Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 51

On March 14 the United Nations General Assembly adopted an Azerbaijan-authored resolution, calling for:

• “immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”;

• “respect and support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders”;

• support for the “inalienable right of the population expelled from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan to return to their homes”;

• international assistance for “comprehensive rehabilitation of all conflict-affected territories”;

• refusal by all states to “recognize as lawful the current situation in Karabakh” or to “provide aid or assistance to maintain that situation”;

• creating “normal, secure, and equal conditions of life for the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Karabakh,” so as to build “an effective, democratic system of self-governance” there; and

• support for the mediation efforts by the OSCE’s “Minsk Group” (UN News Center, March 14).

The General Assembly approved the resolution by a recorded vote of 39 in favor, seven against, 100 abstentions, and some other countries not voting. Irrespective of the margin of its approval, the resolution becomes, ipso facto, a reference document in the negotiations toward settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Since 1992 those negotiations have been mediated, without any results, by the “Minsk Group” co-chairs — Russia, the United States, France — under a nominal OSCE umbrella.

The breakdown of the voting in the General Assembly reflects above all the Western countries’ unfocused, dilatory approach to settling this conflict, notwithstanding Azerbaijan’s significance as a strategic partner to the West. The United States and France joined forces with Russia and Armenia in voting against the resolution. Twenty-six countries of European Union — that is, all the member countries excepting France — abstained.

Azerbaijan’s fellow-members of the GUAM group — Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova — voted as could be expected in favor of the resolution. Not a single CIS country joined Russia and Armenia against the resolution. A large number of Muslim countries — with Pakistan speaking on the collective behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) — voted for the resolution, mainly in solidarity with Azerbaijan. However, Iran seems not to have voted at all, reflecting Tehran’s periodic tilt toward Armenia. The U.S.-supported governments of Afghanistan and Iraq were among those voting in favor, thus distancing themselves from the United States on this issue. By the same token, Serbia distanced itself from Russia by voting for the resolution.

Most of these countries rallied to the resolution because of its strong reaffirmation of the principle of the territorial integrity of states. The resolution’s timing underscores its relevance, in the immediate wake of Kosova’s declaration of independence and international recognition.

Moreover, from Azerbaijan’s viewpoint — as well as Georgia’s — the value of the resolution also resides in its strong call for the return of expellees to their homes, so as to reverse the ethnic cleansing operations of the 1990s. Reversal of such an operation became a moral and political basis for the solution in Kosova. Given this backdrop, the March 14 resolution underscores in a timely manner the responsibility of the UN and other international organizations to address this issue effectively in Karabakh.

Explaining the negative U.S. vote in the General Assembly, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro D. Wolf claimed that the resolution was weighted toward issue of interest to Azerbaijan, thus diverging from the Minsk Group co-chairs’ latest proposals, which are described as a “balanced package of principles.” U.S. and Minsk Group co-chairs’ statements during the debate also claimed that the resolution was ill-timed and risked “derailing the peace process” (U.S. Federal News Service, March 15). The argument about timing seems to ignore, instead of addressing, the perception among many countries that the outcome in Kosova necessitates a reaffirmation of the territorial-integrity principle at this particular moment. The argument about the “peace process” also proved ineffective, given the widespread perception that there is no process leading to a resolution of the conflict after 16 years of negotiations handled by the Minsk Group’s co-chairing countries.

In its comment on the resolution, Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs argued that the demand for withdrawal of Armenian armed forces would create a security vacuum endangering the population of Karabakh. Minister Vardan Oskanian and other officials also claimed that Azerbaijan had “forfeited its right to govern Karabakh” by having used force in a “savage war” there 20 years ago. And they accused Azerbaijan of having itself created the problem of refugees and territories (Press and Information Department of the MFA of Armenia, March 14, 15).

For its part, Baku focused on continuing a better-focused diplomatic process in the wake of the UN vote. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Araz Azimov expressed “indignant surprise” over the co-chairs’ critique and their reported efforts to dissuade countries from supporting the resolution. Noting the “nebulous character” of what the co-chairs term the “peace process,” Azimov called for “clarity on the principle of territorial integrity.” Thus the resolution helps to introduce such clarity: “The co-chairs should be in no doubt that our work with them would proceed on the basis of principles adopted as part of this resolution” (APA, Day.Az, March 15).