Marxism and the National Question: Nagorno-Karabakh in Context

Below is a copied and pasted version of a paper I published on (here) in which I attempt to apply Marxist dialectics and Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. For the full bibliography, please visit my page.

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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, social disintegration and political instability caused by the overthrow of the Soviet Union sparked numerous ethnic and territorial conflicts in many newly independent Soviet republics. Some of these conflicts never ended but became “frozen” (a slightly misleading but frequently used term) due to stalemate, leaving some regions de facto independent for the last several decades.

Among these “frozen” conflicts is that which involves Nagorno-Karabakh (officially known as the Republic of Artsakh). Between 1988-94, Karabakh Armenians, with the support of the Armenian SSR (later the Republic of Armenia), fought a brutal war against the Azerbaijani SSR (later the Republic of Azerbaijan). The war killed an estimated 20,000, and displaced another 1.5 million, making it one of the bloodiest post-Soviet conflicts[1]. In April 2016, fighting erupted between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, in which “dozens of Armenian and Azerbaijani tanks ‘squared off against one another in open battle.’”[2]

On the one hand, Karabakh Armenians, supported by Armenia, argue that Nagorno-Karabakh has the right to self-determination. On the other, Azerbaijani leaders, supported by the U.S. and most Western countries, Turkey,[3] and Israel,[4] argue that Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession violates the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

What can Marxism and Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination tell us about the conflict vis-à-vis Nagorno-Karabakh? This is more than an exercise in semantics; Nagorno-Karabakh is the “most dangerous unresolved conflict in wider Europe,” writes Thomas de Waal, with the potential for a new “catastrophic war”[5].

In this paper I will attempt to argue, using Marxism and Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination under specific conditions as my basis, that Nagorno-Karabakh should cede from Azerbaijan.

Tsarist Russia and Azerbaijan: A Comparison

When examining the Leninist theory of the right of nations to self-determination and its applicability in the context of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is worth noting the extensive similarities between Azerbaijan today and tsarist Russia. The conditions of the working-class in Azerbaijan, both Azeri and of national minorities, namely Armenians, mirror those that existed in Russia prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Joseph Stalin, in The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik), described in detail the conditions of workers in Russia.

Exceedingly hard was the lot of the workers in tsarist Russia. In the eighties the working day in the mills and factories was not less than 12½ hours, and in the textile industry reached 14 to 15 hours. The exploitation of female and child labour was widely resorted to. Children worked the same hours as adults, but, like the women, received a much smaller wage. Wages were inordinately low. The majority of the workers were paid seven or eight rubles per month. The most highly paid workers in the metal works and foundries received no more than 35 rubles per month. There were no regulations for the protection of labour, with the result that workers were maimed and killed in large numbers. Workers were not insured, and all medical services had to be paid for. Housing conditions were appalling. In the factory-owned barracks, workers were crowded as many as 10 or 12 to a small “cell.” In paying wages, the manufacturers often cheated the workers, compelled them to make their purchases in the factory-owned shops at exorbitant prices, and mulcted them by means of fines[6].

Since the overthrow of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism in the country, the working and living conditions of Azerbaijani workers have become little better than those that existed for Russian workers under tsarism.

Despite the country’s immense natural resources, as the title of an article by Audrey L Altstadt reads, “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Nothing”[7]. According to one non-profit organization, 80-85% of Azerbaijanis are low-wage workers and live in poor conditions[8].

Gulnara Suleymanova and her family, who when interviewed in 2015 were living in a ‘wagon’ behind the newly constructed European Games sports stadium, described the struggles of workers in ‘booming’ Azerbaijan. “Water, gas, [and] electricity are all one big problem” for her and her family, Suleymanova said. “I don’t have a table. I can’t offer you a chair, because I don’t have it…This is both my living room and bedroom. I don’t have proper curtains. If you ask for a bathroom, we don’t have it either,” she told her interviewers[9].

Another worker, a 67-year-old woman named Ziyafat (a pseudonym), who works as a street sweeper in Baku, told the popular Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov how hard it is to live off her $81/month state pension. “We cannot live like this,” Ziyafat says in a video recorded by Huseynov. “It costs money to visit the doctor, to buy medicine. The money is never enough to survive to the end of the month. I cannot afford to visit the doctor myself, nor can I provide my daughter with medical treatment. Putting myself aside, my daughter urgently needs treatment. I buy her some medicines every month so she doesn’t get worse”[10].

