The Issue of the Security Zone in the Context of the Artsakh Conflict: Part 3

The issue of the NKAR surrounding territories in the course of negotiations

The third part of our analysis presents the discussions on the future of the NKAR surrounding territories in the course of negotiations, enhancing key projects and alternatives being discussed within the frameworks of the OSCE Minsk group.

Still at the beginning of the war, the authorities of Armenia headed by Levon Ter-Petrosyan, adopted a compromise policy to solve the Artsakh conflict. This could be possible only if the issue was internationalized. Since Azerbaijan refused direct negotiations, there was a need for mediators. The Azerbaijani authorities were against the discussion of the issue in international tribunals claiming it to be a domestic issue of Azerbaijan. In December, 1990, in the session of the Supreme Soviet, Ter-Petrsoyan put forward the idea of internationalizing the Artsakh conflict which would either resolve or freeze it, but in both cases it would provide international guarantees for the population of the autonomous region. Some concrete actions were taken towards this as the CSCE tried to carry out the mission. The CSCE recommendations (February, 1992) proposed the conflict to be resolved by establishing a cease-fire, creating a humanitarian corridor, holding talks between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Artsakh as well. Azerbaijan was categorically against this. The final solution was also outlined: Nagorno-Karabakh was to be given the status of an autonomous region within the Azerbaijani territory. Ter-Petrosyan was in favor of this, but did not receive any support in the political circles of the RA. The population of Nagorno-Karabakh was categorically against remaining within the Azerbaijani territory. Azerbaijan, in its turn, was not going to provide more than cultural sovereignty, as it was confident in the victory of its troops.

In 1991-1994, military operations were being conducted with alternating success.  In this period Azerbaijan underwent two power shifts: Mutallibov was replaced by Elchibey in 1992 and the latter was later opted out by Aliyev. It became evident in 1994 that the Azerbaijani side was not able to succeed in military way, so it decided to enter the negotiation process. Still on March 24, 1992, an additional meeting of the CSCE Council of Ministers had been held in Helsinki at which it was decided to convene a conference in Minsk as soon as possible for resolving the conflict. The conference would provide a negotiation platform for a peaceful solution to the issue based on the CSCE principles. Since 1992, the negotiations on the settlement of the Artsakh conflict have been conducted in the format of the Minsk conference. No significant success had been spotted in the negotiation process until 1994, as military actions were still going on. It is expedient to discuss issues related to the status of the NKAR surrounding territories starting from the Budapest Summit in 1994. It was in the Budapest summit declaration “Towards a genuine partnership in a new era” that the issue of the Karabakh conflict has been touched upon for the first time during CSCE summits. The document refers to the resolutions of the UN Security Council highlighting that they should be implemented, i.e. returning the NKAR surrounding areas without bearing the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and clarifying some other issues. A year later, in 1995, the Ottawa declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly expressed the positions of the member states towards the alternatives of the conflict settlement more clearly. According to the mediators, the conflict should have been settled based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. The immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh surrounding territories was out of the question. The principles of territorial integrity and imperishable borders of states were put forward while settling the conflicts risen in the post-Cold War period. That is why Armenia tried to refer to the right of nations to self-determination, hence making it possible to somewhat equalize the initial positions of the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. However, Armenia has always been ready to return the liberated lands previously beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh territory to Azerbaijan: at the beginning, this was a result of the compromise policy.

In the summit held in Lisbon on December 2-3, 1996, the OSCE MC and the OSCE Chairman-In-Office put forward the following principles to become the basis of the Karabakh conflict settlement:

  1. Territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan;
  2. Legal status for Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed in the agreement and based on the right to self-determination that provides a high degree of sovereignty within Azerbaijan;
  3. Guaranteed security of Nagorno-Karabakh and its population, including mutual commitment of all sides to implement all the provisions of the agreements.

Armenia vetoed the wording of the representative of the presiding country in the final document, as a result of which the announcement was moved to appendixes. The delegation of Armenia stated that no agreement had been made on the Nagorno-Karabakh status yet, that is why it disagreed with the wordings. In fact, the status of not only the NKAR surrounding territories, but that of Nagorno-Karabakh as well remained pending.

In 1997-98, three proposals were presented on the Karabakh conflict settlement: the “package deal” proposal of July 1997, the “step-by- step deal” proposal of December 1997 and the “common state deal” proposal of November 1998.

The “package deal” suggested withdrawal of the armed forces of Nagorno-Karanakh within the NKAR border of 1988, creation of a buffer zone along the NKAR borderline of 1988 and northern part of the Armenian-azerbaijani border and deployment of peacekeepers there, rental of the Lachin Corridor by the OSCE and handing it to the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities (furthermore, the town of Lachin would be removed from the Corridor and placed under the administration of Azerbaijan) and return of refugees to their homes. As for the Nagorno-Karabakh status, it still remained a state territorial entity within Azerbaijan and its administrative boundaries were to be determined based on the borders of the former NKAR.  As a matter of fact, the “package deal” outlined the sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, creation of a buffer zone in some parts of the NKAR surrounding territories, deployment of peacekeepers here and return of refugees which would factually mean to surrender these territories to Azerbaijan. The only positive aspect of this proposal was the preservation of the Lachin Corridor that would link Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Naturally, the proposal was turned down by the RA and NKR authorities. Yet, the reason for this refusal was not the surrender of the NKAR surrounding territories, but the definition of the NK status within Azerbaijan.

