One of the first attempts to solve the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict was initiated within the framework of the still formally existing USSR, by the mediation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, after the failure of the August Putsch of 19911. Even the temporary cessation of military operations and repression against the population of Artsakh created preconditions for dialogue and mediation.
On September 20-23, 1991, the mediating mission, led by the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan, visited Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan. As a result of the visit, on September 23 a communiqué was signed in Zheleznovodsk aimed at creating conditions for the start of a negotiation process. The communiqué was primarily a proclamation of goodwill without any mechanisms for its enactment.
The negotiations that started immediately after the visit of the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan continued with interruptions in Ijevan (Armenia) and Ghazakh (Azerbaijan) borderline regions but soon entered a deadlock.
The core issue about which the parties had opposing positions was the participation and status of the Nagorno Karabakh representatives in the negotiation process. The Azerbaijani delegation was strongly against their participation in any format, either as a separate delegation or as a part of the Armenian delegation or in working groups (Russia’s proposal)2. The order in which Zheleznovodsk Communiqué provisions were to be realized became the second key issue on which the parties could not reach an agreement.
In December 1991, after the USSR legally ceased to exist, the Yeltsin-Nazarbayev initiative faded out. At the same time, a drastic rise in tension resulted in Azerbaijan’s large-scale aggression against the NKR.
1. August Putsch (August Coup) was an attempt to remove Mikhail Gorbachev from the office of the USSR president and to change the political line he was pursuing. It was initiated on August 19, 1991, by the State Committee for Emergency Situations (ГКЧП), composed of a number of conservative officials from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the USSR government, the army and the State Security Service. The Putsch ended on August 22, with the arrest of the majority of the members of the State Committee for Emergency Situations.
2. С. Золян. Нагорный Карабах: Проблема и конфликт. - Ереван. Издательство «Лингва», 2001 (Suren Zolyan. Nagorno-Karabakh. Problem and Conflict, Yerevan, “Lingua” Publishing House, 2001).