The experiences of Ziyafat and Suleymanova are far from being isolated cases. Crushed between low-wages — the average salary in Baku is $250 — and the high cost of living — Baku is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in — many workers lack such basic necessities as hot water, gas and electricity[11].

Such poverty is in stark contrast to the ruling elite. In 2010, it was revealed that the 11-year-old son of Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, is the owner of nine luxury mansions worth millions in Dubai[12].

Working conditions in Azerbaijan, even in the relatively high-wage oil industry, also leave much to be desired. Notwithstanding the existence of labour laws, according to Mirvari Qahremanli of the Committee for the Protection of Oil Workers, “Violation of labor rights in Azerbaijan is a frequent occurrence.”[13] The high mortality rate of those working in Azerbaijan’s oil industry has made international headlines. On December 4th, 2015, 30 workers on an offshore oil-rig were killed after a 27-hour storm raged across the Caspian Sea. This was the deadliest such disaster since 1989, when a U.S. offshore drilling ship in Thailand capsized in a typhoon, killing 90[14]. At least three other oil-workers on a different offshore oil-rig were killed in that same storm on that same date[15]. Just how dangerous working conditions for oil-workers are in Azerbaijan can be discerned when one compares Azerbaijan’s relatively small oil workforce compared to Britain. Approximately 260,000 workers were employed in Britain’s oil industry in 2014, but between 2014-16, a total of two workers died. Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company, SOCAR, employed 61,000 workers in 2014, but between 2013-16, an average of 18 workers died each year[16].

Under tsarism, Stalin wrote, if workers attempted to protest their intolerable working conditions, there “stood a veritable army of sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, gendarmes, constables, rural police, who protected the tsar, the capitalists and the landlords from the toiling and exploited people…Workers were manhandled by the police and the Cossacks, especially during strikes, when the workers downed tools because their lives had been made intolerable by the manufacturers. Under the tsars the workers and peasants had no political rights whatever.”[17]

In Azerbaijan, if workers protest against poor working or living conditions, they are most likely to be brutally repressed by the police, such as in October 2019[18]. Since 1999, Azerbaijani labour law includes an article explicitly prohibiting workers from protesting under threat of fines and imprisonment[19]. The latter is no idle threat. According to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), “torture and other forms of physical ill-treatment by the police and other law enforcement agencies, corruption in the whole law enforcement system and impunity remain systemic and endemic” in Azerbaijan[20]. Indicative of how repressive the U.S. and Israeli-backed Azerbaijani regime is can be seen in the treatment of the popular Azerbaijani blogger described above. After having “defamed” the police about his treatment in custody, “plainclothed officers attacked Huseynov, blindfolded and gagged him, forced a bag over his head, used an electroshock weapon on his groin, and punched him, bloodying his nose.”[21]

“Tsarist Russia was a prison of nations,” Stalin wrote. Non-Russian minorities “were entirely devoid of rights and were subjected to constant insult and humiliation of every kind. The tsarist government taught the Russian population to look down upon the native peoples of the national regions as an inferior race, officially referred to them as inorodtsi (aliens), and fostered contempt and hatred of them. The tsarist government deliberately fanned national discord, instigated one nation against another, engineered Jewish pogroms and, in Transcaucasia, incited Tatars and Armenians to massacre each other.”[22]

In Azerbaijan, anti-Armenian sentiment is widespread, possibly more so than in any other country except Turkey, responsible as it was for the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the Azerbaijani regime for “implementing [a] large-scale propaganda campaign, disseminating racial hatred and prejudice against Armenians.”[23] Just how widespread and serious the regime’s Armenophobia is can be best understood in the words of Hajibala Abutalybov, who served as mayor of Baku between 2001-18. In 2005, Abutalybov reportedly told a visiting German delegation: “Our goal is the complete elimination of Armenians. You, Nazis, already eliminated the Jews in the 1930s and 40s, right? You should be able to understand us.”[24] Even the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has implored Israel to not sell any weapons to Azerbaijan, a close Israeli ally, due to Azerbaijan’s genocidal policies towards Armenians.[25]

The Right of Nations to Self-Determination

Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, in The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, outlined “the special concrete, historical features of the national question in Russia that make the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination in the present period a matter of special urgency” in Russia[26]. These were:

first, that “subject peoples”…inhabit the border regions; secondly, the oppression of these subject peoples is much stronger here than in the neighbouring states (and not even in the European states alone); thirdly, in a number of cases the oppressed nationalities inhabiting the border regions have compatriots across the border, who enjoy greater national independence (suffice it to mention the Finns, the Swedes, the Poles, the Ukrainians and the Rumanians along the western and southern frontiers of the state); fourthly, the development of capitalism and the general level of culture are often higher in the non-Russian border regions than in the centre. Lastly, it is in the neighbouring Asian states that we see the beginning of a phase of bourgeois revolutions and national movements which are spreading to some of the kindred nationalities within the borders of Russia.[27]

With the exception of the last condition, all of these conditions are easily discernable in Azerbaijan, under the present tsarist-like regime.

