The mention of Nagorno-Karabakh in a declaration issued by NATO members at the conclusion of their recent summit in the United Kingdom has sparked a fresh spat between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Allies “remain committed in their support to the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Modlova,” reads the September 5 statement. NATO’s reaffirmation of territorial integrity caused chagrin in Armenia, while producing statements of gratitude in Azerbaijan. Armenian forces wrested control of Karabakh from the Azerbaijani military in the early 1990s: the two sides have searched in vain for a political settlement since agreeing to a 1994 ceasefire.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan acknowledged that the wording of the NATO declaration constituted a “small victory” for Azerbaijan within the Karabakh context. When considering a Karabakh settlement, Armenian officials have long emphasized the principle of self-determination of nations, or at least its understanding of it, over the principle of territorial integrity.
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian criticized the NATO declaration for having a “selective approach” that did not coincide with that held by the Minsk Group, the international body that oversees the long-running Karabakh peace process, according to a report distributed by Armenian Public Radio.
While commending the NATO declaration, an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman took a swipe at the Armenian foreign minister. Nalbandian “made it his business to justify the diplomatic failure of his country,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdulayev.
In practical terms, NATO’s declaration doesn’t have much significance for the Caucasus’ longest-running territorial dispute. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led, anti-NATO bloc. Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is at best NATO-curious, willing to cooperate with the Atlantic alliance only to the degree that does not cross a line with Moscow.