Before the start of hostilities on 27 September 2020, Armenia was occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts on the territory of Azerbaijan. The signature of the nine-point ceasefire agreement on 9 November 2020 led to the termination of fighting between warring parties and also changed the existing territorial status quo. Under the deal, Azerbaijan regains control of all seven surrounding districts and the parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Only the core of Nagorno-Karabakh region remains under the control of the Armenia-backed separatists. The Russian peacekeepers are deployed along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin Corridor; they are deployed ‘concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops’.
Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994 until the start of hostilities on 27 September 2020, Armenia was the occupying power in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as in the surrounding districts Aghdam, Jabrail, Fuzuli, Kalbajar, Gubadli, Lachin and Zangilan of Azerbaijan. United Nations Office Azerbaijan, United Nations – Azerbaijan: 25 years of partnership, 2017, p. 57. Armenia exercised its authority over Nagorno-Karabakh by equipping, financing or training and providing operational support to the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and its forces, but also in coordinating and helping the general planning of their military and paramilitary activities. For further information on the use of proxy forces, see 'contemporary challenges for classification – control over proxy forces’ in our classification section.
Under the ceasefire agreement signed on 9 November 2020 by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan regains control of all seven surrounding districts, i.e. the districts which were captured by Azerbaijan as a result of hostilities and those that were handed over by Armenia to Azerbaijan gradually in the month following the signature of the ceasefire agreement. Specifically, Armenia returned the Kalbajar District on 25 November 2020 (the original deadline of 15 November was extended by 10 days), the Aghdam District on 20 November 2020 and the Lachin District on 1 December 2020. Azerbaijan also keeps the parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself including a strategically important city of Susha that it captured during the hostilities. Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation, 10 November 2020, points 1-2 and 6; J. Miklasová, ‘The Recent Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh: Territorial Control, Peacekeepers and Question of Status’, EJIL:Talk!, 4 December 2020. Therefore, all these territories are no longer occupied by Armenia.
Regarding the remaining parts of Nagorno-Karabakh including the capital of Stepanakert, they remain under the control of Armenia-backed separatists. Importantly, under the deal, the Russian peacekeeping troops are deployed along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin Corridor; they are deployed ‘concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops.’ Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation, 10 November 2020, points 1, 3 and 4; Process for Withdrawal of Armenian Troops from Karabakh Began, 10 November 2020. See also J. Kucera, ‘In Karabakh Deal, As Many Questions as Answers’, Eurasianet, 11 November 2020.
For a territory to be considered occupied it must be 'under the authority of the hostile army.' Article 42, 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs on Land. For an occupation to exist hostile foreign forces must exercise effective control. Three elements must be fulfilled for effective control to exist.
- First, the armed forces of a foreign state are physically present in the territory and the territorial state did not consent to their presence.
- Second, the presence of the foreign forces prevents the effective local government in place at the time of invasion from exercising its powers.
- Third, the foreign forces establish or have the power to establish their own authority. For further information, see ‘military occupation – elements of occupation’.
Occupation by proxy
States may use proxy forces to occupy a territory: if a state exercises overall control over de facto local authorities or other local groups that exert effective control over the territory, the state can be considered an occupying force. For further information on overall control, see ‘contemporary challenges for classification – control over proxy forces’ in our classification section. Two elements must therefore exist in such a situation:
- The foreign state has overall control over de facto local authorities.
- The de facto authorities exercise effective control over a territory. For further information, see T. Ferraro, ‘Determining the Beginning and End of an Occupation Under International Humanitarian Law’ (2012) 94 International Review of the Red Cross 158.
Before the start of hostilities on 27 September 2020, Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts were under the effective control of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), also known as the Republic of Artsakh. However, Armenia exercised overall control over the armed groups of the NKR. Such an overall control over an organized armed group exists where a State ‘has a role in organizing, coordinating or planning the military actions of the military group, in addition to financing, training and equipping or providing operational support to that group.’ International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Prosecutor v Duško Tadić, Appeals Chamber, Judgment, IT-94-1-A, 15 July 1999, §137. For further information on overall control, see ‘contemporary challenges for classification – control over proxy forces’.
