The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict through the Lens of International Law

Azerbaijanis flee Nagorno-Karabakh during the 1991-94 war | Source: Wikimedia Commons

A new article by Sabina Garahan, doctoral candidate at the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, on Opinio Juris analyses False Equivalences in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict – International Humanitarian and Criminal Law Perspectives.  

The announcement of a peace deal in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the night of 9-10 November 2020 marked the end of 28 years of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Tensions leading to the 1991-94 war had begun in 1987 with the violent expulsion of 200,000 Azerbaijanis from the Armenian region of Kafan, which resulted in dozens of deaths. Although, in 1993, the UN Security Council had adopted four resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of all occupying Armenian forces from all occupied territories in Azerbaijan, these were never enforced.  

In the light of further territorial claims made by the Armenian government on Georgia and Turkey, the article fills two key gaps – thus rectifying resultant false equivalences – within the discourse on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. First, from the perspective of international humanitarian law, no distinction has been made between attacks on the occupied territories and other (non-occupied) cities in Azerbaijan. Second, from the perspective of international criminal law, the 1992 Khojaly massacre (recognised by some states as a genocide) of Azerbaijanis is frequently compared to the Sumgait pogroms which killed 26 Armenians, despite the latter atrocity having been fully addressed under domestic law in the absence of state complicity. The Khojaly massacre, is, by contrast, staunchly denied by the Armenian government and diaspora groups alike.  

As chronicled in a Human Rights Watch / Helsinki report, before the attack, the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly had been home to some 6,000 people, including those who had fled there previously from other parts of Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenian forces had invaded their villages in the winter of 1991-92. On the night of 25-26 February 1992, Armenian forces seized Khojaly. As residents fled, Armenian forces fired on them. After the massacre, more than 300 bodies showing evidence of a violent death were submitted for forensic examination, of which many had been scalped, had body parts removed, or been otherwise mutilated. 

The article also addresses France’s contentious role in the OSCE Minsk Group (the body formerly tasked with attaining peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan) in view of the French government’s secret deals with Armenian terrorist groups.

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