Nagorno-Karabakh: Are Con-federal Structures Possible?


René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

1 Oct 2020 – On 27 Sep, military forces from Azerbaijan moved into six villages held by Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh area.  The Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pachinian in a television broadcast warned that the two countries were “on the edge of war with unforeseeable consequences”.  The President of Azerbaijan, Elham Aliev, declared martial law and called up reserve military. There have been calls for a cease-fire from Russia; however Russia is generally thought to favor Armenia.  The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeated his support for Azerbaijan.

On 30 September 2020, the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to halt fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and urgently to resume talks without preconditions.  There have been previous talks held under the leadership of the “Minsk Group” (Russia, France, USA), founded in 1994, of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). However these talks have not modified the ever-tense situation. On 29 September, the Association of World Citizens had sent an Appeal to the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan for a ceasefire and the start of negotiations in good faith.

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue arises from the post-Revolution-post Civil War period of Soviet history when Joseph Stalin was Commissioner for Nationalities.  Stalin came from neighboring Georgia and knew the Caucasus well.  His policy was a classic ‘divide and rule’ carried out with method so that national/ethnic groups would need to depend on the central government in Moscow for protection.  Thus in 1922, the frontiers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia were hammered out of what was then the Transcaucasia Federative Republic. (1)

Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian majority area, was given certain autonomy within Azerbaijan but was geographically cut off from Armenia.  Likewise an Azeri majority area, Nakkicheran, was created as an autonomous republic within Armenia but cut off geographically from Azerbaijan.  Thus both enclaves had to look to Moscow for protection.  This was especially true for the Armenians.  Many Armenians living in what had been historic Armenia but which had become part of the Ottoman Empire had been killed during the First World War by the Turks. Armenians living in “Soviet Armenia” had relatives and friends among those killed by the Turks, creating a permanent sense of vulnerability and insecurity.  Russia was considered a historically of Armenia.

These mixed administrative units worked well enough or, one should say, there were few public criticisms allowed until 1988 when the whole Soviet model of nationalities and republics started to come apart.  In both Armenia and Azerbaijan nationalistic voices were raised.  A strong “Karabakh Committee” began demanding that Nagorno-Karabakh be attached to Armenia.  In Azerbaijan, anti-Armenian sentiment was set aflame. Many Armenians who were working in the oil-related economy of Baku were under tension and started leaving.  This was followed somewhat later by real anti-Armenian pogroms. Some 160,000 Armenians left Azerbaijan for Armenia and others went to live in Russia.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan, tensions focused on Nagorno-Karabakh.  In 1992, full scale armed conflict started in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and went on for two years. During the two years of fighting, 1992-1994, at least 20,000 persons were killed and more than one million persons displaced.  In 1994, there was a cease-fire largely negotiated by Russia.  Nagorno-Karabakh has declared its independence as a separate State.  No other State – including Armenia – has recognized this independent status, but in practice, Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto State with control over its population and its own military forces.  Some in Nagorno-Karabakh hope that the country might become the “Liechtenstein of the Caucasus”.

Armed violence has broken out before, especially in 2016.  Many in Nagorno-Karabakh do not want to be at the mercy of decisions made in distant centers of power but to decide their own course of action.  However, the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent State raises the issue of the status of other de facto mini-states of the area such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova.

Finding appropriate administrative structures which will permit real trans-frontier cooperation between Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia will not be easy, but it is a crucial step if peace is to be established. The Association of World Citizens has a long-standing aim of developing appropriate constitutional structures for States facing the possibilities of prolonged or intensified armed conflict. An emphasis is placed on the possibilities of con-federalism, autonomy, and trans-frontier cooperation.  In the recent past, the Association has proposed con-federal structures for Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya and Cyprus as well as Kurdistan which involves the constitutional structures of Iraq and Syria as well as positive cooperation among Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. The Azerbaijan-Armenia-Karabakh conflict has been considered as “frozen”, but there are real dangers of “melting”  and other States getting involved. New attitudes and new constitutional structures are needed.


1) For a good analysis of Stalin’s nationality policies, see Helene Carrere d’Encausse The Great Challenge: Nationalities and the Bolshevik State 1917-1930 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1992)


René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Oct 2020.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Nagorno-Karabakh: Are Con-federal Structures Possible?, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

Comments are closed.