The Armenian Bar Association, the largest organization of judges, lawyers, and law students of Armenian descent in the world, expresses its deepest concern regarding recent disclosures of a draft statement to be executed by Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (the “Statement”).
The leaked text of the Statement envisages that Armenia and Azerbaijan shall, among other things, delimit and demarcate their common border under the mediation of the Russian Federation. Having reviewed the text of the Statement, we have concluded that it is, as drafted, woefully inadequate for its presupposed purposes and may irreversibly damage the interests of the Armenian Nation; that the Statement purports to enable political acts that exceed the restricted limits of the Acting Government of the Republic of the Armenia (the “Government”); and that the Statement fails to guarantee adequately that Azerbaijan will cooperate in good faith without further threatening lasting peace and the safety and security of the peoples of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh.
We strongly urge the Acting Prime Minister and the Government to not enter into any agreement with Azerbaijan, as they do not have the authority in their current capacity to do so nor do they have the populace’s mandate. Before anything is done on any front, at least the following three conditions have to be met: (i) Azerbaijan must immediately release all Armenian prisoners of war and other hostages; (ii) Azerbaijan must remove all of its soldiers and/or related personnel from the territory of Armenia; and (iii) a parliamentary election in Armenia must take place and an official government is formed.
I. The Statement is Unlikely to Accomplish its Aims as it Contravenes the November 9, 2020 Ceasefire Declaration and May Prejudice the Interests of the Armenian Nation.
President Ilham Aliyev has publicly stated that the demarcation and delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border shall constitute: (1) Armenia’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s borders, and of Artsakh as falling within those borders as a part of Azerbaijan; and (2) a precondition to the unblocking of economic and transport links in the region and to the end of Azerbaijan’s blockade of Armenia.
The Statement in this way contradicts the November 9, 2020 ceasefire declaration that it purports to advance. The ceasefire declaration was deliberately silent on the status of Artsakh and did not predetermine it in any way, let alone deeming Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, point 9 of the ceasefire declaration states that all economic and transport links in the region shall be unblocked, without mentioning any precondition that border delimitation and demarcation first occur to Azerbaijan’s satisfaction.
Insofar as Armenia is the guarantor of the security of Artsakh, it must ultimately be made clear that any boundary determination shall be without prejudice to the resolution of the future status of Artsakh through the OSCE Minsk Group. It must also be ensured that the opening of economic and transport links in the region proceeds fully independently of any border demarcation and delimitation process.
Moreover, we note that the Statement aspires to “strengthen peace, stability and security in the region” of the South Caucasus. We observe that “peace, stability and security” cannot be guaranteed for Armenia without its sovereign and effective control over strategic roadways and other transport corridors between its provinces and with its neighbors, including the Republic of Georgia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We believe that the Statement, as it stands, does not adequately assure this outcome.
Indeed, the drafting history of the November 9, 2020 ceasefire declaration indicates that Armenia has already made painful concessions – including, relinquishing control over the Lachin Corridor – in order to retain control over territory through which strategic roadways to Georgia pass. If the Statement leads to Armenia surrendering control over these roadways, it would be yet another way in which the Statement contradicts the ceasefire declaration and damages the vital interests of the Armenian Nation.
II. The Acting Prime Minister and Caretaker Government Lack the Political Legitimacy to Execute the Statement and to Designate Commission Delegates for the Republic of Armenia.
We recall that Acting Prime Minister Pashinyan tendered his resignation, along with his other cabinet members, on April 25, 2021. Since then, he and his cabinet serve in an interim capacity until the next parliamentary election, currently scheduled for on June 20, 2021.
We further observe that the Statement does not define any objective legal principles of broad application by which mutually agreeable boundaries would be demarcated. This poses a grave risk that boundary decisions would imperil fundamental human rights, including the right of life, liberty, and security; right to mobility; and right to livelihood of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia.
These same fundamental rights would likewise be jeopardized by any reinstatement of Soviet-era boundaries. Boundaries based on the economic, political, and security circumstances prevalent more than thirty years ago during Soviet rule fail to account for the contemporary, materially-different economic, political, and security realities.
In the absence of predefined objective legal criteria inclusive and protective of inviolable human rights, the constitution of the contemplated commission and appointment of delegates become political acts purporting to bind and constrain the rudimentary rights of future generations of Armenian citizens. We express our grave concern that such political acts are incompatible with the limited legitimacy of the caretaker mandate held by the Acting Government of the Republic of Armenia.
III. There are Inadequate Guarantees of Azerbaijan’s Willingness to Negotiate in Good Faith.
We are also troubled by the inadequate safeguards regarding Azerbaijan’s willingness to negotiate and adhere to commitments in good faith, without which any further concessions by the Government may only serve to impair the interests of the Armenian people.
In particular, this is not the first instrument entered into with Azerbaijan following the 2020 war in Artsakh. In the tripartite statement of November 9, 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan had committed to “[a] complete ceasefire and termination of all hostilities in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” and to exchange all “prisoners of war, hostages and other detained persons.” Yet, Azerbaijan’s military incursions into the sovereign territory of Armenia and its continued detainment and abuse of Armenian prisoners of war and other hostages since November 9, 2020, demonstrate that Azerbaijan has not participated in the tripartite statement in good faith and is unwilling to observe its international commitments.
In the face of these disquieting circumstances, even if one were to condition the Statement on the withdrawal of Azerbaijan’s forces from the territory of Armenia, this proviso would still be an insufficient safeguard for the release of Armenian prisoners of war and hostages, and it would not prevent future threats by Azerbaijan to exact additional concessions from the Government of Armenia.
* * * * *
The 2020 war launched by Azerbaijan against Artsakh, along with its aftermath, present monumental, existential challenges to Armenia and Artsakh. We cannot overemphasize the potential cost of missteps at this critical juncture facing Armenia and Artsakh and urge the Government to act transparently, with the greatest regard and consideration for the interests of Armenia, Artsakh, and the Armenian people.
ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION