The OSCE Minsk Process

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) joined the Nagorno Karabakh conflict regulation process right after the accession to the organization of Armenia and Azerbaijan (Prague, January 30, 1992).

In February 1992, a special mission of the CSCE, headed by former Chairman of the International Helsinki Federation Karel Schwarzenberg (at that time the Chief of Presidential Administration of Czechoslovakia), visited Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. A report was drawn up on the results of the visit, which was later discussed during the 7th and 8th sessions of the CSCE Committee of Senior Officials (CSO)1 on February 27-28 and March 13-14, 1992. On February 28 the CSO adopted a decision the key elements of which were ceasing the fire, establishing of humanitarian corridors and the embargo on arms supply to the conflict zone.

However, those proposals remained on paper because of the position of Azerbaijan: neither the decision on ceasefire was implemented, nor the instructions on creation of humanitarian corridors to provide unimpeded humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh were realized.

Moreover, after Azerbaijan obtained access to the armory (located on the territory of Azerbaijan) of former Soviet Union, it started a massive shelling of NKR settlements with the use of multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS).

On March 24, 1992, during the first additional meeting of the CSCE Council of ministers of foreign affairs (held in Helsinki by the suggestion of the CSO), a decision was adopted to hold a conference (under the auspices of the CSCE) in Minsk with the participation of 11 states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Germany, Italy, Russia, USA, Turkey, France, Czechoslovakia, Sweden) as well as with the participation of "elected and other representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh as interested parties". At that very meeting it was also decided that the Chairman-in-Office of the CSCE, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia Jiřri Dienstbier should visit the region.

On April 7, 1992, J. Dienstbier assigned an Italian diplomat, Mario Raffaelli as the Chairman of the Minsk Conference. The conference (scheduled to be held on June 23, 1992) preparation works began. On May 1 of the same year, the 10th session of the CSO adopted the rules of procedures for the conference.

Nevertheless, the intensive discussion in Prague and Helsinki had no impact on the processes underway in the region. None of the previous decisions had been implemented: Nagorno Karabakh remained under blockade from all sides and was doomed to elimination because of constant shelling and famine. The threat of total extermination of the Republic and its population required some drastic measures on the part of the NKR government, aimed at the suppression of major firing points of the Azerbaijani army in Nagorno Karabakh and actions to breach the blockade without which it was impossible to ensure the normal life in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. During the night from 8 to 9 of May the NKR Defense Army liberated the town of Shushi and suppressed the Azerbaijani firing points, from where Stepanakert was shelled. From May 18, a corridor was established through Lachin (Berdzor) region, which connected the NKR with Armenia.

Under those circumstances the Azerbaijani side declared that convening the Minsk conference was impossible unless the status quo of April 1992 was restored.

In order to overcome the disagreement between the conflicting sides and to restore the dialogue, a meeting of 11 Minsk conference participating states was held in Rome on June 1-5, 1992, on the invitation of Italy, followed by four other meetings (June15-20, June 29 - July 6, July 31-August 5 and September 7-10 in 1992).

As a result, the extraordinary meeting of the CSCE Minsk conference participating states turned into a series of meetings and led to the creation of an auxiliary structure – the Minsk Group.2

The format of participation, as well as the status of the representatives of Nagorno Karabakh in the Minsk Group was the key issue during the discussions in Rome. Though the wording “elected and other representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh”, adopted on March 24, 1992 in Helsinki allowed official Stepanakert to take part in the negotiation process, however a deadlock situation arose: the status of Nagorno Karabakh had to be defined during the Minsk conference, while the format of Nagorno Karabakh’s participation in the negotiation process was dependent on its status.3

Azerbaijan insisted that there was no need for the participation of Nagorno Karabakh representatives in the solution of basic problems. The maximum to which the Azerbaijani side agreed was to give NK representatives an advisory vote during the meetings of the working groups. On the other hand, the leadership of Nagorno Karabakh argued that their participation in the negotiation process was conditioned by the clarification of its status and the format of participation. Since no clarification was provided, the delegation of the NKR did not take part in the two initial meetings. The delegation of Nagorno Karabakh arrived in Rome close to the end of the 3rd round.

By the end of 5 rounds of negotiations in Rome it became clear that it was impossible to convene the Minsk conference because of the existing strong contradictions in the positions of the sides of the conflict. Furthermore, Azerbaijan twice interrupted the negotiation process: in September 1992 the president of Azerbaijan A. Elchibey refused to stop the hostilities for 60 days, and in April 1993 the Azerbaijani side left the consultations of the Minsk Group in Geneva and refused to take part in the Minsk process unless the forces of Karabakh left Karvachar (Kelbajar).

