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Why does Armenia not recognize the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic?

As a result of the demands to unify Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, the Supreme Soviet of Armenia adopted a resolution announcing unification with this autonomous region of the neighboring country, Azerbaijan.[1] When the conflict escalated, the rhetoric about unification with Armenia ceased, and in 1992 the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic declared its independence.[2] However, it has not yet been recognized by any sovereign countries, not even by Armenia.

In fact, Armenia does not recognize the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic de jure, but its de facto relationships with the unrecognized republic are at a high level. The first representative of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was duly based in Yerevan, and Armenia also has its own representative unit in Khankendi (Stepanakert). More than 100 agreements have been signed between the parties, covering various fields of cooperation.[3] Armenia sends its citizens to Karabakh for military service, although this is not based on any international legislation,[4] and the national budget of the so-called republic is mostly supplied by the home state.

Armenia’s recognition of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is widely discussed in Armenian society. The issue has periodically appeared on the country’s parliamentary agenda,[5] although it has always been rejected by a majority of members. Indeed, Armenian former president Serzh Sarkisian has also stated that they will not recognize the independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic unless negotiations continue with Azerbaijan.[6] There are several possible reasons why Armenia does not de jure recognize the independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Firstly, Armenia identifies itself not as a party to the conflict that is claiming territory from a neighboring state, but as a related state that is interested in protecting the rights of its own ethnic group. In this case, if Armenia recognized the independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, its role in the conflict might be challenged and the country could find pressure being exerted on it by the international community. There is therefore no need for it to be the first sovereign state to recognize the independence of the so-called republic. However, it has not been ruled out that Armenia might alter its decision if the independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were to be recognized by any other country.

Secondly, Armenian officials believe that recognizing the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would allow Azerbaijan to reject the OSCE Minsk group’s mediation role and even stop the negotiations,[7] with a resulting increase in the threat to peace. It has also been assumed that recognizing the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would radicalize Azerbaijan, and that in the end war would break out against not only the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic but also against Armenia.[8]

Thirdly, it is assumed that recognition of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would also have a negative effect on the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process, which was suspended due to Turkey’s preconditions regarding the “Armenian genocide” and Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[9] Recognition of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic independence might also kill normalization initiatives, which are crucial for Armenia, due to the fact that the country is isolated by Turkey and Azerbaijan.

In view of the above, by recognizing the de facto independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Armenia established high level bilateral relations, supports the region with necessary weaponry and other goods, plays the role of main financial donor, and takes control of all Armenian initiatives aimed at settling the conflict. Nevertheless, de jure recognition of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is obviously not a priority for now.

[1] Fraser, Niall M., Hipel, Keith W., Jaworsky, John and Zuljan, Ralph, “A Conflict Analysis of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Dispute”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1990, p. 659.

[2] “Declaration on State Independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, Office of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the USA, January 6, 1992; http://www.nkrusa.org/nk_conflict/declaration_independence.shtml. Accessed on October 4, 2020.

[3] “Kocharyan: Armenia should not recognize NKR’s independence at this stage”, Panaroma | Armenian News, 12 November 2013; https://www.panorama.am/en/news/2013/11/12/shavarsh-qocharyan/406743. Accessed on October 3, 2020.

[4] Najafov, Farhad R., “Examining Armenian-Azerbaijani Territorial Relations and Self-Determination” International Policy Digest, November, 2013.

[5] Grigoryan, Marianna, “Armenia: Nagorno-Karabakh Independence Unlikely to Win Parliamentary Approval”, Eurasianet, October 12, 2010; https://eurasianet.org/armenia-nagorno-karabakh-independence-unlikely-to-win-parliamentary-approval. Accessed on October 4, 2020.

[6] “Why Armenia Cannot Recognize Abkhazia, South Ossetia Independence”, Press.am, January 27, 2011; https://epress.am/en/2011/01/27/why-armenia-cannot-recognize-abkhazia-south-ossetia-independence.html. Accessed on October 4, 2020.

[7] Kocharyan: Armenia should not recognize NKR’s independence at this stage”.

[8] Grigoryan, “Armenia: Nagorno-Karabakh Independence Unlikely to Win Parliamentary Approval”.

[9] Göksel, Nigar, “Turkey and Armenia Post Protocols: Back to Square One?”, TESEV: Foreign Policy Program, October 12, 2012, pp. 8-12.