Armenia Hails UN Court Ruling on Kosovo Independence


By Sargis Harutyunyan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia on Friday commended the highest United Nations court for upholding the legality of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia but gave no indication that it is ready to recognize the mostly Albanian-populated region’s independence.

Armenian leaders said the non-binding ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) late on Thursday will foster a resolution of the Nagorno- Karabagh conflict sought by Yerevan. The Hague-based ruled that Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law. The verdict has been welcomed by the United States, which called on other nations, including Serbia, to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

“This decision is truly unprecedented in the sense that for the first time ever the International Court addressed the correlation between two principles, peoples’ self-determination and territorial integrity [of states,] and took the decision stemming from the United Nations Charter,” Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian told the Armenian state television.

According to Kocharian, the ICJ ruled that self-determination, which has long been championed by Armenia, should take precedence over territorial integrity in the resolution of territorial or ethnic disputes.

“This is an unprecedented decision that can positively impact international recognition of Karabagh,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said. “Why unprecedented? Because for the first ever an international court ruled that when it comes to independence, the people’s right to self-determination is more important that territorial integrity of states.”

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Self-determination and territorial integrity are among the basic principles of settling the Karabagh conflict that have been jointly proposed by the U.S., Russia and France. Armenia and Azerbaijan say they accept, in principle, a settlement based on a combination of the two principles.

Azerbaijani leaders have at the same time repeatedly stated that Karabagh’s predominantly Armenian population should only be able to determine the extent of the territory’s autonomy within Azerbaijan. They argue, among other things, that there already exists an independent Armenian state.

Kocharian and Sharmazanov said the UN court effectively dismissed this argument. “This decision showed that that the predominantly Albanian-populated Kosovo can also become independent despite the existence of the state of Albania,” said the HHK spokesman. “This shatters the Azerbaijani leadership’s claim that if there is an independent Armenian republic, there can be no independent Karabagh.”

Karabagh has “no less serious grounds” for being recognized by the international community, he said.

“We are now getting a new tool, a new avenue of fighting for international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic,” agreed Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation party.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry insisted on Friday, however, that the ICJ ruling applies only to Kosovo and Serbia and cannot have any ramifications for the Karabagh conflict. The ministry spokesman, Elkhan Polukhov, was also quoted by the Trend news agency as saying that Baku will continue to regard Kosovo as a part of Serbia.

Armenia is also in no rush to recognize Kosovo’s independence, not least because

Russia, its closest ally, is strongly opposed to that. When asked about the possibility of Armenian recognition after the ICJ decision, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan cited a statement on the issue that was made by Sarkisian in September 2008. The Armenian president said at the time that Yerevan cannot recognize Kosovo as well as the Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia “as long as it has not recognized the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic.” The realization of a nation’s right to self-determination “takes times” and requires the understanding of “all interested parties,” explained Sarkisian.

Belgrade lost control Kosovo in 1999 when a NATO bombing campaign brought an end to a war between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in the region. UN  Security Council Resolution 1244 set up a temporary UN administration for Kosovo. Although the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo — or UNMIK — still exists, it has had a minor role since 2008.

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo’s newly-elected ethnic Albanian lawmakers and president issued their unilateral declaration of independence — a move contested by Belgrade as a violation of international law and of Serbia’s territorial integrity. Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by 69 countries — including the United States and many European Union member states.

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