WHAT IS ARTSAKH?
What is Artsakh? Disputed territory? Political means for expansion? Or an excuse for ethnic cleansing?
On the morning of September 27, 2020, the question of Artsakh erupted like never before. The land awoke as a battlefield. Its people awoke as soldiers. Its children awoke as adults. The war erupted like never before.
The question of Artsakh first appeared in the early 1920s, during the ongoing genocidal atrocities against the Armenians and the other Christian minorities. During that time, Joseph Stalin gifted Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh), a historically Armenian land, to Soviet Azerbaijan. As a result, a wide protest by the Soviet-Armenian population transpired. To no avail, the uproar ultimately ceased, while Artsakh was left temporarily caged within the borders of Soviet Azerbaijan.
In 1988, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the people of Artsakh revived their voice, declaring independence. Azerbaijan rejected this declaration. The decades’ war began, swallowing the lives of too many people: sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. Armenian and Azerbaijani. Thirty-two years later, the war and the wounds have only deepened.
Importantly, the question of Artsakh has also taken shape of a legal dilemma. Under the internationally recognized guidelines of state self-determination, is Artsakh an independent state? Pursuant to Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention, “the state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”
Since the first three elements are widely recognized as true, the focus will be on the fourth, i.e., Artsakh’s capacity to enter into relations with other states. To clarify, this element requires the state’s capacity to enter into relations with other states. This does not require the state’s actual entering into relations with other states, which many mistakenly infer as a part of this rule.
So, the question is: does Artsakh have the capacity to enter into relations with other states? Yes, it does. The Republic of Artsakh, like many other states, has an official government, a Constitution, a president, and a flag. These integral parts of its state autonomy provide the Republic of Artsakh an opportunity, a capacity to deal with other states.
Additionally, the Republic of Artsakh has representative offices all over the world, including the United States, France, Germany, Russia, Armenia, Lebanon, and Australia. This also reflects the Republic of Artsakh’s capacity to establish and develop relations with other countries. As such, Artsakh clearly meets the guidelines of an independent state under the Montevideo Convention.
Recognition of Artsakh
A common counterargument is that Artsakh is not an independent state because it is not recognized globally as an independent state.
That is simply not the case. Under Article 7 of the Montevideo Convention, the recognition of a state may be express or tacit. “The latter results from any act which implies the intention of recognizing the new state.” As such, a lack of express recognition does not mean a lack of tacit recognition, especially considering Artsakh’s representative offices in the aforementioned countries.
Even if, however, we assume that no country recognizes the Republic of Artsakh, expressly or otherwise, it is still an independent state. Under Article 3 of the Montevideo Convention, “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.” Stated differently, recognized or not, Artsakh is an independent state because it meets all of the requirements of Article 1 as explained above.
Who Is Artsakh?
Let us assume that Artsakh is not an independent state. Let us even assume that Artsakh, endlessly torn, belongs to Azerbaijan. What does that change? Does that change what Artsakh is? Or are we asking the wrong question?
Artsakh is its people. Not geographical borders or territorial connections. People. Not political bounty or desired terrain. People. Not legal briefs or topics of debate. People.
People who have learned to live in bunkers. People who celebrate their weddings to the sound of explosions. People who read their prayers in bombed cathedrals. People who remain human in spite of the inhumanity. People who remain fearless and courageous. Unyielding and undeterred. And strong. #ArtsakhStrong.
I call upon everyone to raise awareness about this war, which desperately needs to be stopped.