Artsakh: A Zero Sum Solution Weighted in Favor of Azerbaijan

Special for the Armenian Weekly

We seem to overlook the fact that the ongoing negotiations concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) conflict (as it is commonly referred to) has been set-up to yield a zero sum solution favoring Azerbaijan. From the very beginning, the Madrid Principles that set the parameters for the negotiations have been biased against Armenia’s interests and Artsakh’s declaration of independence. These principles, supported by the United States and the European Union through their representatives on the Minsk Group, which is monitoring the progress of the negotiations, give undue credence to Azerbaijan’s claim that its territorial integrity has been violated by Armenia.

In large measure this is our fault. We defeated Azerbaijan when it sought to prevent the Artsakh Armenians from carrying through with their declaration of independence. Since then (1994), we have allowed Azerbaijan not only to define the issue, but the solution as well. President Ilham Aliyev has been relentless in casting Armenia, in any and every venue available, as the aggressor neighbor seeking to reclaim its lands and unite its people with their compatriots in Armenia. This has allowed Baku to invoke the prohibition contained in Chapter 1, Article 2, Paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, which states that “All members shall refrain…from the…use of force against the territorial integrity…of any other state…inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” If this is the issue (since this prohibition can only apply to Armenia and not Artsakh), it allows Azerbaijan and the Minsk Group to ignore Artsakh’s declaration of independence as well as deny its representatives to be a party to the negotiations. Note that in all of the published reports that relate to the negotiation process, there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that refers to the likelihood of Artsakh’s ultimate status as a free and independent entity.

Whenever foreign leaders or representatives of their governments weigh in with respect to the Nagorno-Karabagh issue, they all stress the importance of a negotiated settlement. Obviously that is preferable to a military solution. However, it is a pro-Azeri solution—that begins with a return to the pre-1991 borders—that meets Azerbaijan’s demand that its territorial integrity be restored. Once our military forces have withdrawn from Artsakh and the Artsakh defense force is demobilized, they will be replaced by some ineffective international peacekeeping force. At that point, Aliyev can rightfully declare victory for having restored the occupied lands to his control. From that point on, there would be no need for further negotiations because there would be nothing of substance left to negotiate. Unfortunately this is the zero sum solution that awaits us: Azerbaijan regains its territory and the Artsakh Armenians lose their independence. In a zero sum solution there is no middle ground or comprise available. Make no mistake, Artsakh’s freedom is absolutely essential to Armenia’s future economic and political development.

I accept that it is easy for me to say that we will not hesitate to defend Artsakh’s independence, but let’s contemplate the alternative: Are we willing to be witnesses to Artsakh becoming another Nakhitchevan, purged of our people and our cultural artifacts?

The vote that was to have taken place at some time in the future that is part of the Madrid Proposals is a hypocritical gesture that never was intended to allow Artsakh to retain its independence. By the time the mechanics for such a vote would have been worked out (assuming the negotiations went that far), the region would have been overrun by Azeri settlers under a government-sponsored program to marginalize those remaining Armenians before the referendum took place.

Unfortunately, Armenia’s political and economic power is limited. However, are we so devoid of a national spirit and the determination to protect our nation’s future potential that we must sit on our haunches like beggars waiting to be told what will be best for our country? Shame on us for not having learned from numerous past experiences when we have placed our cause in the hands of foreign governments the likes of England, France, the United States, and even Russia, only to be betrayed by their perfidiousness.

Having said that, is it fear of a Russian reprisal, timidity, or have we simply convinced ourselves that there is not much we can do to protect our nation’s interests? Why do we constantly fail to present to the world community at every opportune time the litany of legitimate reasons why there never can be acceptance of any agreement that denies Artsakh its independence? Whenever (which is all too often) the Azeri leadership flaunts its lack of political civility (without any evident repercussions) that should exist between any two nations, or ignores the norms of international protocol, then it is time for Yerevan, Stepanakert, the political parties, and the diasporan organizational leaders to question the purpose of continuing negotiations with a government that denies its own citizens their basic human rights. A government that has yet to achieve a democratic form of governance that Stepanakert has already achieved in its 20 years of de facto independence. A government that was responsible for the unprovoked Sumgait and Baku pogroms where innocent Armenians were wantonly murdered simply because of their ethnicity. A government that routinely threatens to renew military action by constantly referring to its ever-expanding military establishment. A government that had Ramil Safarov, the imprisoned Azeri murderer of Lt. Gurgen Margaryan, extradited from Hungary under false assurances only to be honored as a returning hero in Azerbaijan. This is a government that has waged a constant cultural war by destroying centuries-old Armenian artifacts, the most egregious act being the desecration and total destruction of the thousand-year-old Armenian cemetery at Julfa in Nakhitchevan with its irreplaceable khatchkars. How can a government led by leaders who foster hatred for Armenians and their culture ever believe that the Artsakh Armenians, whether through negotiations or the threat of war, would give up their freedom and independence? How can the United States, the European Union, and possibly Russia even harbor the thought that the Artsakh Armenians, after having sacrificed so much, would be deterred should Azerbaijan foolishly opt for a military solution if negotiations fail to meet its demands?