Azerbaijan’s “subject peoples”, which are primarily Armenian, inhabit Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a border region. Nagorno-Karabakh shares a border with Armenia, where Armenians “enjoy greater national independence” than they do in Azerbaijan. While capitalism is not as highly developed in Nagorno-Karabakh as it is in Azerbaijan, due to the latter’s international recognition and greater natural and human resources, the “general level of culture” arguably is.

Unlike Azerbaijan’s mafia-like capitalist system, Karabakh Armenians enjoy a form of social democracy, albeit distorted through war, militarization, and the lack of international recognition. With a fraction of the natural and labour resources of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh was able to rebuild its capital, Stepanakert, a formerly “bombed-out city with more than a passing resemblance to post-war Sarajevo” into “a small yet bustling urban centre, featuring well-paved boulevards, neatly maintained gardens, and a wealth of public amenities,” writes Aleksey Antimonov.[28] Karabakh Armenians are entitled to subsidies for gas and electricity that sometimes covers a household’s entire monthly bill, and the state “insures all residents who live close to the line of contact [with Azerbaijan], with any damage from the conflict (such as homes damaged by shelling or cattle killed by gunfire) covered by the state.”[29]

Impressively, after the small town of Talish was destroyed by the Azerbaijani military in April 2016, the townspeople, with the support of the government, established a collective. “It will be like a Soviet kolkhoz,” the town’s mayor, Vilen Petrosyan, said excitedly, “but different. Instead of giving our profits to the government, the community will decide what to do with them”. According to Antimonov, as of 2018, this modern day kolkhoz is “producing honey, fruit and vegetables, spirits, meat, and dairy — with several dozen workers employed by the social enterprise composed of former Talish residents (entirely men) who have returned to the village as government contractors, working to rebuild their homes and defend them in case of an attack.”[30]

Although more than 100 years have passed since The Right of Nations to Self-Determination was published (1914), enough similarities exist between the conditions Lenin outlines vis-à-vis tsarist Russia, when self-determination up to and including secession was of “special urgency,” and modern-day Azerbaijan, to warrant support for Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from the latter. However, if we use the various nationalities of the Soviet Union that achieved the status of Soviet Socialist Republic as a precedent for the application of Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination up to and including secession, a stronger case can be made for the right to self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh under currently existing conditions than for a number of minorities that existed in the Soviet Union. Among the two most important of these conditions is the historic and cultural significance of land, and, in a world dominate by U.S.-led Western imperialism, the “Kosovo precedent”.

Historical and Cultural Significance of Nagorno-Karabakh

While not one of Lenin’s conditions, when considering the applicability of Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination today, the historic and cultural significance of a territory must be taken into consideration. As Stalin himself wrote in Marxism and the National Question, a “nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture” [emphasis added].[31]

The ethnic mosaic that is the Caucasus makes it impossible to know with absolute certainty whether the original inhabitants of present-day Nagorno-Karabakh were Armenians, Azeris, or their descendants. Arguments and counterarguments have been presented by scholars from both Armenia and Azerbaijan claiming Nagorno-Karabakh as part of their own unique heritage for decades.

While there can be no doubt that the territory of present-day Nagorno-Karabakh is of historical and cultural significance to all the peoples of the Caucasus, indeed the world, the evidence indicates a greater Armenian historic and cultural presence than an Azeri one.