The uncertainty over the issue of Nagorno Karabakh’s status and the format of its participation in the negotiation process remained one of the basic obstacles in achieving tangible progress. Though the course of the conflict itself demonstrated explicitly that Nagorno Karabakh was a party to the conflict (as proved by the fact that more than 10 agreements were reached between the NKR and Azerbaijan in 1992 on restrictions of hostilities, on temporary ceasefire or on its extension), it was only in 1993 that international community recognized that fact, which was then reflected in the final document of CSCE Budapest summit in 1994 and was reaffirmed in the resume of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on March 31, 1995 in Prague.

Under the circumstances of a stalling negotiation process in the framework of the Minsk Group, Russia multiplied its mediation efforts and the ceasefire agreement signed in May 1994 became possible. To consolidate the efforts of Russia and the CSCE/OSCE, a decision was adopted during the CSCE summit in Budapest (December 1994) to establish the institute of co-chairmanship4 of the Minsk process and the Minsk Group. The first co-chairs were Russia and Sweden (from April 1996 Sweden was substituted by Finland).

In January 1995, the negotiations were resumed in the framework of the Minsk Group. According to the decision of the Budapest summit the negotiations were conducted between three sides: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh. However, in the beginning of 1997, the negotiations were broken off when under the blackmail of the Azerbaijani delegation threatening to veto the entire final document of the OSCE Lisbon summit (December 1996)5, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office made a statement on the principles of the settlement of the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict. In fact, those principles predetermined the results of the negotiations; hence they were rejected both by Armenia and the NKR. After the Lisbon summit the sides met for consultations only once, in April 1997.

In 1997 a tripartite Co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group was established (Russia, France, USA). In 1997-98 the co-chairs proposed to the sides three projects on the conflict settlement as a basis for the resumption of negotiations: a Comprehensive agreement on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement (June, 1997), an Agreement on the cessation of the Nagorno Karabakh armed conflict (September, 1997) and an Agreement on the principles of a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (November, 1998). The first two proposals were rejected by Nagorno Karabakh and the third one by Azerbaijan. Subsequently, the president of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev admitted that none of those three proposals was acceptable for Azerbaijan, and the acceptance of the first two proposals had mere tactical character.6

In April 1999, in the framework of the session of the Council of CIS Heads of States in Moscow and then at the summit dedicated to the 50th anniversary of NATO in Washington the first direct meetings took place between the presidents of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan and Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, initiating a series of meetings on the highest level.

Since 1999, the process of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution has been carried out through the meetings of presidents and other official representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as by means of shuttle visits of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs to Stepanakert, Baku and Yerevan.

On January 26 and March 4-5, 2001 two rounds of negotiations were held between the president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and the president of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev in Paris, with the participation of the president of France, Jacques Chirac. The meeting in Paris was followed by the negotiations of Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Key West (Florida, USA) from April 3 to 7, 2001. This meeting was opened by the US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Diplomats from two other Co-chairing states of the OSCE Minsk Group took active participation in preparing and holding the meeting in Key West, as well. By the end of the negotiations president of the USA George Bush had a meeting with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, no concrete results were achieved during the negotiations in Key West. Nevertheless, the agreements reached in Key West have not been realized, primarily due to the subsequent rejection of them by president Heydar Aliyev.

On June 22, 2006 the Co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group made a statement at the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna, and presented the basic principles of conflict settlement, noting that they “exhausted their imagination on the issue of recognition, formulation and finalization of those principles”. On June 29, 2007, during the OSCE Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Madrid the text of the basic principles for conflict settlement (subsequently called “Madrid principles”) was officially conveyed to the ministers of foreign affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

On July 10, 2009, the presidents of the OSCE Minsk group Co-chair states (Russia, France and USA) adopted a joint statement during the G8 summit in L'Aquila (Italy), revealing the main notions proposed by the mediators on the basic principles of Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict settlement. Similar statements were adopted by the presidents of Russia, France and the USA during the G8 summits in Muskoka (Canada) on June 26, 2010, in Deauville (France) on May 26, 2011, in Los Cabos (Mexico) on June 18, 2012 and in Enniskillen (UK) on June 18, 2013.

After the first joint statement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chair states (L'Aquila, 2009) the MFA of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic made a statement on July 17, 2009 stressing the necessity to restart the distorted negotiation process, to return the NKR as a full-fledged side to the negotiations and to transform the basic principles of the settlement. The position of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic remains unchanged.




1. The Committee of Senior Officials was the CSCE operational administrative body.

2. Vladimir Kazimirov. Peace for Karabakh. Russia's Mediation in the Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. – Moscow. VES MIR Pulishers. 2014.  p. 56

3. С. Золян. Нагорный Карабах: Проблема и конфликт. – Ереван. Издательство «Лингва», 2001. (S. Zolyan. Nagorno-Karabakh: The problem and the conflict. Yerevan. «Lingva». 2001)

4. On March 23, 1995, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, implementing the decisions of Budapest summit, issued a mandate of Co-chairmanship in the Minsk process.

5. The interview of the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev to the Azerbaijani journalists on board the plane while returning after the OSCE Lisbon summit – December 5, 1996

6. The speech of the president of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the session of Milli Mejlis, February 23, 2001.

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