The European Court of Human Rights developed its own test of effective control over territory for the purposes of establishing State’s extra-territorial jurisdiction under Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Its significant indicators are twofold: (i) ‘number of soldiers deployed by the State in the territory in question’ and (ii) ‘the extent to which the State’s military, economic and political support for the local subordinate administration provides it with influence and control over the region.’ Council of Europe/European Court of Human Rights, ‘Guide on Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Obligations to Respect Human Rights – Concepts of “Jurisdiction” and Imputability’, updated on 31 December 2019, p 17. Even though an overall control test for the purposes of occupation by proxy and effective control test developed by the ECtHR serve different purposes, some factual findings of the ECtHR leading it to establish Armenia’s effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh could be taken into account as supporting indicators of Armenia’s overall control over armed groups of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Before the six-week war of 2020, demonstrative of Armenia’s overall control was the link between the Armenian armed forces and the armed forces of the NKR. For instance, Serzh Sargysan served as the Chairman of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Self-Defense Forces Committee during the initial conflict with Azerbaijan. He later served as the Armenian Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister of Armenia, and later President of Armenia. Likewise, the former Chief of Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces, Movses Hakobyan, previously served as Minister of Defence in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Reinforcing this link was the 1994 agreement signed between Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic which established that conscripts from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh may do their military service in each other’s militaries. See the information provided for by Armenia during proceedings before the European Court: ECtHR, Chiragov and Others v Armenia, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 13216/05, 16 June 2015, §161.
Reportedly, the Nagorno-Karabakh forces relied significantly on Armenian nationals and the two militaries were highly integrated. International Crisis Group, Nagorno-Karabakh: Viewing the Conflict From the Ground, Report No 166, September 2005, pp 9-10. Significantly, the European Court of Human Rights accepted that it was clear from multiple reports and statements that Armenian military support 'has been - and continues to be - decisive for the conquest of and continued control over the territories in issue, and the evidence, not least the 1994 military co-operation agreement, convincingly shows that the armed forces of Armenia and the “NKR” are highly integrated’. ECtHR, Chiragov and Others v Armenia, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 13216/05, 16 June 2015, §180. For a discussion of the European Court’s approach to this issue, see M. Milanovic, ‘The Nagorno-Karabkh Cases’, EJIL:Talk!, 23 June 2015. Moreover, even though the European Court of Human Rights did not determine the exact number of Armenian troops deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh, it found it ‘established that the Republic of Armenia, through its military presence and the provision of military equipment and expertise, has been significantly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from an early date.’ ECtHR, Chiragov and Others v Armenia, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 13216/05, 16 June 2015, §180. According to reports, Armenian troops were present/guard the line of contact, i.e. the borderline between the occupied adjacent regions and Azerbaijan that saw regular incidents of fire exchange and fight actions between the two sides’ militaries. ‘International Mediators condemn ceasefire violations in Nagorno-Karabakh’, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 20 May 2017; T. de Waal, ‘Revamping the Nagorny Karabakh Peace Process’, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 26 June 2013.
Following the signature of the ceasefire agreement of 9 November 2020, the factual situation on the ground in the parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh that remained under the control of the Armenia-backed separatists is rather complex. Under the deal, the Russian peacekeeping troops are deployed along the line of contact; ; they are deployed ‘concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops.’ Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation, 10 November 2020, points 3-4. However, at this stage, it is not yet clear to what extent the provision on the withdrawal of Armenian troops is followed in practice. According to some reports, after the signature of the ceasefire agreement, the Armenian armed forces were withdrawing from the territory outside its internationally recognized borders including Nagorno-Karabakh itself. International Crisis Group, ‘Getting from Ceasefire to Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh’, 10 November 2020. Other reports suggest that there are conflicting interpretations of the ceasefire agreement on this issue. While Azerbaijan claims that the Armenian troops should withdraw from the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh under Article 4 of the Ceasefire Agreement, Armenia relies on Article 1 of the Ceasefire Agreement, which freezes the position of parties as of the day of the signature of the Ceasefire Agreement. According to Armenia, Article 4 of the Ceasefire Agreement only applies to territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenia already handed over to Azerbaijan. K. Krivosheev and H. Khalatyan, ‘Armenia and Azerbaijan Unleashed the War of Interpretations’, Kommersant, 16 December 2020. Another point of friction between Azerbaijan and Armenia concerns the meaning of the terms ‘Armenian troops’ in Article 4 of the Ceasefire Agreement. While Azerbaijan claims that these terms include both regular and separatist forces, according to Armenia the withdrawal only applies to Armenian regular troops. International Crisis Group, Improving Prospects for Peace after the Nagorno-Karabakh War, Crisis Group Europe Briefing No 91, 22 December 2020, p. 4.