Armenian scholars “have amassed a wealth of historical evidence to support their claim that Nagorno-Karabakh has for centuries been a heartland of Armenian civilization,” writes Michael Croissant.[32] According to one scholar, “Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), as a part of Armenia, is mentioned in the works of Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Claudius Ptolemy, Plutarch, Dio Cassius and other ancient authors.”[33]

Azerbaijan, however, only “emerged on the political map in 1918” following the Russian Revolution.[34] Unlike Armenians, notes Zhazira Ongarova, “Azerbaijani ethnic identity is a relatively recently established phenomenon.”[35] This fact, explains Alireza Asgharzadeh, is easily discernable in the evolution of identity categories used by Azerbaijanis since the 1990s. These include Azeri, Azeri-Turk, Turk, Iranian-Turk, Azerbaijani-Turk, even North and South-Azeraijani Turk.[36] “Consensus is nowhere in sight regarding a uniform Azeri identity,” Asgharzadeh concludes. “Azerbaijanis identify themselves based on their experiences within specific environments, without being able to connect these various contexts with a more comprehensive general term.”[37]

During the 1920s and national territorial delimitation in the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh was ceded to the Azerbaijan SSR and not the Armenian SSR. If Nagorno-Karabakh is historically and culturally closer to Armenia and Armenians, then why did the Soviet Union cede Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijan SSR and not the Armenian SSR?

It is easy — and convenient — for Western scholars to see this as the product of the ‘divide-and-conquer’ policies of the Soviet Union. There are numerous issues with this narrative, as I explained in another paper[38]. The Soviet Union’s socialist socioeconomic system was incompatible with colonialism and imperialism, and even if it weren’t, the regions in which alleged Soviet machinations have been attributed to ‘divide-and-conquer’ policies were already thoroughly divided long before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.[39]

The decision to cede Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijan SSR and not the Armenian SSR was primarily due to economic considerations, not sinister Soviet hegemonic aspirations. Since national territorial delimitation was concerned with fostering socialist development and minimizing ethnic conflict that plagued many regions of the former tsarist empire, economic concerns sometimes overrode nationality.[40] This explains how, for instance, the mostly Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara were ceded to the Uzbekistan SSR and not the Tajikistan SSR, which Adeeb Khalid explains in further detail in his study on the creation of Uzbekistan.[41] Economic considerations, even more so than in the case of Samarkand and Bukhara, explain why Nagorno-Karabakh was not included within the Armenian SSR. As P. L. Dash explains,

The economy and geography of Nagorno-Karabakh are closely inter-related. The main transport links, highway and railway, tend eastward and southward. The principal rail route stemming north-east from Stepanakert to Yevlakh in Azerbaijan connects Yevlakh-Stepanakert subline with Baku-Tbilisi main rail line. There is another route connecting Stepanakert with Garadiz near the Iranian border. The hilly region in the west does not have any transportable road from Nagorno-Karabakh to Yerevan. A mountainous road crossing the Armenian panhandle goes through Nakhichevan ASSR to Yerevan. Thus, the best possible railway connection of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia is either through Baku or through the line along the Iranian border crossing various townships such as Ardubad, Dzhulfa, Nakhichevan, Itkechevsk, Ararat and Artashat on the way to Yerevan.[42]

Although there is no doubt that Nagorno-Karabakh is significant to both the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan, historically and culturally, Nagorno-Karabakh is somewhat closer to the former than the latter.

The significance of this with regards to the application of Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination, however, has less to do with the Armenian-Azeri divide than the close historic and cultural ties Armenians have to the land. Prior to national territorial delimitation in 1924, the Turkmen people, the titular head of the Turkmen SSR, for instance, had little connection to the land in which they lived. The “Turkmen, like other pastoral nomads, tended to see mobility as their guarantee of independence and autonomy and looked down on neighboring peasant peoples as weak and easily victimized,” writes Adrienne Lynn Edgar.[43] Consequently, like other pastoral nomadic peoples, “the Turkmen conceptualized community boundaries in terms of genealogy rather than territory. Instead of a spatial landscape of interconnected villages and towns, they conceived of a network of interconnected kin groups and ancestors, a genealogical tree whose branches had no necessary relationship to specific geographical locations.”[44]

This does not mean land wasn’t important to the Turkmen, or that the Turkmen SSR should never have been created. However, when evaluating the applicability of Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination, the fact that the self-identity of some nations, like the Turkmen, had to be artificially fixed to a land for the creation of a national republic is a strong precedent to those nations that have a deep historic and cultural connection to their respective lands. In other words, if a people who don’t necessarily meet the criteria of a nation due to the lack of  “a common language, territory, economic life” are entitled to the right to self-determination, those that do meet such a criteria are most certainly entitled to such a right.

Legal Status of Nagorno-Karabakh (“Kosovo Precedent”)

A lot has been written about the legality of Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan, especially since Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008, which sparked considerable debate as to whether Kosovo could serve as a precedent for other separatist movements. Again, while this is outside the scope of Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination, in the age of imperialism it can hardly be ignored.

