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A War without Rules

Thus for the second time in the twentieth century, a situation arose when the collapse of an empire and its internal muddles distracted the attention of Moscow from the South Caucasus. Again, as in 1918 through 1920, the battles between Armenian and Azeri armed forces began in Karabakh. And again, as it was seven decades before, the armed forces of Armenia turned out to be better prepared and equipped. As of autumn 1988, Armenians began to establish military formations which, by the beginning of 1992, represented well prepared units capable of resisting the regular units.

All that time, the leadership of Azerbaijan pinned its hopes on Moscow and raised obstacles in every possible way to the formation of analogous military units, as the PFA suggested. Although under pressure from the opposition, it was only on 9 October 1991 that the parliament adopted the decision to form an Azeri army wit hin three months. But even five months later, during a report by the Minister of Defense in parliament, it was revealed that in March 1992 there were only… 150 military servants registered in the Azeri army. And they were mainly local units of self-defense: volunteers and militia that were fighting in Nagorny Karabakh.

That is why immediately after the election of Ter-Petrosyan as the president of Armenia on 16 October 1991, the Armenian armed forces started attacking and, by the beginning of February 1992, they conquered 35 out of 57 Azeri villages, completely burning eleven of them and killing dozens of peaceful rural inhabitants. On the night of 26 February 1992, the bloodiest massacre of that war occurred. In scale, it was in the category of such traged ies of our century as Liditse, K hatyn and Songmi. Armenian units, with the help of Russian Battalion N umber 366, invaded the small Azeri city of Khodjaly, where more than 3,000 people and 160 army recruits, militia and self-defense units remained by that time. To the present day, there are no exact figures on the victims of the tragedy that took place during the taking of the city. At the time it was reported in the press that more than 1,000 Khodjaly people died; however, it is now possible to list the names of 636 dead, among which there were hundreds of women, old people and children. Two years later, the Investigation Group of the Public Prosecutor of Azerbaijan distributed information that managed to document the deaths of 485 people, 33 of them childre n and 106 women. 120 people were missing without any information, 487 were wounded and more than 500 people were taken into captivity. Meanwhile, the bodies of many of the murdered were exposed to mockery, including scalping (127).

Only after that tragedy did it become clear to the international community that a further continuation of the conflict would be fraught with more difficult consequences. They also realized that urgent measures were necessary to stop combat operations. And there were grounds for that: on 30 January 1992, Azerbaijan and Armenia became members of the OSCE and, by that very fact, an opportunity for that international organization to take part in the negotiation process appeared for the first time. Finally, on 24 March 1992, Ministers of the Foreign Affairs of the OSCE established the Minsk Conference on Nagorny Karabakh. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and the USA took part in it. Its goal was to cease fire and to start political negotiations on the final status of Nagorny Karabakh. Belarus offered its capital as a place for the decisive negotiations and from thence the name “Minsk conference” appeared. The place of the preliminary negotiations then was Rome and an Italian, Mario Raffaelli, became the first chairman of the Minsk group.

Another outcome of the K hodjaly tragedy was the retirement of Azerbaijan president Ayaz Mutalibov and the crisis of authority in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, on 8 May 1992, on the initiative of, and with the immediate participation of Iran, a meeting of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia was held in Teheran. Ter-Petrosyan offered a cease fire along the front line and to unblock communications. After debate, a ceasefire agreement was signed and new negotiations on a mechanism for stopping combat operations and unblocking communications were begun. For that purpose the leadership of Iran should have visited Baku and Yerevan.

But while negotiations were yet underway, at dawn on 8 May Armenians undertook an assault on Shusha, the last stronghold of Azeris in Nagorny Karabakh, and by the evening of the same day, they took it. The leadership of Azerbaijan, returning from Teheran, along with Iranian president Rafsanjani, managed to contact Ter-Petrosyan only after Shusha ended up under the full control of the Armenians. It became clear that Armenia used the negotiations to divert the attention of the Azeris.

On 15 May the Armenians occupied the city of Lachin and, by that very act, they controlled not only the whole of Nagorny Karabakh, but for the first time they managed to conquer a whole district beyond the borders of the former autonomous area.

The Armenian occupations became the topic of discussion at a meeting of the Minsk group held in Rome in early June. However, no agreement was reached at that or ensuing meetings held in 1992 in Rome, as Azerbaijan demanded the return of Shusha and Lachin, (i.e. a return to the original boundaries) as a preliminary condition to the ceasefire and further political negotiations, but the Armenians were against this.

On 7 June 1992, Abulfaz Elchibey, chairman of the PFA, was elected president of Azerbaijan. By that time, according to the 15 May 1992 Tashkent agreement on the partition of the military legacy of the former USSR, Russia officially delivered to Armenia and Azerbaijan each 220 tanks, the same number of armored cars, 285 units of artillery as well as airplanes and helicopters. Unofficially, both republics acquired even more weapons and technology.

On 12 June the Azeri army, having redeployed forces, unexpectedly began a strong attack and in only 36 hours it controlled the whole Shaumyan district (13 populated areas). On 5 July the Armenians left the city of Agdere (Mardakert to the Armenians).

Under those circumstances, Russia again decided to offer its mediation and in early July it put forth a plan for conflict resolution. According to this plan, Armenian troops would be removed from Shusha and Lachin and afterwards measures for the complete demilitarization of Shusha and K hankendi (Stepanakert) would be undertaken. The route between Agdam- Stepanakert-Shusha-Lachin- Goris was given a special legal status; i.e. it was proposed to create a “road of peace and trust.”

In agreement with this plan, the leadership of Azerbaijan instructed its troops on 9 July 1992 to stop the successful attack. However, Armenia was not satisfied with the plan. On 8 July the Armenian parliament adopted a resolution in accordance to which it was decided “to consider any international or internal state documents in which Nagorny Karabakh is mentioned as part of Azerbaijan unacceptable to the Republic of Armenia.”