Apart from the question of the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh, it is critical to re-assess the link between the separatist armed groups of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, i.e. Armenia’s overall control over them. J. Miklasová, ‘The Recent Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh: Territorial Control, Peacekeepers and Question of Status’, EJIL:Talk!, 4 December 2020. The factual situation after the signature of the ceasefire is still developing and therefore it is difficult to assess it conclusively at the moment. Especially, more information will be needed regarding the functioning of the armed groups of Nagorno-Karabakh in these new factual realities. On the one hand, due to the fact that Armenia previously exerted an overall control over these armed groups of the Nagorno-Karabakh (thus qualifying the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh as occupied by proxy), it could be expected that Armenia will seek to exert a similar level of control. On the other hand, however, it is difficult to see how Armenia would be able to send military equipment to Nagorno-Karabakh since under the ceasefire agreement its only connection with Nagorno-Karabakh now goes through the Lachin Corridor – a 5-km wide corridor under the control of the Russian peacekeeping troops through the Lachin District (now in the hands of Azerbaijan; under the deal, Azerbaijan guarantees ‘the security of persons, vehicles and cargo moving along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.’). J. Miklasová, ‘The Recent Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh: Territorial Control, Peacekeepers and Question of Status’, EJIL:Talk!, 4 December 2020; Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation, 10 November 2020, point 6.
The Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh and Lachin Corridor is seen as having a vital role in stabilizing the situation as the guarantee against the escalation. See J. Kucera, ‘In Karabakh Deal, As Many Questions as Answers’, Eurasianet, 11 November 2020; J. Miklasová, ‘The Recent Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh: Territorial Control, Peacekeepers and Question of Status’, EJIL:Talk!, 4 December 2020. The ceasefire agreement provides for the the deployment of 1.960 troops armed with firearms, 90 armoured vehicles and 380 motor vehicles and units of special equipment’. The term of the peacekeeping mission is five years and is automatically extended for subsequent five-year terms unless either Party declares six months before the end of the current period its intention to terminate this provision. Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation, 10 November 2020, points 3-4. According to some observers, ‘Russia has become the security patron, not Armenia.’ ‘Interview: Thomas De Waal on What’s Next For Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations’, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 7 December 2020.
Turkey is not once mentioned in the ceasefire deal and therefore will not participate in the peacekeeping forces. However, it now takes part in monitoring the compliance with the ceasefire through a joint monitoring centre. Based on the bilateral agreement between Russia and Turkey, the joint ceasefire-monitoring center was opened on 30 January 2021 in Aghdam district in Azerbaijan. See J. Kucera, ‘Russia and Turkey Open Joint Military Center in Azerbaijan’, Eurasianet, 2 February 2021.
