Strasbourg court decision deals blow to Armenia over Azerbaijan

Destroyed BMP-1 APC. Nagorno-Karabakh, 2013. [Ogannes/Flickr]

A decision by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the complaints of seven Azerbaijani nationals who were unable to return or receive compensation for their property in Lachin, in Nagorno-Karabakh, confirmed that Armenia controls the territory.

The ECHR Grand Chamber announced its judgment on the case called “Chiragov and others v. Armenia” on 16 June.

The seven applicants are Azerbaijani Kurds who lived in the district of Lachin, in Azerbaijan. They stated that they were unable to return to their homes and property there, after having been forced to leave in 1992 during the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (see background).

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 6 April 2005. In a decision of 14 December 2011, the Court declared the complaints admissible.

The court ruled that there had been violations on all accounts of the complaint (violations of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, on protection of property, of right to respect for private and family life, of right to an effective remedy).

The court dismissed several objections put forward by the government of Armenia, including the one that this country didn’t have effective control over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, and thus lacked jurisdiction. According to Yerevan, Nagorno-Karabakh is a sovereign state called “NKR”.

The court decision reads:

“The Court noted in particular that numerous reports and public statements, including from members and former members of the Armenian Government, demonstrated that Armenia, through its military presence and by providing military equipment and expertise, had been significantly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from an early date. Armenia’s military support continued to be decisive for the control over the territories in question. Furthermore, it was evident from the facts established in the case that Armenia gave the “NKR” substantial political and financial support; its citizens were moreover required to acquire Armenian passports to travel abroad, as the “NKR” was not recognised by any State or international organisation. In conclusion, Armenia and the “NKR” were highly integrated in virtually all important matters and the “NKR” and its administration survived by virtue of the military, political, financial and other support given to it by Armenia.”

The next sentence is particularly unequivocal:

“Armenia thus exercised effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.”

The ministry of foreign affairs of Azerbaijan published a statement, saying among other things: “Consequently, Armenia is under the obligation to withdraw immediately, completely and unconditionally its armed forces from these territories”.

Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space. It is a landlocked region in the Southern Caucasus, de jure on the territory of Azerbaijan, but de facto governed by the Armenian-backed breakaway government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

An armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place between 1988 and 1994 over Nagorno-Karabakh. A Russian-brokered cease-fire was signed in May 1994.

In August 2008, the US, France and Russia began to negotiate a full settlement of the conflict, proposing a referendum on the status of the territory. The effort culminated in the signature in Moscow by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev of an agreement to hold talks on a political settlement.

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