[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

92109: Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

Updated December 3, 1996

Carol Migdalovitz
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division





Peace Process
Armenian Perspective
Azerbaijani Perspective
Roles and Views of Others
CSCE (OSCE after December 1994)
United Nations
U.S. Policy
Executive Branch



A clash between the principles of territorial integrity and self-determination is occurring in the Caucasus, creating the longest interethnic dispute in the former Soviet Union. Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, part of Azerbaijan since 1923, seek independence. Armenians comprise the majority in Karabakh and have a different culture, religion, and language than Azeris. Azerbaijan seeks to preserve its national integrity. Sharp differences over history, goals, events, casualties, cease-fires, and the roles of outsiders between Armenians and Azeris hinder mediation. The dispute has been characterized by violence, mutual expulsion of rival nationals, charges and countercharges. Armenian and Azerbaijan government control over combatants, at times, was loose. After the December 1991 demise of the Soviet Union and subsequent dispersal of sophisticated Soviet weaponry, the conflict worsened. Thousands of deaths and 1.4 million refugees have resulted.

In May 1992, Armenians forcibly gained control over Karabakh and appeared to attack the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, an Azeri enclave separated from Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. Possible action by Turkey, Russia, and others led to demands for action by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the United Nations.

Other nations are involved. Iran mediated until May 1992 in part to preempt action by others and to contain instability to its north, but later condemned Armenian aggression. Turkey has historic, ethnic, and linguistic ties to Azeris and favors them. Yet it seeks peace in the Caucasus to further relations with Central Asia and not to compromise relations with the United States, Europe, and Russia. Russia claims neutrality and has mediated, although some suggest that it gains influence with all parties from continuing instability.

Since 1992, CSCE/OSCE Minsk Group talks have failed to prepare a peace conference. In 1993, fighting escalated on Azeri territory near Karabakh. A new government in Baku could not reverse a trend of military defeats. After summer 1993 Armenian territorial conquests, the CSCE proposed "urgent measures" and the U.N. Security Council endorsed them. That fall, Russia became more active and independent, focusing on Defense Minister Grachev's peace plan. A cease-fire took effect in May 1994 and has held despite violations. Tensions between Russia and the Minsk Group grew until a December 1994 CSCE Summit decided to name a Russian co-chair for the Minsk Conference, and to coordinate mediation efforts. No progress has been reported from many meetings between the mediators and parties. Intractable issues include Armenian withdrawal from Azeri territory, peacekeepers, and the status of Karabakh. At the OSCE's recommendation, Armenia and Azerbaijan have held direct bilateral talks.

The U.S. State Department attempts be neutral, support OSCE peacemaking, and avoid a U.S. military role. The President accepts Russia's activism, so long as it respects its neighbors' independence. Congress tends to favor Armenia. The House version of the FY1997 foreign aid bill had several provisions concerning the conflict; the Senate version had fewer and was followed more by conferees. The concerns of the active Armenian-American community and the threat the conflict poses to regional peace ensure continuing interest in the issue.


At a November 18-22 meeting in Helsinki, the parties failed to agree to a declaration of principles on the steps to resolve the conflict to present at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Lisbon, December 2-3. The Armenians (Armenia and Karabakh) reportedly wanted to address a political agreement, while Azerbaijan wanted to tackle territorial integrity. Diplomats reported a "slight movement" (unspecified) in Azerbaijan's position, while the Armenians' position remained unchanged. Armenia said that it would veto any document at Lisbon that ran counter to its interests. Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to delete reference to Nagorno-Karabakh from the final summit communique. In Detroit, Special Envoy Joseph Presel said that the U.S. was for peaceful territorial change, by mutual agreement of the sides. Until such an agreement, Azerbaijan should preserve its territorial integrity. In a settlement, he said, Azeris will have to accept that they lost Karabakh, and Armenians will have to accept the that Karabakh will not be an independent state. He proposed that Karabakh be governed independently, with an imprecise constitutional definition of its status and without Azeri interference in its affairs.

"Presidential elections" were held in the self-declared "independent Nagorno-Karabakh on November 24; Robert Kocharyan won. Azerbaijan, the OSCE, the United States, Russia, Iran, and Turkey condemned or criticized the vote as unhelpful to the peace process.


The conflict between the Armenian desire for self-determination for the Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan's insistence on its territorial integrity was violent between 1988 and 1994. Thousands of deaths and approximately 350,000 Armenian and 1.1 million Azeri refugees resulted. To stop the bloodshed and contain the conflict, other nations and international organizations advocate peaceful settlement.


A territory approximating today's Karabakh became part of a province of the kingdom of Caucasian Albania in the first century A.D. Armenians remained in the region after their last kingdom in the 11th century. The Persian and Ottoman Empires vied for control in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1805, Russia captured the territory, and, in 1828, the Tsar created an Armenian province that did not include Karabakh. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 provoked ethnic violence. Armenia and Azerbaijan both claimed Karabakh when they became independent in 1918. Soviet dominion over the two republics was established in 1920; each then expelled many rival nationals. Karabakh was ceded briefly to Armenia and, in July 1921, the Transcaucasia politburo voted to join Karabakh to Armenia. Stalin reversed the decision, he said, to further peace among Armenians and Muslims and acknowledge Karabakh's economic tie to Azerbaijan, and reportedly to please Turkey. In July 1923, the region became the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, part of Azerbaijan with a degree of self-rule. The Soviet Constitution of 1936 continued the designation.

In 1985, Soviet President Gorbachev's policy of glasnost or openness unleashed long-suppressed hostility between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1987, Armenians in Karabakh petitioned the Soviet government to transfer the region to Armenia. Azeris who claimed they were evicted from Karabakh demonstrated in Aghdam in early 1988; several were killed. Azeris in Karabakh boycotted local parliamentary elections and referenda, abdicating decisions to the Armenians. In February 1988, Karabakh officially called on the Armenian and Azerbaijani Supreme Soviets to approve the transfer. Anti-Armenian violence erupted in Sumgait, north of Baku. Before the conflict, about 140,000 Armenians and 48,000 Azeris inhabited Karabakh; reportedly all Azeris have fled the region. The current population is unknown. Armenians fled or were driven from Azerbaijan and Azeris fled or were deported from Armenia and Karabakh. Demonstrations and strikes became common.

Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan on July 12, 1988. Azerbaijan's Supreme Soviet declared the act illegal according to the Constitution of the Soviet Union which stated that borders of a republic could not be changed without its consent. In September, Moscow imposed martial law on Stepanakert and Aghdam. In November, Soviet Interior Ministry troops deployed to Yerevan, Baku, and Karabakh and, in May 1989, Soviet Army troops were sent to Stepanakert. On December 1, 1989, the Armenian Supreme Soviet declared Karabakh a part of Armenia. The Azerbaijan Popular Front (PF), then an opposition political party with a militia, began a rail blockade of Armenia and Karabakh, restricting food and fuel deliveries. Anti-Armenian violence occurred in Baku in January 1990. In the ensuing Soviet Army occupation of Baku, many Azeris died or were wounded. The Soviet Army began to disarm militias and allegedly joined in deporting Armenians from Azerbaijan and Karabakh in spring 1991. The August 1991 Moscow coup attempt ended the ambiguous Soviet role, but also ended hope of an imposed settlement. In September 1991, Russian President Yeltsin and Kazakh President Nazarbayev offered a peace plan that Armenia and Azerbaijan accepted. Never implemented, it called for a cease-fire, removal of armed forces, observers, return of refugees, and end of transport and communication blockades, followed by talks.

Azerbaijan considered all Karabakh parliamentary action illegal, nullified the region's autonomous status, and declared direct rule on November 26, 1991. On December 10, 1991, a Karabakh referendum chose independence and, 2 days later, the region unsuccessfully sought to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The NKR officially declared independence on January 6, 1992 -- but has not been recognized by other countries.

After late 1991, the breakdown of the Soviet Army led to the nationalization, sale, and/or theft of arms from military installations and soldiers. The December 1991 demise of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a withdrawal of Soviet troops from Karabakh (completed in March 1992) endowed Karabakh forces and prompted an early 1992 offensive. On February 26, 1992, Armenians overran Khojaly, the second largest Azeri town in Karabakh. On March 6, public outrage over Khojaly led to the ouster of Azeri President Mutalibov. Turmoil in Baku provided opportunities for Armenians who took Shusha, the last Azeri town in Karabakh on May 9. They then secured Lachin to form a corridor joining Armenia and Karabakh. The fall of Shusha provoked a 24-hour political crisis in Baku in which the government changed twice. In the midst of this melee, Armenians appeared to launch an offensive against Nakhichevan on May 18. 30,000 people were displaced and international attention focused on the conflict. Turkey and Iran denounced Armenian "aggression" and the U.S. State Department issued a strong statement. NATO, the European Community, and the CSCE declared that violations of territorial integrity and use of force were not acceptable. On May 19, the Azeri parliament chose a PF-dominated National Council and, on June 7, PF leader Elchibey was elected president.


Azerbaijan began an offensive to reclaim Karabakh on June 12, 1992, retaking most of Mardakert by July 9. On July 20, Armenians began a counteroffensive. By August 8-9, Azeris captured Artsvashen, a pocket of sovereign Armenia within Azerbaijan and later attempted to recapture Lachin-Shusha. Many Azeri villages surrendered to an Armenian offensive in northern Karabakh in February 1993. The conflict escalated in March-April as Armenians seized Kelbajar and a swath of territory, displacing thousands of Azeris. Armenians also attacked Fizuli and areas south of Karabakh. Armenians claimed that they had responded to an Azeri build-up. A U.S. official observed that the Kelbajar attack could not have been defensive as the site threatened no nearby Armenian areas. On April 6, Secretary General Boutros-Ghali said that the heavy weaponry involved in the offensive indicated more than Karabakh self-defense forces involvement, implying Armenian Army participation. Armenia's Defense Minister admitted that his forces had fired on Azeri positions in Kelbajar.

As Elchibey was deposed, Karabakh Armenians launched an offensive east of Karabakh on June 12, 1993, seizing Mardakert on June 27. They took Aghdam on July 23 after a long siege, claiming they were silencing rocket attacks, and continued to attack Fizuli. The U.S. State Department "strongly condemned" the Aghdam attack, saying that it "cannot be justified on the grounds of legitimate self-defense." In August, Armenians took Fizuli and a region near the Iranian border and moved south to seize Jebrail after Azeris fled in the face of assaults. Armenians threatened Kubatli, which was abandoned, Zangelan, and Goradiz. On August 18, the Security Council condemned the Fizuli attack, demanded cessation of hostilities, and withdrawal of occupying forces from Fizuli, Kelbajar, and Aghdam. It called on Armenia use its "unique influence" to achieve that end and to ensure that forces involved were not provided with the means to extend their campaign. Iran denounced Armenian aggression close to the border, demanded withdrawal from all Azeri territory, and declared that it could not remain indifferent. Turkey issued warnings, reinforced its border, and placed troops on alert. 9,000 Russian troops defend Armenia's borders with Iran and Turkey. The Russian Foreign Ministry demanded that military action cease, noting that it could not be justified because Azeris were no longer a threat to Armenian forces. Iran set up camps for 100,000 refugees in Azerbaijan and reinforced the border with army troops and Revolutionary Guards. Karabakh forces moved south, razing Goradiz and attacking Zangelan on October 24. They reached the Aras River and took a 40 km. stretch of the Iranian-Azeri frontier. An Armenian ultimatum prompted 30,000 Azeris to flee to Iran, but most were returned to camps in Azerbaijan. Karabakh took Zangelan on October 29.

