Kosovo and Karabakh: Looking back at the Future

By Zaur Shiriyev | 17 September 2010


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on 22 July that Kosovo’s declaration of secession from Serbia did not break international law. In fact, the International Court of Justice’s non-binding opinion was deliberately limited to the specific facts of the Kosovo case, and conferred no right on separatists to declare their own independence. Also, the court’s advisory opinions have no compulsory power, although they may have political consequences. But as the instant reaction of many governments to the July 22 decision makes clear, the court’s ruling is being regarded – more political decision.


International Court of Justice’s non-binding opinion had the catalytic effect starting discussion on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Indeed, both Azerbaijan and Armenian politicians responded the decision of ICJ on Kosovo. Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist leadership has welcomed a United Nations court ruling upholding the legitimacy of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and affirmed its applicability to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. In reality, Article 81 of the ICJ ruling – unilateral declaration of independence accompanied by the use of force and violation of jus cogens considered to be illegal- supports Azerbaijan’s position. The Security Council resolutions condemning use of force against Azerbaijan, and also abhorrent crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the course of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in order to relate to the wisdom of this approach. According to Dilbadi Gasimov, Ph.D. in Strasbourg University and specialist on international law issues at the Center for Strategic Studies, “Decision of the ICJ does not count precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (1). The conflict sides over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict explained their positions with two principles of international law -territorial integrity and self determination-which the court doesn’t touch on. ICJ’s rule on Kosovo, only answers the question: “Is the declaration of independence in accordance with international law.” At this time, to give a fair decision over the “Kosovo Case” and its links to other ethnic conflicts recent history is more explanative and we need to reference on it.

  • Lessons from History

Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on February 2008 was brief, it did not change the world, as some feared, but it has ushered in a new phase in the post-imperial – “international law”. Arguably, when Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia, it was considered a failure of the international community’s fair mediation and international law as well. Kosovo’s independence has been followed with great interest in other quasi states whose leaderships hope that this case will set a precedent and hence increase their chance of international recognition. The states that recognized Kosovo’s independence have, on the other hand, argued that Kosovo is unique and that its recognition does not set a dangerous precedent which might encourage other secessionist movements. If it does not set a legal precedent it will have consequences of a more political nature; it would affect the calculations made in other entities that have achieved de facto independence.


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