Declaration of independence and armed confrontations
Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, triggering a conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, which was supported by Armenia. The conflict resulted in an estimated 30,000 deaths and the displacement of approximately 1,000,000 persons. A ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994, following which Armenian forces remained in control over Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts. The Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) monitors the ceasefire. However, violations of the ceasefire with armed clashes between Armenian, Azerbaijani and separatist forces remained common. A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflict in 2014 (Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 64. Particularly severe clashes leading to dozens of deaths took place in April 2016. A. Bellal, The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2016, Geneva Academy, 2017, p. 42; International Crisis Group, Nagorno-Karabakh: New Opening, or More Peril?, Report No. 239, 4 July 2016; S. Tisdall, ‘Azerbaijan-Armenia Conflict is a Reminder of Europe’s Instability’, The Guardian, 3 April 2016; ‘Nagorno-Karbakh’s War. A Frozen Conflict Explodes’, The Economist, 9 April 2016. Since then, the intensity of confrontations has gone down, although exchange of fire/skirmishes are still frequent and cause several casualties on each side per year. ACLED, Dataset Middle East 2016-2019, Data through 2nd of February 2019. For instance, in 2017 there have been 19 casualties on the Azerbaijani side and 22 on the Armenian side. In 2018, six casualties were reported on the Azerbaijani side and seven on the Armenian side. Caspian Defense Studies Institute, 119 hərbçi dünyasını dəyişib – Cənubi Qafqazda – MÜQAYİSƏLİ STATİSTİKA, 7 January 2018; Caspian Defense Studies Institute, 2018-ci ildə Ermənistan 45 hərbçisini itirib – STATİSTİKA, 3 January 2019; Caspian Defense Studies Institute, Azərbaycan 2018-ci ildə 37 hərbi qulluqçunu itirib – STATİSTİKA, 3rd January 2019.
In March 2018, the presidents of the two states engaged in direct talks for the first time in several years in Vienna. The negotiations resulted in a new commitment to the ceasefire, which contributed to a de-escalation along the line of contact in early 2019. A. Souleimanov and H. Aliyev, ‘Azerbaijan and Armenia Eager to Revive Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Talks’, CACI Analyst, 23 January 2019; A. Ohanyan, ‘At long last, peace might be possible between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here’s what’s needed’, The Washington Post, 20 March 2019. Furthermore, the parties agreed to maintain direct dialogue, to strengthen direct interaction between the states and its peoples, as well as to set up humanitarian support measures. ‘Armenia-Azerbaijan Summit described as “positive”, “constructive”’, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 30 March 2019; ‘Round of negotations on Nagorno-Karabakh in Vienna’, CaucasusWatch, 30 March 2019. In 2019 the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met during a summit in Moscow, also attended by representatives of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group from Russia, the US, France, and the OSCE chairperson. The two countries reaffirmed their commitment to a peaceful and sustainable solution to the peace process. Further steps to facilitate individual contact, such as visits to detained relatives and visits of media representatives, were agreed upon. Yet, no concrete steps as to the design of a possible agreement was laid out. ‘Armenia, Azerbaijan, ”agree on political steps” to foster human contact’, Tert, 15 April 2019; ‘No Breakthrough Evident at Nagorno-Karabakh Talks in Moscow’, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 15 April 2019.
In June 2019, Armenian National Security Council announced the intention to build a third highway between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh the following year. On 5 June 2020, the de facto President Araik Arutyunyan reiterated that the road will be constructed in 2020. On 10 June, the European Parliament’s rapporteurs on Azerbaijan and Armenia and the chair of delegation to EU-Armenia Parliamentary Partnership Committee issued a joint statement, expressing their concerns that the highway ‘could symbolically entrench the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and of its surrounding districts.’ International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2020; ‘Armenia and Karabakh announce construction of third connecting highway’, Eurasianet, 25 June 2019.
Between 12 and 16 July 2020, fighting erupted along the border between Movses in Armenia and Agdam in Azerbaijan, a densely populated area. Both countries used heavy weapons and violence caused twelve military fatalities, including a well-regarded general, and one civilian on Azeri side and four military casualties and one civilian wounded on Armenian side. It is unclear the reason why violence broke out, and each country accuses the other of starting hostilities. International Crisis Group, Preventing a Bloody Harvest on the Armenia-Azerbaijan State Border, Report 259 / Europe & Central Asia, 24 July 2020. On 27 September 2020, heavy fighting broke out in Nagorno Karabakh. According to Armenia, Azerbaijan attacked civilians in the city of Stepanakert and reacted by downing two Azerbaijani helicopters and three drones. On the other hand, Azerbaijan affirmed that it was a ‘counteroffensive to suppress Armenia’s combat activity and ensure the safety of the population.’ ‘Fighting erupts between Armenia, Azerbaijan over disputed region’, Al-Jazeera, 27 September 2020.