In November, new Azeri President Aliyev criticized his army, sacked commanders, and called on Azeri Afghan war veterans to man the army. In a brief offensive, Azeris forced Karabakh forces from mountains around Aghdam in December, as well as from heights north of and in the Mardakert region, but were unable to reclaim Fizuli. In early 1994, heavy fighting occurred. Azeris regained Goradiz, an area along the Iran border, and positions north of Kelbajar, but suffered heavy losses. Battles occurred near Martuni, Aghdam, Mardakert, and Kelbajar. Each side accused the other of using mercenaries: Aliyev charged that Russians, French, Baltics, Syrians, and Lebanese were fighting with the Armenians. Karabakh said that citizens of CIS nations, Turks, and Afghans were fighting for Azerbaijan. In March, fighting took place around Fizuli, Aghdam, and Mardakert. Baku blamed Armenians for a March 19 bombing of a Baku subway station. In April, Armenians reported Azeri air raids on Stepanakert and along the border, and action in heated up in many places, creating 50,000 new Azeri refugees. A cease-fire went into effect in May 1994, but localized incidents on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border occur.

Peace Process

The CSCE called for a peace conference in Belarus with "Minsk Group" countries. (Now, Belarus, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States.} Preparations foundered over Karabakh's demand for national status and Azerbaijan's demand for Armenian withdrawal as a cease-fire precondition. These basic positions have since hardened. In early 1993, the parties agreed on a cease-fire monitoring mission, but lack of a cease-fire and other agreements prevented implementation.

On April 30, 1993, U.N. Security Council Resolution 822 demanded an immediate halt to hostilities, withdrawal of occupying forces from Kelbajar and other areas, and resumption of CSCE negotiations. On May 3, the United States, Russia, and Turkey proposed a plan to implement 822, but the parties did not agree. On July 29, Security Council Resolution 853 expressed concern at deteriorating Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, alarm at escalating hostilities, condemned the Armenian seizure of Aghdam and other areas, demanded an immediate cease-fire and unconditional withdrawal of occupying forces, and appealed for negotiations within the CSCE framework and directly. It urged Armenia to influence Karabakh to comply. On September 28, the Minsk Group set out a schedule of urgent measures. Karabakh sought more discussion, while Azerbaijan rejected the plan because withdrawal from Lachin and Shusha and Azeri refugees' return were not included. Security Council Resolution 874, October 14, 1993, called on the parties to make a cease-fire permanent, to accept a timetable for withdrawal from occupied territories and removal of communication and transportation obstacles, and to refrain from acts which would widen the conflict. Azerbaijan would not participate until Armenians withdrew from Lachin, Kelbajar, and Zangelan. Karabakh would not include Lachin or Shusha.

On November 2-8, 1993, the Minsk Group called for Azeri withdrawal from part of Mardakert and for status talks before implementation. It did not endorse Russia's sponsored talks or proposal to introduce troops into Azerbaijan to separate the combatants, but said that a CSCE force sent to a conflict in a CSCE area would have to be supervised by the Committee of Senior Officials and open to participation by all CSCE members. It called for Karabakh's unconditional withdrawal from territory seized since October 21. Azerbaijan rejected the measures for failing to mention Lachin and Shusha and Karabakh Azeris' rights, refused to withdraw from Mardakert, and rejected Russian troops. Armenia and Karabakh accepted a Russian troop proposal and the CSCE timetable. Security Council Resolution 884, November 12, 1993, expressed alarm at escalating hostilities, the occupation of Zangelan and Goradiz, demanded unilateral withdrawal of occupying forces, and called on Armenia to use its influence to achieve Karabakh compliance with resolutions and to ensure that forces were not provided with means to extend their military campaign. A CSCE meeting, November 30-December 1, 1993, referred to but did not name Russia, and agreed to ensure that a third party military force's role is consistent with CSCE objectives. Any action would have to respect sovereignty, have consent of the parties, and be multinational.

On February 18, 1994, Russian Defense Minister Grachev presented a plan, for a cease-fire, disengagement and withdrawal, Russian mobile observer groups, and a joint staff from Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Karabakh. Karabakh's status would be decided at a summit of Russian, Armenian, and Azeri Presidents, with Karabakh participating. Armenia and Karabakh reportedly agreed to withdraw; Azerbaijan agreed to a cease-fire, but insisted that Armenians withdraw first. Russia revised the plan, but Azerbaijan called for simultaneous pull backs. Armenia favored a cease-fire, but only with separating forces, and said that Russia represented the only potential guarantor because the international community was "detached." On April 1-2, the Russian President's Special Envoy Kazimirov and a CIS delegation offered a plan: (1) a cease-fire, followed by separation of forces, and mechanisms to prevent resumed military operations; observers deploy; (2) withdrawal of troops and equipment from occupied territories, lifting blockades, and return of refugees. A revision called for Russian separation forces 3 days after a cease-fire, with CSCE observers deploying 3 days later. The Azeri parliament rejected the plan. The Russian Speaker arranged a cease-fire, called the Bishkek Protocol. Armenia and Karabakh agreed. Azerbaijan agreed on May 8, substituting "international" for "CIS" peacekeepers in the text.

A cease-fire took effect on May 12, 1994. On May 16, Grachev revised his plan: a cease-fire, disengagement, observers from Russia, the CIS, and the conflicting sides (with a Russian in charge) at buffer zone posts, safeguarded by 1,800 CIS troops, primarily Russians, under the command of the Russian First Deputy Defense Minister. No CSCE representative was the meeting and Grachev's plan was believed to be designed to thwart CSCE oversight. In June, the Minsk Group chairman suggested that a unified CSCE/Russian approach might prevent antagonists from playing intermediaries off against each other. A Minsk Group meeting in July directed him to clarify the CSCE role in Russia's plan. Azerbaijan insisted that no country provide more than 30% of the peacekeepers. An armistice agreement was signed on July 27. A revised Russian plan called for Russians to comprise 60% to 90% of a 3,000-6,000 man force with 254 CSCE observers to be deployed 4 to 6 weeks after a political agreement. Baku wanted Russia to deploy after the CSCE. Kazimirov charged that the Minsk Group wanted to increase its role and decrease Russia's role.

