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Nagorno-Karabakh: A Thorn in US Policy Towards Azerbaijan


Dissertation submitted in part-fulfillment of the Masters course in Security Studies

September, 2018


The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is one of the longest standing
territorial disputes in the world today. While generally classified as one of the numerous “frozen
conflicts” that emerged following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the 2016 war suggests it is
anything but. Although Azerbaijan has been seen as an essential ally of the US in a strategically vital
region for the majority of its existence, the US has been unwilling to offer support of any form on the
issue. In fact, in the early 1990s, the US Congress deprived Azerbaijan of economic assistance due to its
blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh despite the fact that Armenia had invaded Nagorno-Karabakh and its
surrounding regions. Currently, the US is unwilling to take any stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
other than call for a peaceful resolution to the issue under the auspices of the Minsk Group of which the
US is a co-chair along with Russia and France. This paper will examine the explanations present in
literature on the formulation of US policy towards Nagorno-Karabakh and critically examine them in
order to present a comprehensive understanding for its passivity.

List of Abbreviations

AAA –Armenian Assembly of American

ANCA – Armenian National Committee of America
BTC – Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (pipeline)
CIS – Commonwealth of Independent States
CRS – Congressional Research Service
EU – European Union
GA – General Assembly
House – House of Representatives
HRC – Human Rights Council
ICC – International Criminal Court
ISAF – International Security Assistance Force
LNG – Liquid Natural Gas
LoC – Line of Contact
NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization
OSCE – Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
SOP – Standard Operating Procedure
UN – United Nations
US – United States of America

List of Illustrations

Figure 1: Map of Nagorno-Karabakh p. 2

Figure 2: US aid to Caucasus Republics p. 14
Figure 3: Map of Azerbaijan’s Pipelines p. 16
Figure 4: Largest Armenian Communities within US/Recognition of Artsakh p. 18

The fall of the Soviet Union produced 15 independent states, one of which would become
Azerbaijan. Due to the Soviet policy of divide and conquer, a number territorial disputes arose
between the newly independent states manifesting itself in conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh,
Transistria, Abkhazia and Osetia. Of special interest to the US was the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
that involved its greatest potential ally in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan. From a realist perspective,
Azerbaijan should have become a key ally to the US given its abundant energy resources and
commitment to the War on Terror.
While the US has attempted to forge a close relationship with Azerbaijan, it has been reluctant to
offer any support to Azerbaijan vis-a-vis the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In existing literature,
there an absence of a comprehensive examination of this reluctance. In fact, any examination is
confined to fleeting remarks in disparate studies. This paper will examine the existing explanations
in order to distill the true reasons as to why this is the case.
The animosities between Armenia and Azerbaijan are so severe that it transcends relations between
each other. In 2012, Armenia severed diplomatic relations with Hungary as a result of their
decision to extradite former Azeri officer Ramil Safarov convicted of the murder of Armenian
Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan in 2004 to Azerbaijan.1 Safarov would receive a hero’s welcome in
Azerbaijan and a pardon from President Ilham Aliyev, in addition to a reinstatement to the Army
and promotion to Major.2


Figure 1 Map of Nagorno-Karabakh. Source: University of Kent

Context of Conflict and Peace Process

Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed region claimed by both Azerbaijan. It is a territory mainly
populated by ethnic Armenians despite attempts by the Azeri government to dilute the
demographics of the region. The dispute dates back to the fall of the Russian Empire following the
end of World War I. Armenia and Azerbaijan would both stake their claim over the region and it
continues to be a disputed territory to this day making it one of the longest lasting territorial
disputes in the world.
During Soviet rule, Armenians would persistently insist that Nagorno-Karabakh should be
incorporated into either Armenia or Russia. Although the Caucasus Bureau of the Soviet Union
would vote in favor of incorporating Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia in 1921, they would reverse
their decision in the following days. Some argue that the decision was reversed in an effort to
appease the Ottoman Empire who demonstrated a long history of animosities with Armenia
following the Armenian genocide that was still in process in 1921. In 1963, Armenians held a
referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in yet another demand to be incorporated into either
Armenia or Russia. The Politbyuro declined to grant the request and Azerbaijan responded with a
wave of reprisals igniting the issue once again. The Supreme Soviet of Armenia would declare the
incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia in 1989 and the legislation is in effect to this day.
Clashes between Armenians and Azeris soon broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh culminating in a
number of pogroms carried out by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and Baku in an attempt to
expel all Armenians from Azerbaijan. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan
carried out a blockade and bombardment of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1991
which triggered an Armenian offensive with the backing of the Russian Federation. The hostilities
would last for 5 more years and claim the lives of approximately 35,000 people.