Turkey, who has no official relations with Armenia, expressed its support to Azerbaijan. On the other hand, President Putin called for a ceasefire. Russia is traditionally seen as an Armenian allied and has a military base in the country, but has also good relationships with Azerbaijan and sells weapons to both countries. Furthermore, Armenia is part of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. ‘Armenia and Azerbaijan fight over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh’, BBC, 28 September 2020; ‘Armenia-Azerbaijan: What's behind the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?’, BBC, 29 September 2020; ‘Russia defends selling arms to both Azerbaijan and Armenia’, AP News, 9 April 2016. On Tuesday, 29 September, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) hold a closed-door discussion on the clashes in Nagorno Karabakh and expressed concern about the escalation of the hostilities. A similar was expressed by the UN Secretary General Gutierrez. ‘Fresh Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh, as UN chief urges an end to fighting’, UN News, 27 September 2020; ‘Azerbaijan, Armenia reject talks as Karabakh conflict widens’, Al Jazeera, 30 September 2020; ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia says ready to work towards ceasefire’, Al Jazeera, 2 October 2020.
It has been reported that ‘Syrian rebel fighters have signed up to work for a private Turkish security company as border guards in Azerbaijan.’ According to sources within the Syrian National Army (SNA), the main Syrian rebels umbrella organization, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, about 500 Syrian fighters have arrived in Azerbaijan. Russia and Armenia claim that 4,000 members of SNA are present in Nagorno Karabakh, while Turkey and Azerbaijan reject these claims. On 1 October, French President Macron reported that, according to French intelligence, 300 fighters from “jihadist groups” in Syria have crossed Turkey and were directed to Azerbaijan. B. McKernan, ‘Syrian rebel fighters prepare to deploy to Azerbaijan in sign of Turkey’s ambition’, The Guardian, 28 September 2020.
On 28 September 2020, Armenia submitted a request for interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The following day, the Court decided to apply Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court. While the decision and ensuing interim measures remain confidential, a press release of the ECtHR specified that the situation in Nagorno Karabakh could cause serious violations of the Convention and added that ‘[w]ith a view to preventing such violations and pursuant to Rule 39, the Court called upon both Azerbaijan and Armenia to refrain from taking any measures, in particular military action, which might entail breaches of the Convention rights of the civilian population, including putting their life and health at risk.’ ‘The Court grants an interim measure in the case of Armenia v. Azerbaijan’, Press Release issued by the Registrar of the Court, 30 September 2020.
On 4 October 2020, the ECtHR received a request for an interim measure lodged by Armenia against Turkey regarding the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. On 6 October 2020, the ECtHR decided to apply Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court again and called on “all States directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, including Turkey, to refrain from actions that contribute to breaches of the Convention rights of civilians, and to respect their obligations under the Convention.” ‘The Court’s Decision on the Request for an Interim Measure Lodged by Armenia against Turkey’, Press Release Issued by the Registrar of the Court, 6 October 2020. Subsequently, the ECtHR also received further requests for interim measures lodged by Armenia against Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan against Armenia, but the ECtHR decided that the previous interim measures already covered the issues raised in these new inter-State requests insofar they concerned rights under the Convention. ‘The Court Makes a Statement on Request for Interim Measures Concerning the Conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh’, Press Release Issued by the Registrar of the Court, 4 November 2020. On 1 December 2020, the Court decided to lift the interim measure in the case of Armenia v Turkey indicated on 6 October 2020. ‘The Court Decides to Lift the Interim Measure Previously Indicated in the Case of Armenia v Turkey’, Press Release Issued by the Registrar of the Court, 2 December 2020.
After three failed truce attempts, the fighting ended on 10 November 2020 following the signing of the ceasefire agreement on 9 November and after a rapid deployment of the Russian peacekeeping troops along the line of contact. J. Losh and A. Roth, ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Deal Brokered by Moscow Prompts Anger in Armenia’, The Guardian, 10 November 2020. The war cost lives of 2.425 Armenian servicemen and 2.783 Azerbaijani soldiers. ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Killed 5.000 Soldiers’, BBC, 3 December 2020. According to estimates, dozens of civilians are among the victims on both sides. ‘Armenia, Azerbaijan Exchange Troops’ Bodies After Ceasefire’, Al-Jazeera, 17 November 2020.
