of people’s deputies of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR) and the Shahumyan (village) council of people’s deputies adopted a declaration “On the Proclamation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. The proclamation took place three days after the “Declaration on State Sovereignty” adopted by Azerbaijan and in practice became a response to Baku leadership.

During the following 14 years more than two dozens new states – UN members – appeared on the political map of the world, however the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) has not found its place in this list. This circumstance in no way influences the position of the people of Nagorno Karabakh who do not even think about the possibility of their existence within the Republic of Azerbaijan.

“We had won our independence at the cost of blood as a result of a war foisted on us by Azerbaijan,” says 67-year-old farmer from Hadrut, Avetis Hakobyan. “Now the populations of many former Soviet republics feel nostalgia for the past which in their minds is associated with safe life and social security. I don’t want to argue with this, especially that many of my coevals even in Armenia itself also remember only the ‘good past’. However, the people of Nagorno Karabakh do not feel such nostalgia, for the past in their minds arouses opposite associations – their endangered and oppressed situation within Soviet Azerbaijan, economic and demographical discrimination. The basic difference between the peoples who won freedom from ‘above’ and the peoples who gained their right to freedom from ‘below’ is that the former still live retrospectively, and the latter live with perspective.”

“A generation of independent citizens has grown up in the NKR during the 14 years. Today, they attend senior grades in Armenian schools and do not imagine their life within Azerbaijan,” the Republic’s President Arkady Ghukasyan says as his people celebrate their un-recognized independence. “The people of Nagorno Karabakh gained their right to sovereign development not so much in the crucible of the Azeri military aggression, but also in accordance with international legal norms.”

For three years, Karabakh and Azerbaijan were at war. For 11 years there has been a “cease fire”. And for all 14 years, the matter of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan has been a matter of political debate and controversy.

The Declaration “On the Proclamation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” adopted in Stepanakert on September 2, 1991, with a special point invokes the USSR Law of April 3, 1990 “On the order of solving issues connected with the secession of a Soviet republic from the USSR” which regulates also the form of secession of an autonomous unit from a Union republic that declares its independence. It is in accordance with this law that on August 30, 1991 Azerbaijan declared about its seceding from the Soviet Union.

“In this case we deal with double standards, as one and the same law was used differently,” an Armenian expert on Nagorno Karabakh, Professor Alexander Manasyan argues. “Nagorno Karabakh successively complied with all necessary norms, including the organization of a referendum on December 10, 1991, at the time when it was in a state of war, in the presence of independent observers.”

There is another nuance that the expert calls special attention to. The “Declaration on State Sovereignty” proclaimed by Azerbaijan on August 30, 1991 stated Baku’s rejection of its Soviet political heritage and mentioned that the Azerbaijani Republic is a legal successor of the Azerbaijani Republic that existed in 1918-1920.

“However, Nagorno Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan only during the Soviet period, and consequently Baku’s official abandonment of the political heritage of the USSR automatically deprives it of the right to this territory,” says the political analyst. “Moreover, declaring itself as a legal successor of the First Azerbaijani Republic, Baku also loses any right to possess Karabakh, as this Armenian land never was within Azerbaijan in 1918-1920. The League of Nations had not recognized this state exactly because of its aggressive character and claims on Karabakh. I should mention that the First Armenian Republic of 1918-1920 was accepted by the League as a full entity of international law and had its embassies from the United States to Japan.”

Some Armenian political analysts think that the status of Nagorno Karabakh should not become a subject for discussion in the negotiating process between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In particular, this opinion is shared by Viktor Solakhyan, an expert of the Department for Refugee Affairs and Migration attached to the Armenian Government.

“Nagorno Karabakh proclaimed its independence in accordance with international norms, and it is special international instances that are to solve this issue of compliance of the choice of the people of NKR and to legal norms recognized by the world community,” says Viktor Solakhyan. “The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh can discuss only issues connected with the prospect of the territories around the NKR controlled by Armenian and Azeri forces. Mutual concessions are possible here, but they cannot be linked to the issue of the NKR’s status. Otherwise, a deadlock situation is created, something that we have witnessed for the past ten years.”

On September 2, 2005, Aram Petrosyan, a boy from the Karabakh village of Azokh, will mark his 14th birthday. He has no idea what the negotiating process is and who the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen are. He has absolutely no idea of how many variants of a peaceful settlement of the problem were proposed by the negotiators and what their contents were. He only knows a family legend that when he was a four-month-old babe in arms, he visited with his parents a polling station under bullets so that the grown-ups could have time to vote in the referendum for independence. And he also knows that his birthday is marked not only by his family, but also by the whole of Karabakh.