Another factor permeating through the conflict is the history of the Nachkivan Autonomous
Republic of Azerbaijan. Nachkivan is historically an ethnic Armenian enclave but low Armenian
birthrates and immigration of Azeri’s from Armenia shifted the demographics during the 20th
Century leading to the region becoming predominantly Azeri. Today, Nachkivan is a part of
Azerbaijan despite the region being separated from Azerbaijan by Armenia. There was a big fear
within the Armenian community that Nagorno-Karabakh would succumb to the same fate. In fact,
during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, there was sporadic fighting in Nachkivan as well.
Today, Nagorno-Karabakh asserts its independence and refers to itself as the Republic of Artsakh.
The LoC is marred with sporadic border skirmishes with the most serious escalation coming in
April 2016 when Azerbaijan attempted to reestablish control over Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict
only lasted 4 days and Azerbaijan made little headway into reclaiming their occupied regions
surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. By some accounts 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory is currently
under occupation by Armenia. The issue is perpetuated by the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is
separated from Armenia by the Lanchin region, a predominantly Azeri region over which Armenia
has no claims.
The peace negotiations mediated by the Minsk Group (a subset of the OSCE) has received little
traction with Azerbaijan unwilling to discuss the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh without the
withdrawal of Armenian troops from its territories and Armenia unwilling to withdraw its troops
without a security guarantee for Nagorno-Karabakh (Carley, 1998). In 1997, the Minsk group
proposed a phased approach whereby Armenia would withdraw troops from the seven Azeri
provinces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh after which Azerbaijan would engage in talks over the
status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Though both Armenia and Azerbaijan reluctantly accepted the
arrangement, Nagorno-Karabakh (in effect a full party to the negotiations) rejected the proposal
demanding that its independence and security be guaranteed before any discussion on Armenian
troop withdrawal could take place. Public opinion in Armenia following the acceptance of the
proposal was so devastating that president Ter-Petrossian would be forced to resign months later.3
His successor would be Robert Kocharian who was formerly president of Nagorno-Karabakh,
driving the conflict into more of an impasse.
A roundtable report commissioned by the United States Institute of Peace in 1998 derives the
conclusion that the most feasible settlement to the conflict would involve Azerbaijan maintaining
de jure sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh with the region receiving significant autonomy. The
report also makes the case that a solution to the issue is possible due to the fact that Nagorno-
Karabakh does not play an integral part in the national histories or myths of either Armenia or
Azerbaijan such as Jerusalem with Israel and Palestine. This is supported by the fact that Armenia
has expressed little interest incorporating Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. It would rather act as
a security guarantor of an independent or largely autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh.


While Azerbaijan’s National Security Concept of 2007 states that the government is committed to
a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it also includes the following excerpt:
“Regardless of the outcome of the conflict resolution process, persistence of the ideology of mono-ethnic
statehood, ethnic cleansing practices and territorial expansionism of the Armenian State policy will
inevitably continue to affect negatively relations between the two States also in the future.”4

Armenia’s National Security Strategy of 2007 also advocates a peaceful resolution to the conflict
but also includes the following passage:
“Azerbaijans militant policy vis-a-vis Nagorno Karabakh and its readiness to opt for the military solution
of the problem are direct threats to the security of Armenia. Under such circumstances, Armenia needs
to have an army with increased defense capability to guarantee its security.”5

In the international arena, the UN has consistently reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over
Nagorno-Karabakh on multiple occasions with the last resolution on its status being passed in
2008. In fact, none of the member states (including Armenia) of the UN recognizes Artsakh as an
independent entity.


