An Interview with Former Azerbaijani Prime Minister Hasan Hasanov: Unfolding Key Questions of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

February 26th marked nearly three decades since the brutal Khojaly tragedy, or Khojaly genocide in 1992. One of the bloodiest attacks in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the Armenian army entered the town of Khojaly and, according to Azerbaijani governmental statistics, killed 613 Azerbaijani’s in a single night. To commemorate this tragedy correspondent Rasul Bakhshaliyev interviewed Azerbaijan’s former Prime Minister Hasan Hasanov, which will be published in two parts through the St. Andrews Economist, on the history of the conflict and the role of diplomacy in helping the Azerbaijani people.

The territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is one of the few remaining unresolved conflicts, which, to this day, is of particular interest for leading scholars of International Relations. Hasan Hasanov, the former Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United Nations (UN) from 1992 to 1993 and current Ambassador in Poland, sat down with me to explain key structural problems preventing resolution of this conflict. It was during his mission to the UN that the Security Council (SC) passed resolutions on this dispute.


Rasul Bakhshaliyev: In order to stop the Armenian offensive on the Azerbaijani territories and to force their liberation, the world community had to recognize Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. Why was it so difficult to recognize the fact of aggression despite its obviousness?

Hasan Hasanov: Apart from the legal difficulties, the biggest barrier to recognizing an act of aggression, was the unwillingness of the international community to impose a wide set of military, economic and political sanctions against Armenia. Most of my colleagues in the UN referred to the Serbian example, which in the conflict with Bosnia was not recognized as an aggressor, and in general, the fact of aggression was not recorded in the Yugoslav conflict. Everyone acknowledged that the path to recognizing a state as an aggressor is very lengthy and that this issue should be continuously discussed at the Security Council (SC) meetings once Azerbaijan presents irrefutable evidence.  Even after presenting irrefutable evidence it became clear that overcoming organizational barriers of the UN was not as straightforward as it seemed. On the initiative of the Azerbaijani Permanent Delegation at the UN, on May 13, 1992, a decision was made by the UN Secretary-General, Boutros-Ghali: to form a UN mission to inspect the situation on the spot and collect information that would confirm the fact of Armenian aggression. Once the mission, lead by a UN Secretariat member F.Vendrell, returned  in June with a report that was to confirm Armenian aggression we faced an organizational problem stemming from the inclination of UN senior officials and Security Council permanent members to lay off responsibility to each other, thus delaying any discussions on this issue. For instance, Deputy Secretary-General, V.Petrovsky and UN Secretary General, Boutros-Ghali, stated that members of the SC should make key decisions regarding this issue, whereas SC members encouraged to address Secretary General, stating that he personally has the capacity to disclose the results of the mission. It was evident that the decision to publicize the results of the mission had to be taken by the Secretary General, and the decision to hold a closed meeting discussing results had to be taken by the Security Council members. Each one of them specified the prerogatives of the other, but “forgot” to recognize that an open meeting to discuss the written report of the mission, that would also invite delegations directly influenced by this problematic issue, could be held only after both decisions were made.

RB: Was this delay to the advantage of the aggressor?


HH: The organizational difficulties, that burdened the recognition of aggression, gave Armenia the time required to gain foothold on occupied territories and to take the necessary political actions. On the contrary, when the structural mechanisms with-in the UN worked cohesively, the SC produced statement on April the 6th,1993, which for the first time qualified Armenian military actions as “invasion” and demanded full withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories. Consequently, a group of CSCE (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, from 1995 onwards known as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) observers arrived to the war region and the frequency of large-scale military activities declined. This demonstrates that the adoption of hard-line documents with unambiguous conclusions, those that can only be achieved as a result of joint efforts from the Secretariat and the SC, is essential to a definitive resolution of a conflict.


RB: How could the members of the Security Council influence the final decisions regarding this conflict and what factors shaped their opinions?

HH: The positions of the SC member-states have to be based on internationally recognized norms, but unfortunately, they often reflect the interests of their governments, and this seriously complicates reaching a general agreement on any issue. For example, during a meeting with the Permanent Representative of France, Mr. M. Merimee, I expressed the position of Azerbaijan, which was against sending peacekeeping missions with military functions to the region, since it undermines the territorial sovereignty of a state. In response, Merimee said that it would not be entirely appropriate to refuse UN peacekeeping proposals. Disagreeing with the position of the “Big Five” representative was extremely dangerous given Merimee’s right to make changes to the documents discussed at the SC meetings and offering his own adjustments. I was perfectly aware that the French foreign policy was not formulated by Merimee, or not exclusively by Merimee. In this situation he could simply be an enforcer of his government’s instructions. However, what alarmed me the most was the hypothetical possibility that his subjective expectations coincide with the interests of his government.

We should also not forget that the decision-making process in the UN can be significantly affected by influential individuals from the Secretariat. I was aware of how much in UN practice depends on the role played by the Secretary-General. According to the Article 99 of the UN Charter, “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” Where is the guarantee that his subjective opinions do not counterbalance the rational and objective decisions? In the UN, too much depends on the personality of the Secretary-General..

RB: What are the organizational routines involved in adopting a UN resolution and to what extent can the member states of the “Big Five” influence this process?

HH: The process of adopting a resolution can be summarized in three stages: at first, the SC requests a report from the Secretary-General on a specific issue; then the report is considered and approved with or without modifications following negotiations; finally, the SC requests the Secretary-General to implement the obligations or recommendations presented in the resolution. It is worth noting that the preliminary draft of the resolution can also be prepared by one of the delegations in the SC. As for resolution №822, it was adopted unanimously, but this does not suggest that all members of the Security Council expressed the same attitude towards the conflict. A resolution is an outcome of political bargaining with an inherent tendency for compromise, which is why its language is often ambiguous. Before resolution No. 822 was passed, I had an interesting conversation with Russia’s Permanent Representative, Y. Vorontsov, in which I tried to clarify his position and to convince him not to hinder the process of adopting the resolution. Y.Vorontsov asserted that Russia is not against the resolution, but it has certain alterations to the text. He did not inform me about the nature of the amendments to be offered by his delegation, but the subtext of this statement was that, “without our amendments, the resolution cannot be adopted.” Making impracticable amendments would virtually ravage our resolution.The attitudes of the “Big Five” often diverge, which complicates collaborative decision-making. For instance, during the Security Council meeting on resolution No. 822, the representative of Great Britain condemned the recent offensive in the Kelbajar region and other areas adjacent to it. T. Richardson, on behalf of his delegation, stressed a crucial point – the only real way to resolve the conflict, considering the principles proclaimed in the framework of the UN and CSCE, is the preservation of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which reflected the constructive and definitive nature of UK’s position to resolving the conflict. This particular statement made by the UK Permanent Representative at the Council meeting was perceived as very authoritative, since UK is the permanent member of the SC. The representatives of France and Russia did not discuss this issue.

Featured photo provided by The Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland

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