By David L. Phillips and Van Krikorian
Violent conflict erupted in Nagorno-Karabagh (NK) on April 2, killing hundreds. Azerbaijan violated a cease-fire that had been in place since 1994. The situation remains extremely volatile, despite a temporary truce.
The United States and Russia must intensify their mediation. Negotiations should include representatives of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh. US law already calls for sanctions on Azerbaijan if it acts aggressively. The Obama administration should implement Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Azerbaijan to punish its aggression.
Nagorno-Karabagh is a disputed territory in the South Caucasus. Joseph Stalin included it in Azerbaijan as part of a broader effort to undermine the national aspirations of minorities in the Soviet Union. The Nagorno-Karabagh population held a referendum in 1991, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. Christian Armenians voted overwhelmingly for independence from Muslim Azerbaijan. In the ensuing conflict, over 20,000 people died and over 800,000 people were displaced. The war ended with a ceasefire but no peace agreement.
In 1989, the US Senate passed a resolution “[urging] Soviet President Gorbachev to restore order, reestablish unrestricted economic and supply routes to the people of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh, secure the physical safety of the people of [NK] from attack, and continue a dialogue with representatives of such region regarding a peaceful settlement of the dispute….” In 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed Section 907 into US law, which prohibits assistance to Azerbaijan if it engages in aggressive military actions against Armenia or Nagorno-Karabagh. Section 907 was an important deterrent, contributing to the cease fire.
In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama endorsed a “lasting and durable settlement of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict that is agreeable to all parties, and based upon America’s founding commitment to the principles of democracy and self-determination.” Since the conflict began, every US administration has been committed to a peaceful, negotiated solution.