Vol. 1, No. 19 (November 1, 2008)

Concluding remarks

Guglielmo Verdirame, Dr.
Lecturer in Public International Law
University of Cambridge

The geo-political position of Azerbaijan must be a central consideration in devising a strategy of engagement with international law. 
Already integrated in some of Europe’s key regional institutions like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan aspires to even closer links with Europe, but is in the middle of one of the world’s most unstable regions, the Caucasus, and borders with another one, the Middle East.  The reintegration of its national territory and the maintenance of a safe route for exporting its oil are probably Azerbaijan’s most vital national interests.  And, while its power may surpass that of its small neighbors, Georgia and Armenia, it will never be greater than that of the three giants at its doorsteps – Iran, Russia and Turkey. 
Georgia’s strategy was to put all its eggs in the basket of a potential NATO membership.  It thought the benefits of this strategy so great that it could overcome its geopolitical challenges with a rapid move into the secessionist regions.  It was a tragic miscalculation. 
Its post-war strategy was, amongst other things, to go on the offensive in a number of international legal fora: the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court.  One of these courts might well come down with a ruling that contradicts Georgia’s version of events, for example on which country bears responsibility for starting the conflict, and thus deal a potentially fatal blow to whatever is left of Georgia’s hopes of joining NATO. 
Azerbaijan is in a different position: it has not put all its eggs in a one-strategy basket and, consequently, its legal strategy need not entail such high stakes. 
Azerbaijan can draw maximum advantage from the settled jurisprudence, examined above, of the European Court of Human Rights on jurisdiction in the same way as Cyprus did in relation to Northern Cyprus.  Neither “the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” nor the “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh” are parties to the European Convention, but Turkey and Armenia are, and may be held vicariously responsible for breaches of the Convention committed in those territories. 
Inter-state proceedings, similar to those brought by Cyprus against Turkey, should also be considered. 
As far as recognition is concerned, the key objective in the short term must be to preserve the status quo.  It would be a disaster for Azerbaijan if the situation precipitated in a South-Ossetian or Abkhazian way with Nagorno-Karabakh obtaining recognition from a major player like Russia.  At present, despite the strength of its legal position, Azerbaijan cannot rely on the safety of a duty of non-recognition grounded in a decision of the Security Council, and cannot afford to discount the politics of recognition (and non-recognition).  It has, in other words, to tread very carefully. 
Azerbaijan cannot probably afford to remain disengaged from the legal aspects of the Kosovo question.  At the very least it should give very careful consideration to the pros and cons of filing a written submission to the proceedings in the International Court of Justice (the deadline for receiving these submissions is April 2009).  It is not just the impact of the Kosovo secession on Azerbaijani interests that requires such an assessment, but also the more general consideration that a young state facing the challenges described above has a lot to gain, in reputational and diplomatic terms, from being an active participant in the main fora of international law when important decisions are taken, and from having its voice heard and case articulated.