Karabakh Introduces Bill Reasserting its Territorial Integrity

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By Hovhannes Nazaretyan

All five factions making up the Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) parliament came together to propose a bill called “On the Occupied Territories of Artsakh” on January 27, aimed at reasserting the region’s territorial integrity.

The bill bars companies from doing business in Azerbaijani-occupied territories without the approval of the Artsakh authorities. But Gagik Baghunts, vice-speaker of Artsakh’s parliament, said the bill intends to send a message that “we will not give up the territories enshrined in the Constitution of the Artsakh Republic, for example, the district of Hadrut, which has been and will always be Armenian”. When asked what are Artsakh’s occupied territories, Baghunts referred to Article 175 of the Constitution of Artsakh. It states that “until the restoration of the territorial integrity” of Artsakh and delimitation of its borders, public administration is exercised on the territory under the de facto control of Artsakh. The Constitution was adopted in 2006 and amended in 2017, when the seven formerly Azerbaijani districts were fully or partially under Stepanakert’s jurisdiction, apart from most of the territory of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO).

The constitution, however, does not clearly define Artsakh’s borders. Internationally, Nagorno-Karabakh is territorially defined as the former NKAO, which was an autonomous region within Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic, a constituent of the Soviet Union.

But past statements by Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan imply that it considers the former NKAO as the legitimate territory of the republic. In March 2021 Harutyunyan declared that the government of Artsakh seeks to restore, with political means, the country’s territorial integrity “at least within the borders of the former NKAO”. This includes the district of Hadrut, the city of Shushi, captured by Azerbaijan during the 2020 war, and several villages in the district of Martakert.

Pashinyan Government Avoids the Issue

Meanwhile, the Armenian government, led by Nikol Pashinyan, has avoided addressing the issue of Karabakh territories currently under Azerbaijan’s control.

In October 2021, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirozyan stated that “constantly raising this issue will not create favorable conditions” and contribute to its solution. Mirozyan added that “there is talk” about the territories that were part of the former NKAO and have now come under Azerbaijani control” and that it is “on the agenda and is pointed out on various international platforms.”

In his December 24 press conference, Pashinyan intentionally avoided responding to CivilNet’s question on Armenia’s position on Hadrut and Shushi and whether there are efforts to de-occupy or not. Instead, he went on to have a long monologue on how Karabakh, or rather, NKAO, has never been considered a “purely Armenian entity” in the negotiation process.

His statement prompted much debate and criticism, including a critical joint statement by the Artsakh parliament. It may have also contributed to the clarification of Artsakh’s position on what its occupied territories are. President Harutyunyan said that Artsakh’s territorial integrity “should be restored at least in the territories within which the Republic of Artsakh was proclaimed in 1991”. Artsakh was proclaimed then within the borders of the former NKAO and Shahumyan district, which was captured by Azerbaijan in mid-1992. However, the issue of the Shahumyan district has been largely sidelined and ignored in the negotiation process because it had not constituted a part of the former NKAO.

Despite Pashinyan’s claim, Nagorno-Karabakh, defined territorially as the former NKAO, has always been considered a single political entity since the start of the negotiation process in 1992. The OSCE Minsk Group, the mediating body for peace negotiations co-chaired by Russia, the U.S. and France, and all the international organizations have referred to Nagorno Karabakh as the territory of former NKAO, no matter its potential legal status.

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