Success in Artsakh represents our first step in obtaining the justice that has eluded us for the past 100 years.

If President Serge Sarkissian and Foreign Minister Nalbandian are constrained by protocol from forcefully responding to Azerbaijan’s constant transgressions along the Line of Contact as well as President Aliyev’s continued attempts to obscure the issue and revise history directly, then pre-designated officials can speak. Political parties, jointly and separately, can respond appropriately, as can our diasporan leaders worldwide. An effective offensive strategy depends on the creation of a united front ready to respond to Azerbaijan’s constant dissemination of misinformation. The talking points should come from a single source to keep the message timely, accurate, and on point. The subtext of all responses should be that a peaceful resolution is preferable, but that the Artsakh Armenians will not be intimidated by any threat of force. This is a message that the United States and the European Union need to hear. Russia may be our ally in need, but Russia is not yet our master. Although it is necessary for the diasporan organizations to continue the vital task of improving the quality of life of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh and to expand its economy, who will ultimately benefit from these good works if Artsakh is torn from us a second time within a century?

Note that with all the pressure placed on the Ukraine by Russia, its newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, did sign a free trade agreement with the European Union. Although that signing will do nothing to equalize its military capabilities vis-à-vis the pro-Russian insurgents (likely active or former Russian army personnel) or the Russian forces on the other side of the frontier, the agreement was still consummated.

I accept that it is easy for me to say that we will not hesitate to defend Artsakh’s independence, but let’s contemplate the alternative: Are we willing to be witnesses to Artsakh becoming another Nakhitchevan, purged of our people and our cultural artifacts? The loss of Artsakh would be a political and psychological disaster of seismic proportions. Armenia would be thrust into political oblivion. Forget our preoccupation with genocide recognition; or the return of church property by Turkey; or any agreement on a meaningful program of indemnification; or expecting Georgian leaders to improve the quality of life of our Javakhahayer. If we cannot successfully complete the task in Artsakh, which component of Hai Tahd are we capable of achieving?

During the two decades that this continuous onslaught of misinformation from Baku has been going on, neither Yerevan nor Stepanakert has mounted any meaningful counteroffensive. It is time for Yerevan to forcefully refute Baku’s constant charge of aggression. Armenia should buttress its support of the Artsakh Armenians who were forced into a war for survival by the Azerbaijani government. The indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by the Azeris would have continued unabated without the intervention of Armenia. The Azeri military had no qualms about raining artillery shells from the mountain fortress of Shushi upon the defenseless civilians in the city of Stepanakert below. Even to this day, Azeri snipers target Armenian villagers working their lands along the eastern border region of Artsakh or tending their animals or working their fields in northeastern Armenia (Tavush region), which shares a common border with Azerbaijan. All of this is occurring without repercussions to Azerbaijan. Yerevan should develop a position paper that nullifies Azerbaijan’s constant misuse of the principle of territorial integrity in the context of the Artsakh issue. Although the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) refers to a government protecting an ethnic minority within its jurisdiction from harm, it shouldn’t deter Armenia from invoking R2P to protect its people in a neighboring country whose government is engaged in the indiscriminate killing of innocent Armenian civilians. Resourceful legal scholars can support Armenia’s right to have come to the aid of the Artsakh Armenians by reference to this evolving new principle; or the principle of Consensual (Military) Intervention; or the principle of Humanitarian Intervention. We should not hesitate to interpret any principle or concept that strengthens our position with respect to Azerbaijan. This is not the time to be stoic and expect miracles to happen.

