“Precedents have certain influence in international relations irrespective of our will. Their reoccurrence becomes the basis of international law as time passes.”
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian
On December 10 negotiations between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbian leadership were formally declared dead, as a United Nations deadline for agreement over Kosovo was meant to expire. It is expected that this may lead to further bloodshed. It is also expected that Kosovo will declare independence early next year. The failure of an agreement over the independence of Kosovo is attributed to the intransigence of Serbia and Russia.
Serbs form 7 percent of Kosovo’s population. For the Serbs, it is an emotional loss of history and culture. There are Serbian Orthodox Monasteries and shrines scattered all around Kosovo. Losing Kosovo is a blow to Serbian national pride. What is surprising is Russia’s stance in this conflict. On the one hand the Kosovo Model would inspire Russia’s in the Georgian breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to secede. However it would also legitimize the aspirations of Chechens who have been struggling for independence for the Russian Republic of Chechnya. For the Putin government maintaining territorial integrity is a crucial part of maintaining a strong and united state.
Does the right to self-determination for a people supersede all other considerations? Does it supersede what nations like to preserve as territorial integrity? Paradoxically the European Union as well as the United States have been actively promoting independence for Kosovo. This has pitted the United States and Russia on opposite sides of the issue.
Are there similarities between the Kosovo precedent and the case for Nagorno’sKarabakh?
There is one sacrosanct similarity for the people of Kosovo and the people of Nagorno ‘s Karabakh. The right to self’sdetermination: the inalienable right of a given people to determine its own faith . However, the similarities end there. Any misguided notion that independence for Kosovo could open the gates to an independent Nagorno’sKarabakh is false. Conversely, the failure by Kosovo to gain independence does not mean that the chances for Nagorno-Karabakh to become independent will vanish.
Though it is true that Serbia was the aggressor in Kosovo, and Azerbaijan was the aggressor in Nagorno’sKarabakh; that both Serbia and Azerbaijan had limited sovereignty over Kosovo and Nagorno’sKarabakh respectively; and that both Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh were 90 percent inhabited by ethnic Kosovar Albanians and Armenia’s respectively.
The aspirations of the people of Nagrono’sKarabakh will not be deterred or derailed by the faith of the Kosovo Model. According to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, “All conflicts are unique in their nature, and the resolution of each of them can be individual, especially considering that the talks on Nagorno’sKarabakh are held in the framework of the principle of self-determination.”.
The main difference distinguishing the case for Nagorno’sKarabakh is that its people, after being subjected to the fiercest and most brutal attack by Azerbaijan, rose against the aggressor and single-handedly fought to save itself from being slaughtered, and won. The fact that the people of Nagrono’sKarabakh survived the aggression, voted to embrace freedom from dominance and established a western style democratic government with democratic institutions gives them the right to determine their future as a people.
A government spokesman in Kosovo, Skender Hyseni, said Monday “Kosovo and the people of Kosovo urgently need clarity on their future”. Undoubtedly the people of Nagorno-Karabakh deserve clarity in their future as well. It may not be as urgent a need, because Nagorno-Karabakh is de Facto independent, government institutions are in place, and there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Nagorno-Karabakh is never going back under Azeri rule. While in Pristina, a large segment of the ethnic Albanian population, as well as the government itself, is in a kind of limbo, waiting for independence; the people of Nagorno-Karabakh do not seem to be concerned about the future prospects for the nation and are busy at work at nation building.
Kushtrim Mahmutaj, who as a teen took up a gun with the guerrilla army that fought Serbian Forces nearly a decade ago, is concerned “We have been very patient until now, but we fought and died just to establish a country. We could lose control in a second.” It is different for Nagorno-Karabakh, for the young men who fought and died to save their homeland from obliteration, there is no fear that control might be lost in a second, for the Nagorno-Karabakh Army is known to be the best trained and war hardened army in the Caucuses.
Finally, whereas in the Kosovo Model, politicians have failed to deliver a functioning government, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh just elected their third president and Government institutions are fully functional, with major projects underway, rebuilding the infrastructure with local as well as outside help. One would think that despite its meager means, and despite an ongoing blockade, Nagorno-Karabakh appears to be unfazed by ongoing negotiations that seem to be going nowhere, and from which Nagorno-Karabakh is markedly absent.
Unlike Kosovo, US led forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not bomb Azeri troops out of Nagorno’sKarabakh; Nagorno’sKarabakh is not being governed by the United Nations; the west is not supporting its bid for statehood; International courts are not prosecuting Azeri leaders as war criminals for the pogroms committed in Sumgayit and the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is the people of Nagorno’sKarabakh that have succeeded in creating de facto independence, rebuilding a war ravaged country.
What the West should be worried about in both the case for Kosovo and Nagorno’sKarabakh is the new round of bloodshed and conflict that could be generated by unresolved conflicts. The right to self determination should supersede territorial integrity if the world should become devoid of conflict. The race to arms by Azerbaijan, and its warmongering calls for war should be taken seriously by the West. If Azerbaijan were to engage in resolving the conflict by military means, the repercussions could destabilize the whole region. It would also disrupt the grand designs for Azeri oil and endanger the proposed pipeline as well as the railway that are bypassing Armenia. It should also be a warning to the people of Nagorno’sKarabakh. If it is Azerbaijan’s intention to resolve the conflict by military means, then Nagorno’sKarabakh should freeze all negotiations and declare independence . Now that’s a Kosovar lead to follow.