In Moscow, the parties agreed to lesser provisions of a political agreement and to observe a cease-fire until an accord is reached. Tension increased between CSCE and Russian mediators. CSCE only observed the Moscow rounds. The Minsk Group chairman called for unifying Moscow and CSCE efforts. Kazimirov did not attend a Minsk Group meeting, and later charged that the Group wanted Russia "out of the game." On September 15-18, CSCE Senior Officials objected to Russia's unilateral actions and its pressure for Russian/CIS peacekeepers. They called for "harmonization." In October, the Acting CSCE Chairman asked members whether they would contribute to a force of 2,000, no more than 30% from one country, to deploy for an initial 6- month period. Russia demanded a CSCE mandate for negotiations in which Russia would have prime responsibility. The December 6 OSCE Budapest Summit directed the chairman to name a Minsk Conference co-chair to realize full coordination. A planning group will recommend the size and characteristics of a peacekeeping force, command and control, logistics, allocation of units and resources, rules of engagement, and arrangements with contributing states. The Chairman is to seek U.N. support. After preparations, the OSCE Permanent Council will decide on peacekeeping. Unconfirmed media reports said that the summit had decided on a 3,000-man force, with no single country providing more than 30%, at a cost of $40 million for 6 months. A Russian diplomat was named co-chair of the Minsk Conference on January 6, 1995.

A new OSCE-Russia draft reportedly proposed that after Armenia and Azerbaijan sign an agreement to end the war, negotiations, including Karabakh status, will occur. Azerbaijan wanted peacekeepers after a political accord and rejected dealing with Karabakh as an equal. A Group meeting, without the parties, was concerned about border incidents, explosions on communications lines, the parties' unpreparedness to compromise, and the effect of the last on peacekeeping preparations. On April 21, Finnish Deputy Foreign Minister became Minsk Conference co-chair. Finnish General Villen said that there would be 4,500 disengagement troops.

In July, Armenia and Karabakh emphasized threats to Karabakh that might follow troop withdrawal, arguing that OSCE peacekeepers could not counter an armed assault. They sought to increase Armenia's role in guaranteeing Karabakh security . In October, the two sides reportedly agreed on separation of troops, withdrawal of heavy weapons, and a no-fly zone; but not on status, Lachin, etc. On October 19, Azeri Presidential Advisor Guluzade reportedly said that Azerbaijan was ready to discuss limited OSCE control over the Lachin corridor. On October 20, the Russian and Finnish Presidents wrote to their Armenian and Azeri counterparts, calling for focus on liberating occupied territories, return of refugees, and security guarantees for Karabakh, and saying that an understanding on Lachin would give impetus to negotiations. In November, Russia proposed that Lachin and an adjacent area become a "transit zone" through which the movement of goods and people would be guaranteed and where international observers, not peacekeepers, would be deployed. Armenia and Karabakh insist that the corridor remain under Armenian control until final status is determined.

A December OSCE foreign ministers meeting demanded more active steps, such as bilateral and trilateral contacts to narrow differences. Azeri and Armenian Presidential advisors Guluzade and Liparityan held direct talks later in December; other meetings have followed. Aliyev announced that he was prepared to grant Karabakh a "special autonomous political status" in return for Armenian recognition of Azerbaijan sovereignty and return of Lachin. Talks with Minsk Conference co-chairs in January 1996, focused on Karabakh security . Karabakh Armenians want to retain their army and to have Armenia as a guarantor of their security . In March 17 talks, a Karabakh envoy stressed that a resolution must not leave either side subordinate to the other, not leave Karabakh isolated, and must allow the Karabakh people to decide their own standard of security . Karabakh Armenians demanded demilitarization of Azeri territories outside of Karabakh from which they are to withdraw. Azerbaijan demanded the demilitarization of Karabakh. On May 8-10, Russian Foreign Minister Primakov effected a prisoner exchange to stimulate the negotiations.

On June 11, President Ter-Petrosyan declared that Armenia cannot accept rigid application of the principle of territorial integrity of states as a basis for a settlement because it could lead to repressive actions and genocide against Karabakh Armenians. Talks from July 1-8 stalemated. Azerbaijan rejected a draft accord because it was "unbalanced and ignored Azeri national interests." Russian co-chair Kazimirov announced his resignation. Karabakh leader Kocharyan told an OSCE representative that resubordinating Karabakh to Azerbaijan and non-contiguity of Karabakh and Armenia, i.e. ceding the Lachin corridor, were unacceptable. Liparityan told a Washington gathering that Armenian had offered to concede all Azeri territory outside of Karabakh except Lachin, but Azerbaijan had said no. Yuri Yukalov succeeded Kazimirov as Special Envoy and co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister spoke favorably about a "Chechen model," whereby the parties would reach a political agreement for a 5-year period at the end of which a referendum on Karabakh's status would be held. On September 13, President Ter-Petrosyan called for an interim solution, during which Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Karabakh would benefit from normal economic relations and a decision a status could be postponed. On September 25, Yukalov said that Armenia and Azerbaijan were ready for compromise, adding that Karabakh needs to be talked to "more seriously," but "understands the absurdity of the demands it is putting forward." On October 3, Aliyev told a Minsk Group delegation that Azerbaijan will never agree to Karabakh independence, and that his proposal remained a high degree of autonomy and guarantee of safe living if occupied lands were liberated.