The nine-point ceasefire agreement contains neither mention of the future status of the parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh that remain under the control of the Armenia-backed separatists, nor the OSCE Minsk Group - the key forum for the negotiation of the settlement of the conflict. J. Miklasová, ‘The Recent Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh: Territorial Control, Peacekeepers and Question of Status’, EJIL:Talk!, 4 December 2020; J. Kucera, ‘In Karabakh Deal, As Many Questions as Answers’, Eurasianet, 11 November 2020. On the issue of final status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian President recently stated, ‘[y]es, there is this problem, since Karabakh’s final status has not been settled. We have agreed to maintain the status quo. What happens next will be decided eventually by the future leaders and the future participants in this process.’ ‘Replies to Media Questions on Developments in Nagorno-Karabakh’, Official Website of the President of Russia, 17 November 2020.
Views of the parties and the international community
The subjective views of the parties may be an indicator, but are not determinative for the classification of a situation. For further information, see 'overview-classification based on legal criteria and facts' in our classification section. Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994 up until the war of 2020, Azerbaijan considered the region occupied by Armenia, including due to the control exercised by Armenia over the local authorities. See for example the statements of the Armenian representative in the General Assembly, General Assembly, 62 session, 86th Plenary Meeting, 14 March 2008, UN doc A/62/PV.86, p 2; ECtHR, Chiragov and Others v Armenia, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 13216/05, 16 June 2015, §§165-166. It held that the de-occupation of the regions and respect of its territorial integrity is a conditio sine qua non for sustainable peace in the region. ‘Azerbaijani MFA issues statement on the 27th anniversary of the occupation of Lachyn’, Defence.az, 17 May 2019. While accepting that there was cooperation between the armed forces, Armenia denied its involvement and considered that the NRK was ‘a sovereign, independent state possessing all the characteristics of an independent state under international law.’ ECtHR, Chiragov and Others v Armenia, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 13216/05, 16 June 2015, §163. According to Armenia ‘Nagorno-Karabakh has no future as a part of Azerbaijan and whatever is the solution, it must emanate from the will of the Karabakh people’ and that any ‘Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement must be based on recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination.’ Furthermore, Amenia considers itself to be the guarantor of Artsakh's security. Notably, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan explained that ‘[the] base for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict is the recognition of the Artsakh people’s right to self-determination which should be exercised without limitation and contradiction. … All those proposals or comments, which do not ensure the exercise of the right of the Artsakh people to self-determination, cannot be acceptable for Armenia.’ See Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh Issue; A. Harutyunyan, ‘All those proposals or comments, which do not ensure the exercise of the right of the Artsakh people to self-determination, cannot be acceptable for Armenia’, Armenpress, 13 December 2019; N. Pashinyan, ‘Armenia is guarantor of security in Karabakh’, Al Jazeera, 20 October 2020.
In the period before the outbreak of the war in 2020, the United Nations General Assembly requested the withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. See, e.g., UNGA, UN Doc. A/RES/62/243, 25 April 2008, §2; UNGA A/RES/60/285, 7 September 2006. Similarly, the Security Council repeatedly requested the withdrawal of all occupying forces in 1993. See, e.g., UNSC S/RES/822 (1993), 30 April 1993, Preamble and §1; UNSC, S/RES/853 (1993), 29 July 1993, Preamble and §1; UNSC, S/RES/874 (1993), 14 October 1993, Preamble; UNSC, S/RES/884 (1993), 14 November 1993, Preamble and §4.
The law of military occupation is set forth in the 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs on Land, the 1949 Geneva Conventions (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilians Persons in Time of War and the 1977 Additional Protocol I applicable to International Armed Conflicts.
Customary international humanitarian law is also applicable during occupation, it complements the protection granted by treaties and binds all parties to the conflict. Customary international law consist of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.
In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of occupation. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are States Parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. Armenia remains bound by its international human rights law obligations in the territory it occupies.