The case of Kosovo inadvertently laid out a framework for remedial secession that applies directly to the case of Artsakh [(Nagorno-Karabakh)] and the expression of its right to self-determination in the face of the existential threat posed by Azerbaijan, writes Alex Galitsky, Communications Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)—Western Region, in an article published in National Interest.
“While addressing Armenian supporters at a campaign rally on Sunday, [US] President Donald Trump invoked Kosovo in his pledge to resolve the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the South Caucasus. In doing so, Trump may have inadvertently acknowledged the solution to Azerbaijan’s decades of aggression against Armenia—the recognition of Artsakh’s independence.
Under international law, territorial integrity is generally considered inviolable except in certain circumstances—such as when a state violates the fundamental rights of a protected group. This principle—the right to remedial secession—has been enshrined in numerous documents of international law, but it wasn’t until Kosovo’s declaration of independence and subsequent recognition in 2008 that this theory was put into practice.
Despite the fact that self-determination exists as a fundamental right under international law, when the United States recognized Kosovo a statement by then-Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice argued that Kosovo ‘cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.’
But while Secretary Rice sought to appeal to the sui generis nature of Kosovo’s situation, she inadvertently laid out a framework for remedial secession that applies directly to the case of Artsakh and the expression of its right to self-determination in the face of the existential threat posed by Azerbaijan.
Clearly, the argument against Kosovo being precedential is not a rejection of the legitimacy of the right to remedial secession. On the contrary, it affirms that very fundamental right by establishing a high evidentiary threshold for recognition. And on the basis of these criteria, a clear case can be made for Artsakh’s recognition under the Kosovo framework.
Artsakh, like Kosovo, was an autonomous province under the administrative control of a constituent republic—Soviet Azerbaijan—which, like the Socialist Republic Serbia, ceased to exist upon the dissolution of the parent state. Like Kosovo, Artsakh was subject to a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Azerbaijan, as it sought to desperately maintain pre-dissolution borders. Artsakh has also earned its sovereignty, having achieved independence through a popular referendum and developed institutions of governance that have ensured the peaceful and democratic transition of power for three decades. And finally, in light of the threat of genocide posed by Azerbaijan, independence is the only remaining recourse that can safeguard the existence of Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian population.
But while the legal and moral imperative for self-determination is irrefutable, politicization and geopolitical posturing often comes in the way of its enforcement,” the article also notes in particular.