In the same manner, Stepanakert must support its right to have declared its independence. Self-determination is an accepted principle in international law. The case must be made that either the Soviet constitution provided the Artsakh Armenians with this right; or the principle of self-determination; or the principle of remedial secession. If Artsakh had the right to declare its independence then it must be a party to the negotiations that should be considering its final boundaries, a program for indemnification, and the timing of its recognition as a free and independent entity. Success in Artsakh represents our first step in obtaining the justice that has eluded us for the past 100 years. We should be guided by Voltaire’s cautionary insight of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. Dear Mr. Mensoian,
    Again an article of Al quality. The main problem is that the Armenian Government mainly exists of Oligarchs which are overwhelmingly interested just in their own welfare. I am convinced that the Government does not know much about Politics and Diplomacy.

    Speaking to Europe and the Minsk Group Armenian Politicians can always point at Kosovo. The problem there was similar to that of Artsakh. Kosovo belonged to Serbia. But Europe allowed the Kosovo people to build their state on Serbian land, as the Kosovians were the majority in this part of Serbia.

    • I believe Armenia should become part of the russian federation for security purposes, or become a “free associate state” to russia like puerto rico is to the USA, in that way armenia would really guarantee its security by real russian support in case of war, besides of that, armenia must become a nuclear arms state (like israel) to guarantee its security agains bigger/richer enemies like turkey and azerbaijan. May God bless Armenia.

  2. A fine article. Congrats all around.

    If I were not Armenian, I might be pro-Azeri from having read the mainstream media and listening to the major powers.
    Let me say it flat out: Russia is rotten for not backing Artsakh and for not coming to the defense of Armenia – as it is required to do under the mutual defense treaty – when Azeris attack Armenia’s borders.

    I might even believe that Artsakh was always Azeri and always Muslim. That is what Azeris say and I don’t hear much to the contrary.

    Armenia and Artsakh have not gotten their message across, and it is not just due to the opposition of the major powers. Why does Armenia not tell the world that Azerbaijan is a made-up country, started only in 1918?

  3. I deeply respect Mr. Mensoian and find that his concrete proposals–particularly the invocation of the Soviet constitution and the legal principle of consensual intervention–are spot on.

    I submit that he exaggerates the allegedly negative status quo. Azerbaijan throws tantrums in various fora because that is all it can do. It has not been able to achieve anything tangible. When it was on the UN Security Council it could not get a resolution on Artsakh passed, and not for lack of trying. It has not been able to persuade the USA to pressure Armenia to make concessions on Artsakh–even though the US can and will pressure Armenia on other issues, such as Turkey and the Protocols. And Azerbaijan’s prolific military spending has not tipped the balance of capabilities in the Caucasus, as countless military analysts of the region confirm. World opinion–to the extent that it even matters (see Israel)–is not even as one-sided as Mr. Mensoian claims.

    What we obtained with our blood, we will not give up with a piece of paper.

    • yes but do you trust the the current regime in Armenia? Its their personal gain that motivates them.

  4. Kosovo is a poor example to cite for the support of Artsakh. You can do better than this.

    You should EDUCATE yourself before venturing into these waters… where an Orthodox country has been stripped of a HISTORIC territory and its people expelled, its monuments and churches destroyed. Does THAT sound familiar?

    • Yes, we know. But I also know that Serbia’s self-seeking government has been only too happy to cozy up to oil-rich Azerbaijan (and have erected a Heydar Aliyev statue in Belgrade). This is always how it is with Armenians — people expect our knee-jerk support for their causes but are nowhere to be found when we need support ourselves.

      Furthermore, no country really wants to be the one to challenge Kosovo’s independence declaration since it was given almost unanimous approval by the West. Only countries like Russia can do so, not a vulnerable state like Armenia. That said, Armenia has not recognized Kosovo.

  5. I would like to see mass demonstrations in support of Artsakh in Yerevan, particularly in front of the US, Russian, and French embassies, as well as EU and UN offices. Large, spectacular demonstrations.

    • Yes, but weapons and advanced technology count, and with the diminishing Armenian population, where will Armenia get soldiers, technicians, scientists, etc., and the money to pay for it all?