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“The step-by- step deal” suggested basically the same actions, except from determining the NK status in advance and some other provisions as well. Thus, Article 11 stated that negotiations on determining the NK status and issues of Lachin, Shushi and Shahumyan should continue to come to an agreement as soon as possible. Hence, only the status of Lachin was still pending, while the other 6 regions were to be transferred to Azerbaijan. This version of the conflict settlement was also turned down by the NK authorities (though accepted by the Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities) as there were no guarantees that Azerbaijan would continue negotiations after NK returned the occupied territories.

The approval of the “step-by- step deal” caused riots against Levon Ter-Petrosyan. In his article “War or Peace? Time to get serious” Ter-Petrosyan wrote:

“I considered both the “package” and the “step-by- step” solutions to be realistic. I have also mentioned that Armenia had accepted the co-chairs’ first proposal (which was nothing more than a package deal of settlement) with serious reservation. Only after Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh categorically turned it down in written form, the co-chairs were forced to present the “step-by- step” solution to the parties. If this kind of proposal is not adopted and applicable, we should attempt to implement the “step-by- step deal” of solution. By first rejecting the “package”, then the “step-by- step” deals, and proposing to return to the “package” deal again, the Karabakh side has put both Karabakh and Armenia in an uncomfortable situation. However, the situation is not deadlocked, since it is possible to combine the two proposals. The idea is very simple: during the negotiations the “step-by-step” proposal is to be signed but implemented only after the clarification of the NK status. Karabakh will show its constructiveness to the international community through this and that it does not have any intentions to keep the occupied territories. From the other hand, this will lead to a serious progress in the settlement process and the talks suspended almost a year ago will be resumed”.

Both proposals were unacceptable for the majority of the two Armenian states since they outlined the future of Nagorno-Karabakh within the territory of Azerbaijan. The discords between the President and the opposition, as well as the citizens, led to a political crisis and later to the President’s resignation.

As for the “common state deal”, it was believed to be drawn with respect to the previous objections of the two states. Hence, it stated that “Nagorno-Karabakh is a state territorial entity in the form of republic which forms a common state with Azerbaijan”. In this case as well the statehood-to- be-created would have the same boundaries as the previous NKAR. As for the Lachin Corridor, its future would be determined by a separate agreement and by that time Lachin should remain a demilitarized zone. In fact, this agreement as well handed all the NKAR surrounding territories to Azerbaijan and the Lachin issue still remained pending though it was of vital importance as it links Armenia to Karabakh. In this regard, Vardan Oskanyan writes:

“To achieve a resolution on Karabakh, non-conventional approaches are to be applied. I said that for us, for example, a status for Karabakh that makes it de facto independent, but de jure not in Azerbaijan would be acceptable, and in that context, it would be worth considering a version of the “common state” approach being proposed in the Transnistrian conflict, where horizontal relations would be secured between Karabakh and Azerbaijan. In November 1988, the Minsk Group co-chairs presented the “common state” proposal”. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs said that by the time the two Armenian sides could have managed to express their positions on the proposal, the Azerbaijani side had already turned it down.

The next round of negotiations on the conflict settlement began in 2001 where discussions were held on the “Paris Principles”. In this regard, Heydar Aliyev, the Azerbaijani president announced in 2002 that these principles were nothing more than a simple exchange offer of corridors, e.g. Meghri for Lachin, but the Armenian president Robert Kocharyan denied this statement. Probably, Yerevan and Stepanakert focused on the following issues: Karabakh should not be vertically dependent on Azerbaijan, stable communication should be provided between NK and RA and the safety of the NK population should be guaranteed. The “Paris Principles” were summed up in the Key West document. In this regard, the Armenian Minister of foreign affairs, Vardan Oskanyan announced that the peace agreement would envisage return of territories only in case of granting Nagorno-Karabakh the status which satisfied the Armenian side and that he insisted on “horizontal” communication between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan or on Stepanakert being independent from Baku. Later, in his interview to “Mediamax”, Oskanyan stated that the essence of the document was to include Nagorno-Karabakh with a part of Lachin under the sovereignty of Armenia, and Azerbaijan would get the right for a regular communication with Nakhichevan through the territory of Armenia. Yet, Ilham Aliyev, the newly elected president of Azerbaijan refused to negotiate with Kocharyan on the circulated principles and alternatives.

The current round of negotiations is the result of the Prague Process started in 2004 when a meeting was held between the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers in April, in Prague. Within the frameworks of this process, the OSCE co-chairs released a statement on July 6, 2006 where certain principles were guided, including  the redeployment of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, with special modalities for Kelbajar and Lachin districts (including a corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh), demilitarization of those territories, and a referendum to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, the two sides did have a preliminary agreement on the NKAR surrounding territories (except from Lachin and some parts of Kelbajar): they were to be transferred to Azerbaijan.

