Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo: States of independence
In Soviet times Nagorno-Karabakh was a mostly Armenian-populated autonomous region in Azerbaijan. In Yugoslav times Kosovo was a mostly Albanian-populated autonomous province of Serbia.
Armenians fought a war against the Azeris in the early 1990s, and the Kosovo Albanians against the Serbs in 1998-99. Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence in 1991. Serbia’s administration and security forces were expelled from Kosovo by NATO in 1999. The region was then run by the United Nations. It declared independence in 2008.
On the face of it there are plenty of similarities between Soviet breakaway statelets like Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo. But there are also many differences. No countries have recognised Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state, but more than 80 have recognised Kosovo. Western countries emphasise that they believe that the Kosovo case is not a precedent for others.
In Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, this argument cuts no ice. Indeed, some have a clear case of “recognition envy”. Marcel Petrosian, a foreign-ministry official, says that Nagorno-Karabakh has “stronger arguments” for independence than Kosovo does.
European and other countries that recognise Kosovo are, he says, practising “double standards.” Mr Atajanyan echoes this. “We see Kosovo as a precedent,” he says. “It is a vivid example of how conflicts like ours can be solved.”
The two conflicts see Armenians and Kosovars arguing in favour of a people’s right to self-determination, and Serbia and Azerbaijan defending the the right of a state to defend its territorial integrity.
There are inconsistencies everywhere you look. Russia, an ally of Serbia, does not acknowledge the independence of Kosovo. But, unlike any Western countries, it recognised the breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following its war with Georgia in 2008. Serbia might like to make common cause with Georgia but does not wish to irritate Russia. Likewise Georgia won’t work with Serbia because of the potential damage to relations with the United States.
Likewise, the Armenians have been forced to fashion shrewd arguments for not recognising Kosovo’s independence in order not to antagonise their Russian patrons. Armenia has not in fact recognised Nagorno-Karabakh, as it reminds American diplomats when they come calling asking for it to recognise Kosovo.