The Ceasefire Agreement in Bishkek, 1994 and Attempts at Peaceful Solution

The Bishkek Agreement, 1994

The war raged until May 12, 1994, when Russia, one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, managed to broker a ceasefire agreement which is still in force today (2012). At the end of the war the Armenians had taken control over most of Nagorno-Karabakh (even though not all), and established a buffer zone around the enclave by which they controlled about 9% of Azerbaijani territory (see fold-out map). This aspect needs a clarification, since one of the frequently used arguments by the Azeri side is that "Armenia occupies 20% of Azerbaijan". A simple mathematical calculation reveals that this figure is highly exaggerated and does not at all reflect the reality. The territorial conditions are as follows: Azerbaijan's area is 86,600km2 while Karabakh's area is 4,400km2 and the adjacent regions under Armenian control amounts to 7,709km2. Journalist Thomas de Waal, who has written several articles and a book about on the conflict, has used the following figures in his calculation of the area of Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast and Azerbaijan, which is controlled by the Armenian forces (given in km2): Kelbajar, 1,936; Latchin, 1,835; Kubatly, 802; Jebrail, 1,050; Zangelan, 707; Aghdam, 842; Fizuli, 462; the exclaves, 75, i.e. an area of 7,709km2 in total or equivalent to 8.9% of Azerbaijan's area. This means that the total Armenian-controlled area, including Karabakh, is about 13% of Azerbaijan's total area and not 20%. What is essential in this discussion, however, is not the size of their territory, but rather the propaganda war, the exaggeration of the situation and the misinformation.

The figures on the number of refugees are also highly uncertain and variy considerably: between 230 000 and 400 000 Armenians who were forced out of Azerbaijan and Karabakh (some of them living in Karabakh have been returning since the establishment of the ceasefire agreement) and between 600 000 and 800 000 Azerbaijanis from Armenia, Karabakh and adjacent areas.[89] One detail worth pointing out is the demand for the right of refugees to return to their homes. While various resolutions explicitly mention the condition for the return of the Azeri refugees to their home, the same demands are abscent for the return of Armenian refugees to Azerbaijan, especially in the capital Baku, which at the end of the 1980s had an estimated Armenian population of over 200,000. The comparable figure for Azerbaijanis in Yerevan at the end of the 1980s is said to be not more than 5,000. Depending on the source, it is claimed that over 4,500 Armenian victims lost their lives while the figure for the Azeri side is between 25,000 and 30,000 victims.[90]

A the ceasefire agreement in Bishkek, the parties agreed to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict by the mediation of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), established on December 6, 1994 (previously belonging to the European Security Conference, CSCE).[91] The Minsk Group consists of three permanent representatives from France, USA and Russia as well as members from Belarus, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The group regularly visits Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh with neighboring areas and tries to broker a peaceful political settlement of the conflict.

The difficulty of resolving the conflict lies in the contradiction between two fundamental principles of international law: territorial integrity[92] and the right to self-determination.[93] Thus, the basic problem is adherence to Karabakh people's right of self-determination over their future, while Azerbaijan's territorial integrity should to be ensured. However, if one examins the problem from a historical perspective, it becomes quite apparent that in most previous cases, such as that of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the division of Czechoslovakia, Western Sahara and East Timor's declaration of independence, Kosovo's separation from Serbia and the most recent referendum in southern Sudan to separate from northern Sudan etc., it is always people's right to self-determination which has precedence over territorial integrity. Based on the changes that Europe has gone through since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, these two principles can evidently be combined without major problems. Notwithstanding, it is also evident that international laws do not necessarily apply automatically if they are not supported by the prevailing political will of the major powers. That the issue is not that trivial is also witnessed in the case of Kosovo's lengthy process of declaration of independence, Basque strive for independence from Spain, Corsica's tendency for separation from France and finally South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's proclamation of independence from Georgia. While many countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, Russia and its allies have refrained from it by refering to the territorial integrity of Serbia. In contrast, Russia (one of only three countries) has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, a decision which met quite harsh criticism from Western countries. This shows how highly politicized the issue is without its need to follow any existing international laws.

Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia is one of the closest cases which can be compared to the Karabakh case. The parallels are indeed many:

  • Both areas are enclaves with an overwhelming ethnic majority within the borders of a country with a different ethnicity (Kosovo Albanians in Serbia and the Karabakh Armenians in Azerbaijan);
  • Both conflicts began with the disintegration of the former Eastern Bloc and a consequence of artificially-drawn boundaries that had been imposed by an authoritarian regime against local people's will.
  • Both areas declared their independence and intention to separate from the surrounding country's sovereignty.
  • Both local populations have, in accordance with the right to self-determination, held local elections in which an overwhelming majority has voted for separation and independence.
  • In both cases, the surrounding country's government, by reference to the defense of the country's territorial integrity, responded with armed assault to subjugate the local population's demands for separation.

In fact, there is one difference between these two cases, namely that Kosovo has historically mostly been a part of Serbia (since mid 14th century), but now its people wanted to invoke their right to self-determination, while Karabakh has historically mostly been a part of Armenia.


89) Matthew Collin, Azeris criticised on human rights, BBC, London, 28 June 2007, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), World Factbook: Azerbaijan: Transitional Issues: Disputes - international, Washington DC, 2011. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Azerbaijan: After some 20 years, IDPs still face barriers to self reliance, Geneva, 10 December 2010.
90) Arsen Melik-Shakhnazarov, Nagorno-Karabakh: Facts vs. Lies, in Russian;; Winds of Change in Nagorno Karabakh, Euronews, November 28, 2009.
91) Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Minsk Group, Vienna;
92) United Nations, Chapter XI: Declaration Regarding Non-self-governing Territories, New York, 1960;
93) United Nations, Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, Resolution 1514, Session XV, New York, 14 December 1960;