Nowadays, the negotiations are held based on the Madrid proposals presented by the co-chairs in November, 2007. The currently circulated “Madrid Principles” suggest the return of the NKAR surrounding territories to Azerbaijan and creation of a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. Since the “Madrid Principles” are pretty vague, the mediators are trying to make these principles more concrete and to define the sequence of actions: this causes serious difficulties. The proof of this is the absence of any agreement so far. Moreover, the interpretations of the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides are also different as they tend to indicate the benefits of their positions to their own citizens. Hence, Elmar Mammadyarov stated in 2010 that the agreement would envisage a phased, rather than a package solution to the conflict. It will suggest the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Agdam, Fizuli, Djebrail, Zangelan, Gubadli districts and 13 villages in Lachin district, then from the remaining parts of Lachin and Kelbajar and a solution to the NK status within the Azerbaijani territory. Moreover, in the current round of negotiations, Azerbaijan is trying to get out of the current negotiation format, including the conflict settlement outside the Minsk group frameworks. Perhaps, the contradictory statements of high officials prove that it will take years to develop an acceptable compromise version.

Let us turn to the Armenian statements with respect to the NKAR surrounding territories at the highest, presidential level. Hence, in March, 2010, in his interview to the Syrian newspaper “Al Watan”, Serzh Sargsyan stated:

“A security zone has been created around Karabakh in order to strengthen security. These kinds of things happen at wartime, but war was not our preference. Despite the claims of Azerbaijan, that zone is neither populated nor exploited. Only when the Karabakh population gets a real opportunity to exercise its right to self-determination and practical mechanisms of security and development are created, may the compromise of the Armenian side be considered the return of the Karabakh surrounding territories to Azerbaijan. The corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh should definitely be preserved”. In response to this, Elhan Poluhov, the press secretary of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that first of all, the Armenian troops should withdraw from the occupied territories and then, the solution to the NK status should be determined only within the Azerbaijani territory. Hence, the contradictory between the sides is because of the sequence of principles and contrastive understanding of the NK status, since the Armenian side requires to firstly determine the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and only then return the territories and refugees. And the Azerbaijani side claims the same actions in the opposite sequence. The reason for this discrepancy is not only the difference of demands, but also the inability to compromise and fear of presenting these compromise alternatives to their own citizens under the conditions of daily increasing inter-ethnic intolerance.

In fact, all the documents on the negotiation table envisaged surrendering of the majority of the security zone territories to Azerbaijan which was believed to be entailed from the compromise essence of negotiations. However, taking account of the four-day war in April, 2016, bellicose statements of Azerbaijan, absence of any confidence basis towards the latter and some other factors as well, the transfer of these territories to Azerbaijan is impossible, at least in the current round of negotiations. Moreover, this approach is becoming more and more dominant within the Armenian elite. We will refer to this and the importance of the NKAR surrounding territories in the final part of the analysis.


  1.  Բ. Ուլուբաբյան, Արցախյան գոյապայքարի տարեգրություն, Երևան, 1997 թ.
  2.  Խ. Գալստյան, Քաղաքական բանակցություններ. տեսություն և պրակտիկա, Երևան, 2007 թ.
  3.  Ղարաբաղյան ազատագրական պատերազմ (1988-1994 թթ.), հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2004 թ.
  4.  Ал. Манасян, Карабахский конфликт: ключевые понятия и хроника, Ереван, 2005 г.
  5.  Нагорный Карабах в международном праве и мировой политике. Документы и комментарий / Сост., отв. ред., авт. вступ. ст. и коммент. д. ю. н., проф. Ю.Г. Барсегов, Москва, КРУГЪ, 2008. – Т. 1.
  6.  С. Золян, Нагорный Карабах: проблема и конфликт,
  7.  Ali Abasov, Haroutiun Khachatrian, The Karabakh Conflict, Variants of Settlement: Concepts and Reality, Baku-Yerevan, 2006,
  8.  Shahen Avakian, Nagorno Karabagh: Legal Aspects, Yerevan, 2013
  9.  ԱՀ նախագահի պաշտոնական կայքէջ՝
  10.  ԵԱՀԿ պաշտոնական կայքէջ՝
  11.  «Եվրոպական ինտեգրացիա» ՀԿ կայքէջ՝
  12.  ԼՂՀ արտաքին գործերի նախարարության պաշտոնական կայքէջ՝
  13.  ՀՀ արտգործնախարարության պաշտոնական կայքէջ՝
  14.  ՀՀ Նախագահի պաշտոնական կայքէջ ՝
  15.  ՄԱԿ-ի պաշտոնական կայքէջ՝
  16. «Մեքիամաքս» լրատվամիջոց՝
  17. “Conciliation Resources” NGO web page `
  18.  Az օնլայն թերթ՝
  19.  Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty`

Author: Viktorya Aydinyan: © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Yeranuhi Antonyan

Read also

  1. The Issue of the Security Zone in the Context of the Artsakh Conflict: Part 1
  2. The Issue of the Security Zone in the Context of the Artsakh Conflict: Part 2
  3. The Issue of the Security Zone in the Context of the Artsakh Conflict: Part 4