No progress was made in Minsk Group-mediated talks ending October 30. Guluzade said that Azerbaijan would give Karabakh any degree of self-government, except an army and external political bodies. The Minsk Group, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Iran criticized Nagorno-Karabakh's decision to hold presidential elections on November 24, with Russia saying that they would complicate the settlement negotiations. The U.S. State Department expressed concern, also warning of complicating the peace process. Karabakh "President" Kocharyan listed principles for a settlement: Karabakh will not be dependent on Azerbaijan, will not be an enclave, and must have its own army. He said that Karabakh was not interested in autonomy because it is, de facto, independent. He said that meaningful negotiations can only begin when Minsk Group member countries and Azerbaijan accept this.

Armenian Perspective

Armenians and Azeris have sharply contrasting views of the conflict. And Armenians disagree among themselves about tactics and solutions. Armenia's government is more willing to consider Karabakh remaining in Azerbaijan, than Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan and Karabakh, the Karabakh government, or diaspora Armenians, including many Americans. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF/Dashnaks) and other opposition parties seek recognition of Karabakh independence and an alliance of Armenia and Karabakh.

The Karabakh Committee, which aimed to incorporate Karabakh in Armenia, was the nucleus of Armenia's nationalist movement and opposition to Soviet domination. Committee leaders govern independent Armenia. A December 1, 1989 parliamentary resolution declaring Karabakh a part of Armenia has not been rescinded. Armenia has not recognized Karabakh independence, arguing that it would be a declaration of war on Azerbaijan with the potential to involve Turkey. Many Armenians contend that they have been in Karabakh for 2,000 years and declare unity ineluctable. Armenians assume that Azerbaijan intends to oust them from Karabakh, the way they believe it did from Nakhichevan in the 1920s. Armenia condemns Azerbaijan's "aggression," "pogroms" against and expulsions of Armenians. On July 8, 1991, parliament passed a decree rejecting any international document stipulating that the NKR is part of Azerbaijan. In August 1994, Armenia and Karabakh united their monetary systems.

Armenia claims that Armenians in Karabakh are engaged in self-defense. The Karabakh Chief of Staff said that about 10% of his force were volunteers; Western sources estimate that there were 7,000 to 8,000 volunteers. Armenia's former Defense Minister affirmed a coordinating role and direct communication between local commanders and Yerevan was reported. Armenia's Defense Minister visited Karabakh in March 1993 to review the troops; his August 1993 replacement had been head of the Karabakh self-defense committee. A Helsinki Watch report said that evidence, especially since December 1993, pointed to involvement of Armenia's military forces, not just volunteers. These forces mostly occupied quiet sectors of the front or guard lines of communication or rear areas, freeing experienced fighters for offensives. Karabakh officials participate in sessions of Armenia's Security Council and Armenia's Foreign Ministry has assisted their foreign travels and contacts. Armenia furnishes military advisers, arms (including an anti-aircraft system), food and supplies, and funds to Karabakh; the Dashnaks and the Armenian diaspora also provide funds and materiel support. Tank treads have been observed in the Lachin corridor joining Armenia and Karabakh. Armenia and Karabakh say that Karabakh was given a portion of the weapons from former Soviet army forces who were stationed in the region and has captured weapons from Azeris.

Yerevan insists that the NKR must be party to a settlement and that Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenia and Karabakh be lifted. Armenia was frustrated by the CSCE because it appeared to put a higher premium on preserving territorial integrity than on self-determination. Armenia calls for an incremental approach with Karabakh's final status to be discussed at a later stage at the Minsk Conference. This differs from Karabakh's position which calls for status to be resolved first. NKR "President" Kocharyan asserts that Azerbaijan will never rule Karabakh again and that only de jure recognition of Karabakh's independence by the world community would provide a rapid settlement of the conflict.

Armenians trace U.S. policy to a need for Turkey to counterbalance Iran and fundamentalism. Many Armenians do not distinguish between Azeris and Turks and fear encirclement by Turkish/Islamic expansionism. They view the fight as one to preserve their unique Armenian Christian culture and as revenge for the 1915-18 genocide and recent anti-Armenian violence in Azerbaijan. Armenia has close relations with Russia, views it as a benign and expected influence in a still dependent region, and would welcome Russian peacekeepers.

Azerbaijani Perspective

Azeris view Armenians in Karabakh as latecomers who have been the majority there for "only" 150 years, or since Russia encouraged them to immigrate from Iran. Azeris considers the Soviet-imposed autonomous status of Karabakh to be an insult to their territorial integrity. They contend that Azerbaijan had given up its claim to Zangezur (land bridge between Armenia and Iran) in the 1920s, balancing Armenia's relinquishing of Karabakh. Armenian efforts are considered "bad faith" and evidence of Armenia's territorial ambitions on Nakhichevan, Karabakh, and some Azeri lands. They disdain what, in their view, is Armenia's attempt to create an ethnically pure domain. Azeris discount Armenian claims of cultural, religious, and other repression, noting that Turkic culture also had been fettered by Russification and communism.

Elchibey believed that Azerbaijan had to negotiate from strength. Azerbaijan offered Karabakh Armenians religious and cultural freedom, but not political autonomy. Azerbaijan contends that the dispute is a domestic one which Armenia, by interfering in Azerbaijan's internal affairs, has deepened into a war between two independent states. Baku is under domestic pressure to preserve its patrimony. Thus, it resisted international peacekeepers, who would diminish its sovereignty over Karabakh, until military defeats mounted. Azerbaijan said that it was willing to negotiate with its citizens, including Karabakh Armenians, but not the "illegitimate" NKR government, which it views as a ploy to enable Armenia to elude accusations that it seeks to annex the region. Azeri officials said that Armenia's recognition of the NKR would be a declaration of war. Azerbaijan views its blockade of Armenia and Karabakh as a suspension of economic ties prompted by aggression.