Currently only Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria, themselves all de facto independent states, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan. Yet when Kosovo declared independence on February 17th, 2008, it was almost immediately recognized as an independent state by most Western states, including the U.S., Britain, France, etc. On June 26th, 2016, Egypt became the 100th country to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

What explains this veritable stampede by Western countries and their allies in the Global South to recognize Kosovo’s secession from Serbia?

The recognition of Kosovo and not Nagorno-Karabakh has little, if anything, to do with international law.

In 1970, UN Secretary-General U Thant stated: “As far as the question of secession of a particular section of a Member State is concerned, the United Nations attitude is unequivocable. As an international organization, the United Nations has never accepted and does not accept and I do not believe it will ever accept a principle of secession of a part of a Member State”. According to scholar Tim Potier, it is doubtful whether the right of peoples to secession “will ever exist in international law,” since such right would “undoubtedly threaten not just international peace and security, but the international framework as a whole.”[45]

Both Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh, moreover, notes Manushak Arakelian, share “the same claim, the demand for independence, and the means, their right to self-determination, but also the fact that they had in common more characteristics, such as having been parts of big empires, having undergone ethnic cleansing, and having expressed through referenda their whish [sic] of becoming independent”.[46] Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh also “both belonged to a multi-ethnic federation, upon collapse of which they automatically stayed included in the territory of one of the seceding states of that federation”.[47] If international law recognizes the secession of Kosovo from Serbia but not Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan, then ‘international law’ in this context is a euphemism for the imperialist interests of the U.S. and other Western states.

Neither do explanations outside the scope of international law satisfactorily explain U.S. and Western willingness to recognize Kosovo’s independence and not Nagorno-Karabakh’s.

Bahruz Balayev, in The Right to Self-Determination in the South Caucasus: Nagorno Karabakh in Context, attempts to argue that Kosovo is unique compared to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh.[48]

Unlike Kosovo, where “pro-Western authorities positioned themselves from the beginning as supporters of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures,” Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh risk never achieving Western recognition due to these territories’ ties to Russia. In other words, according to Balayev, Kosovo’s secession from Serbia is legitimate because Kosovo is closer to the U.S. and other Western states, whereas Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh are closer to Russia. Whether a territory is politically closer to the U.S. and other Western states or to a rival state such as Russia, China, etc., can hardly be used as a yardstick for determining if that territory’s secession from another state is legitimate.[49]

According to Balyev, “We should also pay attention to the arguments of the secession demands of Kosovo on the one hand, and the separatist movements in the post-Soviet space, on the other. The only argument in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Prednestrovie [Transnistria], and Nagorno Karabakh was, and still is, a reference to the right of the people to self-determination.” Balayev contrasts this to how the “main emphasis of Kosovars was on human rights, democratic elections, and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.”[50] There is no basis for arguing that the political ideology takes precedence over the right of nations to self-determination, a principle affirmed by the International Court of Justice in the cases of Namibia, Western Sahara, and East Timor.[51]

An even more dubious assertion made by Balayev is that ““The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was done by Serbia (mother country), not Albania. In Karabakh, it was done by Armenia, not Azerbaijan. In Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia, not Georgia.” This is outright false.[52]

First, in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, there was inter-ethnic violence; it was far from being one-sided. In Azerbaijan, two notable anti-Armenian pogroms include the 1988 Sumgait pogrom, in which anywhere from 30 to 200+ Armenians were massacred, the largest anti-Armenian massacre since the 1915 genocide[53], and the Baku pogrom in 1990, in which 90+ Armenians were murdered in Azerbaijan’s capital.[54]

Secondly, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) itself ethnically cleansed in Kosovo. This organization, which, according to the Balayev, was fighting for “human rights” and “democratic elections”, has been linked to numerous crimes, including: mass expulsions and displacement of ethnic Serbs, both during and after the war (as early as 1999, some 170,000 of Kosovo’s pre-war population of 200,000 Serbs had been expelled or fled to Serbia[55]), the use of child soldiers to fight for the KLA[56], the use of KLA-controlled concentration and torture camps[57],[58] the destruction of over 100 Serbian churches[59], and even the harvesting of organs from Serbs[60]. To claim that Kosovars were the victims of ethnic cleansing, as if there was no inter-ethnic violence vis-à-vis Kosovars and Serbians, is to whitewash the numerous documented crimes committed by the KLA, while to claim that the KLA emphasized human rights and democratic elections is patently false.

