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Self-Determination and De-Jure Recognition
for Nagorno Karabakh

Position Paper June 2002


In 1988, Nagorno Karabakh (NK), a historically and demographically Armenian land and an autonomous entity in the Soviet Union, petitioned the Central Government in Moscow and requested to be reunited with Armenia. This legal and peaceful call for self-determination aimed to rectify Stalin's 'divide and conquer' gerrymandering of 1921. At that time, Nagorno Karabakh and its Armenian population (over 95 percent), were severed from Armenia and assigned as a distinct, autonomous entity under the administrative rule of the Azerbaijani SSR.

Throughout the Soviet era, despite the serious limitations and heavy sanctions that Moscow placed upon free speech, the people of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region repeatedly protested this arbitrary decision, objected to ongoing discrimination by Soviet Azerbaijani authorities, and petitioned for reunification with Armenia on many occasions. In 1988 the people of Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO) helped usher in the end of the Soviet Era by demanding their legal right to self-determination. This appeal took the form of a petition to the central government in Moscow, accompanied by peaceful protests.

Azerbaijan responded to these democratic appeals by arbitrarily denying Nagorno Karabakh's call for self-determination. Soviet and Azerbaijani authorities tried to forcibly suppress the Nagorno Karabakh movement, using pogroms to arrest dissidents, break up peaceful demonstrations, and depopulate entire regions of their Armenian population. Recognizing that their population would not survive under continued Azerbaijani administration, the people of Nagorno Karabakh voted overwhelmingly for independence in a December 10, 1991 referendum in the presence of international observers. The referendum was held within the provisions of the April 3, 1990 Soviet Law on Secession, the same law that provided the legal basis for Azerbaijan's independence from the Soviet Union.

By this date, Azerbaijan's pogroms had escalated into military aggression and eventually into a full-scale war against Nagorno Karabakh. This war lasted from 1991-1994, claimed thousands of lives and destroyed almost 80% of Nagorno Karabakh's economic infrastructure. The Nagorno Karabakh defense forces were able to rebuff the Azeri offensive, driving the invading

Azerbaijani military from Nagorno Karabakh's territory and establishing a security zone around its borders. The May 1994 cease-fire ended widespread fighting, but the conflict awaits a final, peaceful and equitable resolution.

In 1996 NKR held free and open elections for the post of President. To date, NKR has held three parliamentary and two presidential elections, all monitored by international observers and members of the media, and pronounced "free and transparent". Its elected governments have upheld the freedom of the NKR, which its people had earlier defended on the battlefield.

Since its decade-old independence, NKR has enjoyed all attributes and institutions of statehood. Indeed, Karabakh's de facto statehood fully satisfies the requirements of conventional and customary international laws for de-jure recognition.

The Nagorno Karabakh Republic is committed to securing its hard-fought freedom and peace. Since the 1994 cease-fire, NK has taken resolute and largely successful steps to institute the rule of law, a transparent democratic process and a market economy. On the other hand, Azerbaijan has evolved since its secession from the Soviet Union into a corrupt autocratic dictatorship, recently classified by Transparency International as one of the five most corrupt countries in the world.


The Nagorno Karabakh Republic appeals to the U.S. Congress to formally recognize the right of its people to live free of external threats and be masters of our own destiny. Throughout its ten years of de-facto independence, NKR has directly participated in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiation process. It has proven itself to be a serious, reliable and predictable partner. NKR has signed memorandums and protocols and joined several international conventions. Nagorno Karabakh has been open to closer cooperation with members of the international community.

We ask the United States to welcome a new nation that truly embraces and stands unequivocally for such universal values as freedom, democracy and equal justice under law for all.

Because it will promote stability, peace and economic prosperity for all peoples of the South Caucasus, formal recognition of the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is in interest of the international community.


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