Elchibey suspected Russia of using the conflict to manipulate Azerbaijan and viewed Russia's intelligentsia, media, and government as biased toward Armenia. He blamed Russia for former President Mutalibov's weak defense of Karabakh and assumed that Russia was aiding Armenian aggression. Azerbaijan's kinship with 15 million Azeris in Iran complicates ties between those two nations. The Popular Front referred to Azeris of both nations as one people and pledged to broaden relations. Elchibey called for Iranian Azeris to have autonomy, creating Iranian fear of a strong Azerbaijan. Tension between Azerbaijan and Iran also has a religious basis. Although both are predominantly Shi'a, Azerbaijan Azeris generally favor secular government. Elchibey doubted Iran's impartiality, noting that each time it mediated Azerbaijan lost more territory. He blamed Iran as much as Armenia for this result and accused Iran or Iranians of supplying arms to Armenia.

Azerbaijan's repeated setbacks in the war and economic collapse produced a mutiny led by a sacked military commander, a bungled PF government attempt to suppress the rebellion in June 1993, and an enveloping political crisis. Within weeks, former Communist Party general secretary and head of the Nakhichevan autonomous province Geydar Aliyev replaced Elchibey. Aliyev voiced support for the CSCE peace plan, brought Azerbaijan into the CIS, and warmed ties to Moscow, giving it a stake in Azeri oil while trying to avoid a dominating Russian troop presence. He would give Karabakh a status that guarantees more rights, but not independence.

Roles and Views of Others

Iran. Iran mediated from February to May 1992, seeking to end the conflict and prevent U.S. and/or Turkish intervention. Iran also wanted to contain instability to its north, enhance its regional power, appear constructive to lure Western creditors and investors, and find new markets for its goods. Iran views the Armenian-Azeri conflict partly through the prism of relations with Russia. Iran traditionally deals cautiously with Russia, but has long competed with it for regional influence. Now, Iran is purchasing Russian arms and does not want to jeopardize this trade. Iran is a member of the U.N. but not the OSCE and, therefore, is excluded from the Minsk process.

About 200,000 Armenians reside in Iran and some hold official positions. Iran established good relations with Armenia, signing an economic cooperation agreement and a friendship pact in 1992. Trade has flourished. Iran's relations with Azerbaijan are complex. Some Iranian clerics advocate support for Muslim Azerbaijan. Iran fears developments in the north that might provoke Iranian Azeris. In December 1989, Azeris on both sides of the international border tore down barriers to assure free passage. After Armenian attacks on Nakhichevan in May 1992, Iranian Azeris demonstrated and Iran accused Armenia of aggression. With Elchibey's election, Iranian-Azerbaijani relations deteriorated, and Iran later welcomed his ouster. Iran has provided Azerbaijan with natural gas and credits and trade between the two blossomed. Iran viewed the Armenian assault on Fizuli, 18 km. from Iran, in August 1993 as a security threat with the potential to produce a refugee influx. In March 1996, Iran's Foreign Minister expressed concern about Azerbaijan's relations with Israel. The Azeri Foreign Minister countered that Armenia had resolved transport problems caused by the economic blockade through Iranian territory.

Turkey. Turkey has historic, linguistic, and cultural ties to Azeris and was first to recognize Azerbaijan, on November 9, 1991, prior to the December 31 end of the Soviet Union. Recognition resulted as much from Turkey's domestic politics, where Turkic pride was ascendant, as from foreign policy considerations and was accompanied by economic, commercial, and cultural agreements and ties. Aliyev has lessened emphasis on Turkic ties, but cultivated Turkey's leaders.

Turkey's relations with Armenia are complex. Landlocked Armenia needs links with Turkey. Turkey set Armenia's explicit abandonment of territorial designs on Turkey, of allegations of Turkey's culpability for the "genocide" of Armenians, and a Karabakh solution as preconditions to diplomatic ties. Ter-Petrosyan signed the Turkey-inspired Black Sea Economic Cooperation accord in June 1992 and calls for bilateral relations without preconditions. A modus vivendi with Armenia would provide a bridge for Turkey to Central Asia and an alternative route for an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. In November 1992, Turkey agreed to act as a conduit for international aid to Armenia. After Kelbajar fell in April 1993, Turkey suspended aid and foreign transit through its airspace and territory. In 1995, Armenian officials said that they would exclude the genocide from the bilateral agenda, if Turkey excluded Karabakh. In April 1995, Turkey announced the reopening of an air corridor to Armenia and flights resumed in October. In March 1996, Prime Minister Yilmaz said that if Armenia and Azerbaijan simply reach an agreement on principles, then borders will be opened before a formal accord is signed; he later added that Armenia first must recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. In October, Foreign Minister Ciller announced that "after overcoming certain (unspecified) difficulties," a frontier crossing linking Kars, Turkey with Gyumri, Armenia could open.

Turkey tries to balance friendship with Azerbaijan and a need not to compromise relations with the United States, Europe, or Russia, which sympathize with Armenia. The government does not support military intervention -- its own or Russia's. Turkish troops near the border were placed in a state of vigilance and reinforced in April 1993. With each Azeri setback, Turkish politicians called for increased aid and the public was outraged. Officials condemned Armenian aggression, and called on Armenia to abandon the pretext that it is not a party to the dispute. In late 1993, Turkish media reported that about 160 Turkish current and retired military officers were aiding the Azeri army and that a $30 million credit had been extended to Azerbaijan to finance purchase of Turkish arms. Turkey participates in the Minsk process, emphasizing the principle of territorial integrity, and calls for multinational peacekeepers under OSCE supervision. Prime Minister Ciller requested parliamentary approval to participate in an OSCE observer force and to establish a logistical support base for it in Turkey. In June 1995, Ayhan Kamel was appointed special envoy for the Karabakh conflict.

Turkey and Russia signed a Treaty of Friendship on March 16, 1921, ratified at Kars on September 13, 1921. The Treaty fixed Turkey's northeast border and singled out Nakhichevan's autonomous status under the protection of Azerbaijan for special mention. Some Turks interpret this to give Turkey guarantorship of the region. Others said that it only provides that Nakhichevan's status cannot be changed without Turkey's consent. Ter-Petrosyan said Armenia's consent also is required.

Russia/CIS. Russia supports the OSCE peace process and U.N. resolutions. Initially, because it was preoccupied domestically, feared being accused of imperialism, sought influence with all Caucasians, and was wary of complicating relations with Turkey and Iran, it was non-interventionist. Russian mothers of soldiers demanded and obtained withdrawal from Karabakh after casualties in February 1992. Russian forces remain in Armenia. There are 330,000 Russian citizens of Azerbaijan and 30,000 in Armenia. The 1989 Soviet census counted 532,000 Armenians in Russia, .4% of the population. Moscow shares Yerevan's distrust of Turkey and reportedly aided the Armenian war effort; the former chief of operations of the Soviet 7th Army in Armenia (a Ukrainian) is Karabakh defense forces' chief of staff. Russia's army sometimes acted independently and withdrawing forces provided weapons to and assisted Azeri mutineers, easing Aliyev's return. Kazimirov admitted Russians fought with both Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan signed a Treaty on Collective Security on May 15, 1992, providing that, in case of an act of aggression against any state, all others will give necessary, including military, assistance. Russia condemned the May 1992 Armenian seizure of Lachin and attack on Nakhichevan, saying, "Nobody can count on Russia's support for such illegal action." On August 9, 1992, Ter-Petrosyan declared that aggression had been committed against Armenia, invoked the Treaty, and said he would ask CIS states for action. Moscow responded that the Treaty does not envision quick intervention and that it planned consultations but not assistance. CIS spokesmen said that the Treaty could be implemented only by a decision of all member heads of state. It was unlikely that Muslim Central Asian leaders would act against Muslim Azerbaijan.

Aliyev brought Azerbaijan into the CIS. Russia condemned Karabakh's summer 1993 conquests with statements not distinguishing between Yerevan and Stepanakert. Russia was concerned that Transcaucasus unrest could affect its northern Caucasus, regions, which have troubling nationalisms. Its mediation intensified in fall 1993 and it competed with and undercut the OSCE effort. Russian commanders seek to deploy troops along Azerbaijan's borders with Iran and Turkey, but Aliyev refuses. Russia reportedly threatened to support Armenia unless Aliyev accepted Russian troops and granted oil concessions. On June 9, 1994, Armenia agreed to allow Russia to establish military bases at Yerevan and Gyumri. In December 1994, Russia closed its border with Azerbaijan, alleging that the latter was aiding Chechen rebels. In January 1996, Yeltsin said that Karabakh should be satisfied with autonomous republic status, as Azerbaijan had offered. Russia's ambassador to Yerevan has proposed Karabakh "self-sufficiency," which he defines as de facto, not de jure, independence.

CSCE (OSCE after December 1994). Each side seeks refuge in the 1975 CSCE Helsinki Accords: Armenia in Principle VIII of self-determination and Azerbaijan in Principle III declaring the sanctity of recognized borders. The CSCE allows peaceful border changes. The CSCE has tried to balance the principles, but many members assign tacit priority to territorial integrity because of the potential for separatism in their own countries. Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the CSCE in January 1992. A CSCE February 1992 report called for an immediate cease-fire, an embargo on arms supplies to combatants, humanitarian aid and safe corridors for delivery, an exchange of prisoners and of the dead, followed by CSCE mediation, observers, and a commission on refugees. A peace conference set for Minsk, Belarus in June 1992, was not convened. The CSCE has staked its reputation on mediating an end to the conflict.

United Nations. Armenia requested U.N. involvement, but the U.N. deferred to the CSCE and the Security Council used OSCE reports as the basis for its resolutions. A U.N. fact-finding mission went to the region in May 1992 to aid the CSCE; and the Security Council agreed to consider sending military observers to guard humanitarian supplies. A U.N. team investigated an Azeri charge that Armenians had used chemical weapons in Nakhichevan, but concluded, in July 1992, that no evidence had been presented. The UNHCR set up emergency aid programs in Yerevan and Baku and the U.N. issued Emergency Appeals for Armenia and Azerbaijan.

U.S. Policy

Executive Branch. U.S. goals in the former Soviet Union include stability, democracy, market economies, and peace among states. Caucasus conflicts threaten these aims. The United States recognized Armenia in December 1991, before Azerbaijan (February 1992), on the grounds that Armenia had adhered to Helsinki principles earlier. Some discerned a pro-Armenia tilt and feared it would drive Azerbaijan toward Iran. But Azerbaijan's relations with Iran have been complex and the State Department has acted neutrally. The State Department prefers OSCE peacemaking to the U.N. because Iran is not a OSCE member, the U.N. is overextended and costly, and an OSCE framework might control Russia. Policymakers were discomforted by Iran's mediation and wanted to avoid having the conflict become a U.S.-Turkish policy issue. On May 19, 1992, after Armenians seized Karabakh, the State Department said that "the quality and character of its relationships with Armenia and Azerbaijan will depend on their commitment to CSCE principles, including the peaceful settlement of disputes."

President Clinton told Armenian-Americans that he condemned blockades, supported humanitarian aid, and advocated working with the CSCE. After 1993 Armenian offensives, Secretary of State Christopher expressed concern. U.S. officials rejected Armenia's denials of involvement. They said that, with any peace plan, there will be no U.S. military presence because the idea of U.S. forces on former Soviet soil was sensitive. In March 1994, Coordinator of Newly Independent States (NIS) Regional Affairs Joseph Presel was given a mandate to deal with conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Karabakh. U.S. Ambassador-at-large (now Undersecretary of State) Talbott said that the State Department adhered to but opposed legislative restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan which hamper U.S. attempts to be an honest broker.

At a summit with President Yeltsin, Sep. 27-28, 1994, President Clinton said that "the United States does not object to Russia taking an active role in the resolution of Nagorno Karabakh. . . . Yeltsin has acknowledged that he respected the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial integrity of all those countries. So Russia is doing things in pursuit of stability, without being inconsistent with sovereignty and territorial integrity and independence, that were appropriate." The President named Presel to be Special Negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh in response to congressional advice.