One important difference between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh that Balayev does not list in his book is how, unlike Kosovo, as Arakelian underscores, Nagorno-Karabakh “was an independent region during several short times of its history opposite to Kosovo, which was never a sovereign entity.”[61]

Arguments against Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan can equally be applied in the case of Kosovo. Some Armenian scholars and politicians have argued that, considering how Nagorno-Karabakh has been de facto independent from Azerbaijan since the end of active hostilities in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent state, regardless of its legal status under international law.

In The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Legal Analysis, legal scholar Heiko Krüger rejects this assertion.[62] “From the perspective of modern international law,” Krüger writes, “which seeks to prevent conflicts, such an approach would be very questionable. In this case all that would be required to establish legal facts would be sufficient military stamina and adequate foreign support.” According to Krüger, Nagorno-Karabakh’s government “cannot be considered an effective government under the classic concept of statehood” because of its significant dependence “upon the military involvement of Armenia,” which “took an active part in the military occupation of Karabakh and the seven surrounding districts between 1993 and 1994.”[63]

There are serious implications for a number of states if Krüger’s arguments against Nagorno-Karabakh’s statehood are accepted.

The former Yugoslavia was actively dismembered into a number of smaller states, including Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc., with the active support of the U.S., NATO, and the Bretton Woods institutions. “That Washington consciously intended to undermine the socialist government of Yugoslavia one way or another is not a matter of speculation but of public record,” writes Michael Parenti.[64] Among the ways the U.S. worked to dismember Yugoslavia was by threatening “to cut off aid if Yugoslavia did not hold elections in 1990, further stipulating that these elections were to be conducted only within the various republics and not at the federal level.”[65] After Congress passed the 1991 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, U.S. aid began to flow into “the separate republics, not to the Yugoslav government, further weakening federal ties. Arms shipments and military advisers poured into the secessionist republics of Slovenia and Croatia, particularly from Germany and Austria. German instructors even engaged in combat against the Yugoslav People’s Army.”[66]

When this wasn’t enough, NATO bombed Yugoslavia on behalf of the Bosnian separatists in 1994, and later on behalf of Kosovar separatists in 1999.[67]

Thus, if Nagorno-Karabakh lacks statehood because of Armenian military and financial support, then so do the various states that were forcibly detached from the former Yugoslavia by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Another argument frequently cited against Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan is the importance of the territorial integrity of states. In 2018, NATO reiterated its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and other states in the Caucasus.[68] However, as Cameron S. Brown demonstrates, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is not as significant a factor vis-à-vis Nagorno-Karabakh as is Greater Azeri chauvinism and the imperialist interests of the U.S. and its allies.[69]

Firstly, where was this support for the territorial integrity of states when NATO warplanes bombed Yugoslavia, or more recently, in U.S. support for the balkanization of Iraq[70] and Syria[71]?

Secondly, simultaneously as Azerbaijani leaders argue that Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession violates the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani leaders threaten the territorial integrity of Iran by calling for the unification of all Azerbaijani peoples.[72] “On the one hand,” writes Cameron S. Brown, “the Azerbaijani claim to control over Karabakh seems to rest on the notion of the sanctity of historic state borders and territorial integrity, claiming that even if an ethnic minority has a majority in a given region of a country, it is not sufficient grounds for gaining full independence or being annexed to a bordering country. Simultaneously, the often-irredentist Azerbaijani claims vis-a-vis Iran’s northwest Azerbaijani provinces are based on precisely the opposite claim. Azerbaijani nationalists maintain that even though the two Azerbaijans have been split for almost two centuries — and despite the fact that when they were unified, it was as part of an Iranian empire — this split is an historic lapse, a tragedy that split an ethnic group in half, and a wrong which must be corrected. (The irony, of course, is that this is also the type of claim Armenia makes regarding Karabakh.)”[73]


To summarize all that has been discussed, Nagorno-Karabakh should cede from Azerbaijan because:

  • According to Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination up to and including secession, with the restoration of capitalism and its alliance with imperialism, the conditions in Azerbaijan, if only to a lesser degree, are similar to those that existed in tsarist Russia. Consequently, Azerbaijan’s Karabakh Armenian minority has the right to self-determination up to and including secession.
  • Historically, demographically, and culturally, Nagorno-Karabakh is closer to the Armenian people than to the Azeri people.
  • Since the right to secession is not enshrined in international law, Nagorno-Karabakh has an equal, if not greater, right to independence than any number of independent states that have been forcibly detached from a “mother” country, such as Yugoslavia, by U.S.-led Western imperialism (the “Kosovo precedent”).

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