  6. Mr. Mensoian congradulation on your article.I have always said we are always waiting for other nations to decide for us,and this is what happens.The worse is we are waiting and asking the countries that totally betrayed us during the first world war.The other is the
    Armenian government is made up of selfish ,jealous and ignorent mafia people who are destroying Armenia s economy and have allowed one million armenians to leave the country.Now if war starts how many troops do we have left in Armenia to protect the country.All of our youth have gone to Russia and the USA.Today Armenia should have been a nation of 5 million.

  7. Hello,
    for Artshak plenty Armenian blood spilled , we should say to Azeris , go to hell. Also we should for Sevres Treaty should be honored.
    Sincerely Yours.

  8. How true it is . how many times we’ve heard about these aggressions, our government is not doing anything about this. enough is enough. lets get resources and forces together,and do something about it

  9. The bottom line in politics = “who’s on the ground.” Artsakh with its security belt is a natural fortress. We shall stand our ground.

  10. I believe that the Azeri’s are actually playing a waiting game. For the right time. They realize Armenia is slowly being depopulated and that’s a result of our governments policy of mostly self interest.

  11. Armenians in Armenia and Diaspora should do everything to get rid of the Kocharyan and Sargisyan clans. Removing those extractive leaches and bringing a government that serves it’s people and our national interests is the only way we can win all our territories back. Let’s start by getting rid of the newly appointed ambassador to the US: the brainless, spineless Tigranchik who is here to extract from the American Armenians to feed Serzh’s and his offshore bank accounts. Let’s Do something about this Diaspora!

    • I think it’s us that are playing a waiting game. And for good reasons. The Alyevs have stolen a lot during fat times. Now that the lean times are here, the Azery people will probably give them a Benito Mussolini and whats her name style going away party. A Democratic Azerbaijan will never initiate a war. A popular uprising in Azerbaijan can easily mean the breaking up of Azerbaijan in its ethno-linguistic components. The Kesaratzys have a saying: “From one Gazach to anather, theres life and hope”.

    great turkey so much concerned about Artsakh´s independence???
    Very easy to explain.Once this is accepted and official acknowleged, say by Uruguay or some such,then great Turkey will get all burnt up, for the next one mayb e KARS ARDAHAN and decimation of her land, between K U R D S AND E R M EN IS!!!
    The only faction or section of our people that full well knows this are our ¨¨KHENT BOYS¨ those who revived the AArmenian CASE-Tha was near extinct….
    Yes, We do npot have the ¨cojones¨to start loudmouthing, not only Artsakh ,Shahumian, Mardakert,Nakhijevan(as starters9 then KARS ARDAHAN ,BITLIS,MOUSH AND Erzeroum are in line…etc., etc., etc.
    For we stopped being a nation with ¨cojones¨when we stopped getting well armed and trained as A MILITARY COUNTRY TO BE COUNTED WITH!!!!
    OSCE??? this that entity that tries to broker peace between Armenians an d Turkbeijanis???
    Let them first go and do so between palestinians and Israelis and/or Pakistan /India…
    We should get that in mind.there will be no peace between Ermenis and Turk beijanis as long a s Armenians have not got well armed,with their people,coming back to at least artsakh javakhjq(this latgter the weakling Georgian Armenians.Why do I say so?simple when South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia and became Independent,JaVAKHQ aRMENIANS AND IN EXTENSION THE mOTHERLAN D aRMENIANS WERE FAST ASLEEP.wEHREAS THEY SHOULD HAVE THEN AN D THEN DECLARED AS THESE TWO SSTATES…
    Hasgcoghin barev*Parev

  13. Thank you Mr Mensoian for such a brilliantly written and thought out article, all of us including our leaders should read this and take the constructive criticism to heart.

    This passage caught my attention:

    “Shame on us for not having learned from numerous past experiences when we have placed our cause in the hands of foreign governments the likes of England, France, the United States, and even Russia, only to be betrayed by their perfidiousness.”

    And to me this is our history in a nutshell of the past 100 years.

  14. The author is right, it is not time to expect miracles to happen. That is why both sides need to make serious compromises and the Armenian diaspora needs to understand this. Many people in Hayastan already accept this. It is a question of balancing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with self-determination and human security for all the people of the south Caucasus. I am tired of the constant war mongering. Yes, be strong, but don’t be bloody minded.