After that, the leadership of Armenia transferred more than 100 tanks and a large number of infantry to the area of combat operations and started a counteroffensive attack. The battles tightened.

Unexpectedly, on 27 August Nazarbayev again offered his services to solve the conflict and, after negotiations in Almaty, representatives of Armenia and A zerbaijan signed a memorandum to cease combat operations beginning September 1992 and to schedule a meeting between the current presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan by the mediation of Nazarbayev in Almaty.

However, that agreement also failed: on the night of 3 September the Armenians began an attack in the direction of Agdam and even managed to reach the suburbs of the city. Russia then organized a meeting of the Ministers of Defense of Armenia and Azerbaijan on 19 September in the city of Sochi. They signed a ceasefire agreement. A new development here was that the Minister of Defense of Armenia, Vazgen Sarkisyan, acknowledged during the negotiations that the armed forces of his republic participated in combat operations against Azerbaijan. Beca use of that, he lost his post two weeks later and combat operations started again.

Thus, from the middle of 1992, the character of the conflict changed in quality and it became an ordinary war between two states. But the use of hundreds of armored cars, artillery and aviation as well as the considerable increase in the number of participants in combat operations sharply increased the losses of both parties.

The fall season‟s bad roads and early snowfall led to a battle for defensive positions until the spring of 1993. Under these circumstances, Yeltsin and G. Bush, the president of the USA, for the first time came forward with a joint initiative for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in January 1993. Recalling previous failures of mediation and not willing to risk their reputations, the presidents of Russia and the USA undertook that step only after having previously received written ceasefire agreements from the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, a scheme that had already become a tradition began to work. An unsteady armistice was immediately violated by the Karabakh Armenians. “Not to take us into account means to lead the situation to a deadlock,” Georgiy Petrosyan, Chairman of the Parliament of Nagorny Karabakh, then declared, pointing out that “it is impossible to solve our destiny without us. We will not take part in it” (128).

Nonetheless, at the next negotiations of the Minsk group of the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe), held in Rome on 2 March 1993, progress was made for the first time. Azerbaijan was the first to make a compromise, waiving the preliminary conditions, and the parties managed to adopt a document, the mandate of the leading group of observers in the conflict area. In March, the five parties involving negotiations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia and the USA on determining the dates of seize fire were held within the framework of the CSCE. However, again the traditional Armenian response followed: in April and May 1993 in the course of attack the Armenian army occupied Kelbadjar district. After Lachin that was the second district of Azerbaijan occupied beyond the area of the former NKAA. Although the Security Council (SC) of the UN did not give an evaluation of the aggression in its April 30th session, for the first time in resolution N 822 it named Armenia as one the parties of the conflict. Before that, documents of the UN and CSCE spoke about conflict without mentioning the involvement of Armenia. At the same time, the resolution contained a demand “to immediately take all the occupational forces out of the Kelbadjar district and other recently occupied districts of Azerbaijan”.

At that point Russian president Boris Yeltsin again decided to come forward with another peace plan. That plan was proposed for the consideration of the USA and Turkey. After tense consultations in Moscow held on 3 May those three countries offered to the conflict parties concrete steps for implementing Resolution N 822: a 60-day ceasefire, the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Kelbadjar district and the continuation of peace negotiations. Azerbaijan immediately gave its consent; however the Armenian side rejected it as it did not provide guarantees for the security of Armenians in Nagorny Karabakh. Prot est demonstrations were even held in front of the embassies of Russia and the USA in Yerevan. However, at the end of May Armenia accepted certain clauses in the revised plan of the three countries. Two weeks later, the leaders of Nagorny Karabakh also gave their consent and a meeting of the Minsk group was scheduled to be held in Rome on 22 July.

However, on 4 June 1993, a revolt flared up in Ganja and ultimately President Elchibey escaped from Baku and the rule of the republic passed into the hands of Heydar Aliyev. Taking advantage of internal political muddles in Azerbaijan, the Armenians attacked and took Agdam and almost the whole adjoining district on 21 July 1993 (a day before the meeting of the Minsk group in Rome). In response, the US State Department and the Russian MFA condemned the occupation almost simultaneously and by 29 July the Security Council of the UN adopted a resolution that “expressed a serious concern in regard of the worsening relations between the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan” and called the parties to sit at the negotiation table.

However, after a small break in August, the Armenian army continued its attack and occupied the Fizuli and, in October, the Gubadly districts of Azerbaijan. On 14 October 1993, the SC of the UN adopted a further resolution in that regard, N 874, which revised the content of the previous one. On 12 November after the Armenians had already occupied Zangelan district and the city of Horadiz, the SC of the UN adopted a fourth resolution on that conflic t, N 884, which condemned the occupation and again called for both parties to renew negotiations.

The Azeri army recovered only by the middle of December and managed to organize a series of counter attacks. In early 1994, it managed to win back Horadiz city in the south, but 12 villages of Kelbadjar, which it won back at the same time, were lost by the middle of February 1994.

On 18 February 1994, with the mediation of Russia, the parties signed the next ceasefire agreement, which established a security zone and formed a mixed council consisting of representatives from Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh, in total 250 people. However, that agreement was also repeatedly violated, as Azerbaijan consistently opposed the presence of exclusively Russian troops as the peacekeeping forces in the region. Then in April 1994, Armenians launched a strong attack east of Agdam city and frantically but unsuccessfully stormed the city of Terter. Finally, on 12 May 1994, the parties signed a new ceasefire agreement, again owing to the mediation of Russia. O n 26 July 1994, the parties extended it. After that, negotiations to sign a Big Political Agreement started. That, however, took a long time and to this point has not produced results.


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