Territorial Stalemate: Independence of Nagorno-Karabakh Following the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Its Lingering Effects Decades Later

Article excerpt

"For Nagorno Karabakh to go back [to] being [a] part of Azerbaijan, somebody needs to bring back Joseph Stalin, who gave Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1921 against our will, and the Soviet Union, which forcefully kept Karabakh inside Azerbaijan despite numerous popular appeals to the contrary." (1)

I. INTRODUCTION

Transcaucasia, separating Eastern Europe from Western Asia, is a mountainous region saturated with an extensive history of territorial conflict by ethnic groups seeking sovereignty in the face of confinement within the arbitrary vestigial borders of other states. (2) Nagorno-Karabakh is a small territory in Transcaucasia composed primarily of ethnic Armenians, but located within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. (3) Subsequent to the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic gained de facto independence in 1991, on the heels of a destructive war with newly independent Azerbaijan. (4) Since then, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has worked energetically towards further democratizing its government with the aim of achieving international recognition of its statehood. (5) As post-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan work with international mediators towards resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through proposed peace plans, the peace process is endangered by ongoing threats by Azerbaijan to renew hostilities and gain control over the territory by force. (6)

This Note examines the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's legal status in the international community, and analyzes whether the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict can be efficiently resolved within the pre-existing legal framework. (7) Part II discusses relevant laws regarding self-determination, territorial integrity, and validity of territorial boundaries. (8) Part III provides a historical overview of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's path to de facto independence. (9) Part IV applies tenets of international law to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict to analyze the adequacy of the guiding principles proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the resolution of this decades-old conflict. (10) Part V concludes with an argument encouraging the international community to uniformly apply legal norms to secessionist conflicts. (11)

II. SELF-DETERMINATION AND TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY IN INTERNATIONAL LAW

A. Personhood in the International Community

The concepts of state autonomy and state personhood seamlessly mesh together. (12) International law views an autonomous state as a "person" in the sense that it has rights, obligations, power to make contracts, possess property, and pursue remedies for legal claims. (13) As stipulated under the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States (Montevideo), states gain de facto international personhood by possessing: (a) a permanent population; (b) defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with other states. (14) Recognition of a state by third-party states, whether standing alone, or in the collective form of an international body such as the United Nations, is generally a political matter as opposed to a legal action. (15) International law does not require a state to recognize the independence of other states. (16) Admission of a state to the United Nations requires a recommendation by the U.N. Security Council and an acceptance vote by the U.N. General Assembly. (17) Consequently, it is unlikely that a state without widespread recognition will have sufficient diplomatic favor and goodwill among member nations to garner sufficient support to be admitted into the United Nations. (18)

B. Self-Determination

Self-Determination is an international law principle that has evolved over time to signify the intrinsic right of groups of people to govern themselves. (19) The notion of self-determination originally emerged as a quasi-legal concept following World War I, and has consistently been applied in cases involving decolonization to form new independent states. …