    • Many people in Hayastan already accept what? That they need to accept Azerbaijan’s false territorial claims to Artsakh? Nobody in Hayastan accepts or will ever accept this kind of absurdity. Due to the decision of Josef Stalin in giving the Armenian land of Artsakh to the Azeris in 1923, it therefore became part of Azerbaijan under the former Soviet constitutional law. However, upon the dismantling of the former Soviet Union in 1991, its constitutional law became terminated. This therefore means that Azerbaijan’s territorial claims to Artsakh were no longer valid after 1991. Furthermore, Artsakh’s entire population which happens to be Armenian, have claimed their independence ever since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, it’s the warmongering, terrorist state of Azerbaijan which needs to compromise and realize that it has no territorial claims whatsoever in regard to Artsakh.

  15. (Chris // July 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm //)

    Chris: since you are either a Turk or a Turkbaijani, your self-generated assertion that, supposedly, “Many people in Hayastan already accept this” , has as much veracity as the so-called ‘territorial integrity” of the fake country by the stolen name of ‘Azerbaijan’ – which still occupies huge chunks of historic Armenian lands.

    As to what Armenian Diaspora supposedly needs to understand: I don’t speak for the Diaspora, of course, but I am very much involved in the community, so have a pretty good idea. And have spoken to many officials of RoA and NKR when they visit California.
    Armenian Diaspora pretty much does what is needed to support our brothers and sisters in RoA and NKR.
    The ridiculous attempts by Turks and Turkbaijanis to drive some kind of an imaginary wedge between us is so infantile, that I am surprised Turks and Turkbaijanis still try it: are you Turks that delusional or desperate ?
    If tomorrow majority of people of NKR decided to discard their Independence and submit to the Turkic yoke of the Aliyev Sultanate, there is nothing the Armenian Diaspora could or would do.

    And so that you Turks and Turkbaijanis stop hallucinating about any imagined discord between Diaspora and people of RoA & NKR when it comes to NKR, here are a couple of official statements:

    •NKR Presidential spokesman David Babayan said this on May 8, 2014: {….there is only one standpoint in Stepanakert – there will be no return to the former borders. We are guided by the Constitution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which highlights that there are no liberated or any other territories. There is only one territory – the Artsakh Republic} (
    •RoA DM Seyran Ohanyan then said this on May 9, 2014: {James Warlick’s statement was nothing new and we should continue our struggle and do everything for the fulfillment of our goals, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan told reporters at Victory Park.
    “We have no intention to cede our territories,” he stressed.} (

    The God-given unalienable right of self-determination trumps the man-made concept of ‘territorial integrity’.
    What ‘territorial integrity’ ?
    What are Turkic invadonomadic tribes doing on our Armenian lands ?
    Whose ‘territorial integrity’ are you referring to ?
    Your territory and whatever ‘integrity’ you desire are where the original homelands of Turks are: Uyguristan, East Asia, Central Asia.
    There is no invadonomadic Turkic ‘territorial integrity’ on the lands of indigenous Armenians.
    And Turks and Turkbaijanis have never respected the territorial integrity of Armenia or any other country*, so the whole thing is a sick joke: if Turks and/or Turkbaijanis could, they’d invade and wipe out RoA and NKR tomorrow, ‘territorial integrity’ or not.

    Regarding: {“ I am tired of the constant war mongering. Yes, be strong, but don’t be bloody minded.”}

    I take it you are addressing that sentiment to the bloodthirsty savage leaders of Turkbaijan ?
    In case you missed the news, about a week ago peace loving Sultan Aliyev Jr sent at least three armed criminals into NKR, where they attempted to murder an Armenian civilian woman (badly wounded, but survived), and murdered a 17 year old Armenian shepherd boy: the boy was abducted the by invadonomads, stabbed multiple times and his body dumped in the forest.

    You were saying something about being ‘bloody minded’, Turk.

    * Turkey invaded and grabbed 40% of the sovereign state of Cyprus. Still occupies it after 40 years. What ‘territorial integrity’ ?

    In the Summer of 1920, Democratic Republic of Armenia was internationally recognized by several countries (US, GB, Italy, Germany, Greece,….). I think that is what is known as ‘territorial integrity’. Turks, world renowned for their respect of ‘territorial integrity’, then invaded DRA in the Fall of 1920, and gobbled up about 50% of its territory, which they still occupy to this day.

    Azerbaijan today officially claims RoA as ‘Western Azerbaijan’ (sic) and Northern Iran as ‘Southern Azerbaijan’ (sic).

    ‘Territorial integrity’ you said ?

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