The Armenians of Karabakh, constituting the demographic majority, bolster their claim based on democratic principles, Leninist notions of self-determination and article 70 of the Soviet Constitution. Azerbaijanis countered with defences of territorial integrity based on Article 78 of the Soviet Constitution. Thus, the right of self-determination of the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh collides with the right of sovereinty of the Republic of Azerbaijan. How can a solution, in accordance with international law, be found to the problem?

A detailed research of the Karabakh issue according to international law, was carried out by a well-known specialist in international law Dr. Otto Luchterhandt, the director of East European Research Departmentment at the University of Hamburg. He writes;

“The right of self-determination is not only a political principle but a rule of existing international law. The people of Nagorny Karabakh is the subject of the right to self-determination. The people of Nagorny Karabakh can claim for the highest level fulfillment of the law of self-determination – secession from the state of Azerbaijan because on the one hand its restriction to the status of a national minority stands in no reasonable relation to its legitimate interests in development and protection, and on the other hand the measure of its oppression has reached such unbearable proportions, that remaining in the federation of Azerbaijan has become unacceptable and it has announced it will for self-determination in an unmistakable and convincing manner”.9

According to the “Principle Catalogue” of the CSCE-Final act;

“The participating States will respect the equal rights of peoples and their right to self-determination, acting at all times in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and with the relevant norms of international law, including those relating to territorial integrity of States.

By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, all peoples always have the right, in full freedon, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development”.

The entry into force of the two Covenants on Human Rights of January 16, 1966, on January 3 and March 23, 1976, has led to the certainly that the peoples’ right to self-determination is a norm of universal international law.

In the sphere of tention between the right of self-determination and state sovereignity, the aim is to bring both rights on rules into a justifiable state of balance, which takes into account the weight of each in the particular case. Principle 10, Paragraph 4 of the Principle Catalogue of the CSCE Final Act, attempts to express the same thought by formulating that every one of the 10 principles must be interpreted taking into account the other nine .10

Some authors identify the right of self-determination with the right of secession, without recognizing its firm connection with national autonomy, others make considerable demands on the precedence of the principle of territorial integrity. In principle the right of self-determination and sovereignty are of equal strength and priority, as recognized by the Friendly Relations Declaration of 1970, finding their firm place in Principle Catalogue. In spite of the fact that the two norms of law are of the same legal quality, both of them in fact possess different importance. Due to the fact that the integrity of states is of outstanding significance, the right of self-determination in its offensive form appears as a dynamic principle which, with more or less revolutionary force, changes or even destroys existing structures and especially alters the borders of one or more states. This basic relation between sovereignty and self-determination must lead to the maxim that the realization of the right of self-determination can only take place, and is only justified, if the sovereignity of states concerned is preserved to the greatest possible extent. The reasons for exercising the right of self-determination must meet higher and stricter standards. Quite rightly the prevailing in literature on international law takes the view that the right of secession can be claimed under special conditions, only in exceptional cases in contrast to the regular case of having to respect the sovereignty.11

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