Literature Review
As this paper will attempt to provide an insight into the passivity of the US stance on Nagorno-
Karabakh, the literature review will examine the current literature on the determinants of US
foreign Policy and contemplate on how those determinants affect the US stance on Nagorno-
Karabakh. There is merit to dividing the literature review into three parts. The first section will
contemplate on the history of US foreign policy towards the Caucuses while the second section
will examine the how the Caucasus policy relates to the determinants of US foreign policy in
general. As Russia plays an influential role in the Caucasus, it is incredibly difficult for any
discussion on it to take place without discussing the role Russia plays in it. Therefore, the last
section of the literature review will contain a brief discussion on Russian policy towards the
Caucasus and Nagorno-Karabakh.
US Foreign Policy Towards the Caucuses
According to Kasim (2012), the main US interest in the Caucasus is the transportation of the
abundant energy resources in the region to the West. As the primary source of energy in the
Caucuses, Kasim claims that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is of foremost interest to US
foreign policy.
The establishment of an east – west corridor originating in Azerbaijan that would reduce Europe’s
dependence on Russian and Iranian oil, was the primary interest of the US in the Caucuses. The
pursuit of the energy independence of its allies such as Germany and France from Russian and
Iranian energy sources is hardly confounding. The US is so committed to reducing Europe’s
dependency on Russian energy that it began the transportation of LNG to Europe through the
Atlantic Ocean.
In addition to this, Azerbaijan’s support for the War on Terror following 9/11 made Azerbaijan
even more vital to the strategic interests of the US. With energy and security factors making
Azerbaijan a useful ally to the US, some might find it confounding why the US has offered any
support to Azerbaijan in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. On the contrary, Kazim
demonstrates that following the 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire, the US has taken a special
interest in the peaceful settlement of the conflict as this is seen as the first step towards the
normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia allowing the latter to better integrate into
the West.

Most point to a powerful Armenian lobby within the US as having hindered any serious attempt
to affirm their support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Laciner (2010)
argues that the influence of the Armenian lobby forces the US to act irrationally in the Caucasus.
In the years following its independence, Armenia would receive the most extensive US financial
aid in the Caucasus. In addition to this, the US has pressured both Azerbaijan and Turkey to open
its borders with the Armenia. According to Laciner, these actions don’t bring Armenia closer to
the US as Russia has a firm grip over the country but alienates Azerbaijan and Georgia from the
US. These claims are implicitly supported by Bishku (2015) who demonstrates that Armenia’s
“National Security Strategy” of 2007 only lists Russia as a strategic partner. Therefore, Laciner
and Bishku demonstrate that Armenian lobby in the US forces it act contrary to its interests in the
Caucuses. This leads Laciner to define US policy towards the Caucuses as “irrational”
Relations between Azerbaijan and the US began to deteriorate in the late 2000s mainly due to
criticism of Azerbaijan’s human rights record by the Obama administration, an issue both the
Clinton and Bush administrations were willing to overlook. Suchov (2011) asserts that Azerbaijan
is in a situation where they can develop independently of foreign influences. Therefore, the passive
policy the US has taken on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue coupled with the criticisms of their human
rights record has forced Azerbaijan to move away from the US and even slightly gravitate towards
Blank (2015) seems to imply that the Goldiloch’s Heirarchy (Rieff, 1999) or something akin to it
currently determines the US policy towards the Caucuses and the CIS in general. He posits that
while the US and Europe are wary of Russian encroachment in the Caucuses, they are convinced
that this would have little impact to their vital interests. Lance Alred et al. (2017) confirm these
assertions and find no evidence of a shift away from disengagement in the region under Trump’s
Therefore, while Azerbaijan is only source of energy to Europe outside of Russia and Iran, the US
has lacked a coherent policy to establish an intimate relationship with Azerbaijan. The existing
literature points to a powerful Armenian lobby in the US that not only influences Congressional
votes on the Caucasus but Presidents as they have to be mindful of its influence, hindering the
adoption of a proactive policy in support of Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. In addition
to this, the human rights issues present in Azerbaijan have incentivized recent administrations to
distance themselves from Azerbaijan. Finally, although the US is mindful of increasing Russian
influence in the Caucasus, it does not regard this as a threat to US national interests.

