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Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated in the National Assembly that according to the Madrid Principles, Armenia recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. He also noted that the plebiscite provided by the document could not imply the independence of Artsakh or the status outside of Azerbaijan given the prospect of a possible change in the proportion of the national composition. Fact Investigation Platform studied the published version of the document where there is no mention of recognizing Nagorno-Karabkh as part of Azerbaijan. We have studied the explanation of the word “plebiscite” using several international professional dictionaries, and we have also shown that Pashinyan’s claim about changing the national proportion in the event of a delayed plebiscite mentioned in the Madrid document is also manipulative.
On April 18, in response to the question of Artur Khachatryan, deputy of the National Assembly “Hayastan” faction, Pashinyan noted that in 2007 the Madrid Principles appeared where it was stipulated that the clarification of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the whole process should be coordinated with Azerbaijan. “Why should we coordinate with Azerbaijan, if we do not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan? And we did recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan by Madrid Principles,” he said.
In response to the question of MP Artsvik Minasyan from the same faction, the Prime Minister of Armenia addressed the referendum envisaged by Madrid Principles. “Plebiscite and referendum: these words, were specifically one of the key debates of the Kazan process… Azerbaijan said what plebiscite was. The plebiscite means that we have to walk around, ask what is happening, who has what opinion, and eventually make a decision. The stance of the Armenian side was that it should be a referendum.”
Pashinyan also raised the question that if in 1991 our stance was that Karabakh was not part of Azerbaijan, why were the terms and other issues discussed with Azerbaijan? “Azerbaijan also says: very well, you discuss the terms and other issues with me, I say that whether it is a plebiscite or a referendum, it should take place in 100 years. And you have recognized the right of Azerbaijanis of Nagorno-Karabakh. Very well, they will return, because you recognized that the free expression of the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh should be expressed in the popular referendum. So the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh should be there, but let me tell you something else, if we have dived so deep, let’s go even deeper. Two Azerbaijanis left Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988. After 30 years, they have 6 children and 12 grandchildren, and they have passed away. Who will participate in that referendum and plebiscite?”
Pashinyan then refers to one of the undisclosed letters of the 3rd President Serzh Sargsyan, in which, according to the Prime Minister, he questions whether the proportional part is excluded.
“Next, what is the difference between the terms people and population? Where should the popular referendum take place?” asked the Prime Minister.
Fact Investigation Platform has already addressed several times the circulating manipulations regarding the Madrid Principles. With this publication, we have tried to study the most important points of Pashinyan’s speech.
Did Armenia recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan?
The text of the Madrid Principles and the Kazan document circulated later was published by the Ani Armenian Research Center founded by Journalist Tatul Hakobyan. Given that no government agency has ever refuted its content, we consider it a reliable basis for understanding the course of negotiations.
The published document states that the Madrid Principles include the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity and equal rights of states, and the self-determination of peoples.
The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh would therefore be determined by a plebiscite which would allow for either status. Then it was mentioned that the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh would receive a temporary interim status, 7 regions would be returned to Azerbaijan, a corridor would be provided in Lachin to connect Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. All refugees would return to their places of residence.
During the interim period, until the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh, its residents would have certain rights and privileges which would be formulated with the participation of Nagorno-Karabakh representatives.
“The population of Nagorno-Karabakh will have the right to elect authorities to lead Nagorno-Karabakh in the interim period. These authorities would exercise legislative and executive power in the internal affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as establish courts to administer justice. Officials would also be entitled to have external contacts in areas to be defined by the Peace Agreement.”
In other words, no part of the document specifies that Azerbaijan’s control will be established in Artsakh in the interim period. At the same time, it is noted that residents of Nagorno-Karabakh will have the right to elect authorities that will exercise legislative and executive power. Therefore, Nikol Pashinyan’s statement that Armenia recognized Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan based on the Madrid principles is not confirmed in any way.
On plebiscite and national proportion
As it was mentioned above, Nikol Pashinyan commented on the meaning of plebiscite. “The plebiscite is that we have to walk around and ask what is happening, who has what opinion, and eventually make a decision,” said Pashinyan, implying perhaps that plebiscite is a survey that is no legally binding.
Fip.am has studied several dictionaries to understand what kind of explanation the concept of “plebiscite” has in international sources. The Oxford dictionary defines a plebiscite as a direct vote of all members of the electorate on an important public question such as a change in the constitution.
According to Dictionary Britannica, plebiscite is a vote by the people of an entire country or district to decide on some issue, such as choice of a ruler or government, option for independence or annexation by another power, or a question of national policy. As a well-known example, the dictionary mentions the plebiscite held in the Saar region between Germany and France in 1935, as a result of which the region was recognized as part of Germany by the vote of the local population.
The Diplomatic Dictionary (Gromyko Dictionary) published in the USSR in 1985 specifically states that plebiscite can be used to determine the state/national belonging of any territory or part of it, as well as the question of the union of two or more states: a federation or a confederation. Plebiscite, according to Gromyko dictionary, can be held both in accordance with the provisions of domestic law and international treaty. “Modern international law considers the plebiscite as a basis for territorial changes only if it is held under a number of conditions guaranteeing the full freedom of expression of the population. Among those conditions are, for example, the non-use of external pressure, the creation of temporary bodies of power to conduct the plebiscite from the local population, the freedom of political parties, the conduct of the plebiscite with secret, equal, general voting.
Ուշագրավ է, որ մեջբերված բառարաններից որևէ մեկը պլեբիսցիտի խորհրդատվական կամ ոչ պարտադիր բնույթի մասին հիատակում չի անում:
Վերջին հայտնի պլեբիստցիտներից մեկը իրականացվել է Չիլիում 2022թ.-ին, երբ բնակչությունը պետք է քվեարկեր նոր Սահմանադրության դեմ կամ կողմ: Քաղաքացիներն իրենց կամքը արտահայտել են ոչ թե բանավոր, ինչպես նշում է Փաշինյանը, այլ ընտրատեղամասերում՝ քվեաթերթիկների միջոցով:
It is noteworthy that none of the dictionaries cited make any mention of the advisory or non-binding nature of the plebiscite.
One of the last known plebiscites was held in Chile in 2022, when the population had to vote for or against a new Constitution. The citizens expressed their will not verbally, as Pashinyan notes, but at the polling stations through ballots.
Would the “demographic success” of Azerbaijanis affect the results of the plebiscite?
As for the national composition and territory of those participating in the plebiscite, there is a clear explanation on this matter also in the document published in Madrid.
Both the Kazan document and the Madrid Principles stipulated that plebiscite “gives the people of Nagorno-Karabakh a free and real expression of their will. The details of the plebiscite will be agreed upon by the parties in future negotiations as described in clause 9. NK population means the national proportion of all nations living in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988 in such ethnic proportion as it was before the beginning of the conflict. During the plebiscite, there will be no restriction on the wording of the question or questions and may enable any status possibility.”
The Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was an absolute majority according to the 1986 census of the Soviet Union. Armenians in Artsakh in 1986 made up about103 thousand or 85% of the total population, Azerbaijanis – 17 thousand or only 14%.
Thus, Nikol Pashinyan manipulates the facts again since the negotiation documents clearly stipulate that the national proportion will be preserved during the future voting.