Congress. Tends to favor Armenia. P.L. 102-511, October 24, 1992, Freedom Support Act, Section 907, effective January 1993: the President may not aid Azerbaijan until it ceases blockades and use of force against Armenia and Karabakh. P.L. 103-306, August 23, 1994, provided that, within 60 days, the President shall report on the impact of Section 907 on private voluntary organizations efforts to provide assistance. Members indicated that sanctions on direct U.S. aid were not intended to impede PVO humanitarian aid. In FY1996, Congress allowed U.S. humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan if the President determined that nongovernmental aid was inadequate.

Public. About 1 million Armenian-Americans are a well-organized and - funded constituency. Groups include the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which is related to the ARF, opposes the Armenian government, its authoritarianism and refusal to recognize Karabakh, and critiques congressional performance on Armenian issues; the Armenian Assembly, a non-partisan group which works with the Armenian government; and the Armenian General Benevolent Union.


P.L. 104-107, H.R. 1868
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for 1996 signed into law February 12, 1996. Included the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, (See, below). Limited economic aid to Turkey to $33.5 million because of concern (not explicit in the bill) about Turkey's blockade of Armenia, and eased the ban on aid to Azerbaijan that had been imposed by Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act since 1993 (See U.S. Policy/Congress, above): allowed humanitarian aid if the President determines that aid provided through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is not adequately addressing the suffering of refugees and displaced persons. On May 16, 1996, the President determined that it was in the national interest to waive the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act provision of the law, permitting Turkey to receive aid.

P.L. 104-208, H.R. 3540
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for 1997. The House Committee on Appropriations H.Rept. 104-600, May 29, 1996, clarified that, notwithstanding Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act (See U.S. Policy/Congress, above), NGOs and private voluntary organizations shall not be precluded from using Azeri government facilities or vehicles to provide humanitarian aid. The Committee said such aid may be provided in Azerbaijan only if it is provided to like persons in Karabakh in the proportion that they bear to the total number of refugees and displaced persons in both Azerbaijan and Karabakh, but in no case more than $7 to Azerbaijan for every $1 to Karabakh. The Report reaffirmed the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act (See, below). In floor consideration, Members emphasized that the Committee took no view Karabakh's political status. An amendment to deny the President waiver authority to provide economic aid to countries found violating the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, namely Turkey, passed. Turkey condemned the bill and rejected economic aid. Aliyev warned that U.S.-Azeri relations would be seriously damaged if separate aid were provided to Karabakh. The State Department opposed the bill, saying it would inject a damaging political interpretation into the effort to improve delivery of humanitarian aid, hinder efforts to support a negotiated settlement, and undermine the principle of providing assistance based on need. The Senate bill, passed on July 26, restated Section 907. It struck House language on NGOs and on aid to Azeri and Karabakh refugees. In H.Rept. 104-295, June 27, 1996, the Senate Committee noted that the Administration had not submitted a determination, as allowed by the FY1996 bill, that mechanisms relied on by NGOs to deliver humanitarian aid were inadequate. The Committee directed that NGOs shall not be precluded from using Azeri facilities or services to deliver services and supplies to needy civilians. The Committee amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, adding Sec. 620I, the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, thereby making it permanent and not subject to annual renewal. The conference report on H.R. 3540 was included in an omnibus consolidated appropriations bill passed as part of the Defense Department Appropriations Bill, H.R. 3610, by the Senate on September 28 and the House on September 30. The President signed it into law on September 30, 1996. The bill restates the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act and makes it a permanent part of foreign aid law. It requires the President to notify the House International Relations Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and both houses' Committees on Appropriations of his intent to issue a determination to waive the Act in the national security interest, and to inform them of the effective date of the waiver and the reason for it. While maintaining the ban on aid to Azerbaijan, conferees said private voluntary organizations may use Azeri government facilities to deliver humanitarian aid in Azerbaijan, including the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

H.R. 942 (Smith, C.)
Same as S. 230, below. Introduced February 14; Committee on International Relations incorporated it in H.R. 1561.

H.R. 1274 (Andrews)
Same as S. 578, below. Introduced March 21; considered by Committee on International Relations as an amendment to H.R. 1561 and rejected.

H.R. 1561 (Gilman)
The Foreign Relations Authorization Act passed the House on June 8, 1995. Sec. 3418 was the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, See below. The Senate struck all after the enacting clause and substituted S.908, and passed it on December 14 by a vote of 82-16. (In Rept. 104-95 on S. 908, June 9, 1995, the Senate had conveyed the sense of Congress that the President should appoint a special envoy with ambassadorial rank to assist in negotiating a Karabakh settlement and to press for an oil pipeline through Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey.) The conference report on H.R. 1561, H.Rept. 104-478, March 8, 1996, with the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act as Sec. 1617 was agreed to by the House on March 12 and by the Senate on March 28. The President vetoed the bill on April 12 and the House failed to override on April 30.

S. 230 (Dole)
Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act. Directed at (unnamed) Turkey, which refuses to assist delivery of humanitarian aid to Armenia as long as Armenians occupy Azeri land. Prohibits U.S. aid to countries that prohibit or restrict the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance. Waiver when the President determines that aid is in U.S. national security interest. The prohibition ceases when the President certifies that a country is no longer restricting deliveries. The President shall report to Congress describing prohibitions or restrictions on the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid by any country receiving or eligible to receive U.S foreign aid. Introduced January 13, 1995; referred to Committee on Foreign Relations. Included in H.R. 1868 for FY1996 and H.R. 3540 for FY1997.

S. 578 (D'Amato)
Turkish Human Rights Compliance Act. Withholds $500,000 a day from aid to Turkey for each day it does not meet conditions, including removing the blockade on U.S. and international aid to Armenia. Introduced March 20; referred to Committee on Foreign Relations.