US Foreign Policy
A general consensus exists within the academic community that there are both internal and external
factors that affect the conduct of foreign policy. Internal factors include a country’s size, geography
and political organization among other factors. External factors include international law as well
as international organizations and a nation’s standing in the international community. Systematic
realists claim that foreign policy is largely a product of the international environment. They argue
that on issues vital national security, partisanship is set aside leading to a unitary, rational actor
making decisions (Suova, 2005).
In 1987, Lundestad contemplated on one of the unique aspects of US foreign policy. He notes that
although foreign policy in other countries occasionally shifts its direction, US foreign policy is
unique that it can shift from one extreme to another in a relatively short period of time. In addition
to this, he comments that these shifts transcend different administrations meaning that it they
cannot simply be attributed to a difference of policy preferences between the Democrats and the
One of the primary sources of US foreign policy is its State Department. As an executive agency
tasked with the conduct of foreign policy, there is arguably no other entity that plays a larger role
in the formulation of US foreign policy. In his groundbreaking book Essence of Decision, Allison
(1971) posits three possible models through which foreign policy is conducted. Of most interest to
this paper is his second model, the bureaucratic model, which asserts that policy outcomes are not
a result of the international environment or domestic politics but that of bargaining between
different agencies.
Under this model, foreign policy is determined by the interactions and bargaining of numerous
bureaucratic agencies all of whom are driven by their own, often competing interests in addition
to the national interest. However, Brady and Kegley Jr. (1977) contend that the model is too simple
and does not account for the fact that different elements have varying degrees of bargaining power.
While the preeminent US bureaucratic agency for the conduct of foreign policy is the State
Department, all bureaucratic agencies have departments tasked with the conduct of international
affairs in their area of expertise.
According to Wayne (2000) although foreign policy was the prerogative of the president until the
end of the Vietnam War, Congress began to establish its influence on foreign policy decision
making in the second part of the 20th century. Suova (2005) examines the impact of domestic
factors on foreign policy votes in Congress. After examining congressional votes on key foreign
policy issues, Suova finds that foreign policy votes are driven by public opinion as the primary
concern of a politician is reelection or election to a higher office.
In an examination of congressional votes on Darfur, Uscinski et al (2009) find that although one
of the main goals of a representative is reelection, when constituents are impartial to an issue, other
factors such as committee membership and religious affiliation influence congressional votes on
foreign policy agendas. James et al (1992) however, find that the influence of the international
environment far outweighs the influence of domestic pressures in affecting presidential foreign
policy thereby minimizing the role of congress.

Erickson (2000) contemplates on the influence interest groups have over policymaking. Certain
interest groups have the capacity to mobilize hundreds of thousands of constituents allowing them
to wield a significant amount of influence over politicians concerned with reelection. This in turn
gives those interest groups a substantial influence on policymaking including foreign policy. This
argument can be refined to incorporate diaspora communities as a powerful lobby. As diaspora
communities tend to be concentrated within a given region, they wield a significant influence over
their representatives. This paper will examine the role of the Armenian lobby influencing
policymaking in the US.
Given that relations between the US and Azerbaijan greatly deteriorated following the Obama
administration’s criticism of its human rights record, this literature review will be well served by
a discussion of human rights in relation to its US foreign policy. Forsythe (2011) contemplates on
the two stages of the relationship between US foreign policy and human rights before putting
forward his own model.
Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism emerged following the revolutions in France and America and
stipulated that the promotion of universal human rights was to be the cornerstone of the foreign
policy of every nation. In practice, Forsythe claims that only the first two years of Jimmy Carter’s
administration followed this approach. The ideal of enlightenment cosmopolitanism lives on
however in the work of NGO’s such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Providential Nationalism, according to Forsythe is deeply rooted in American exceptionalism, the
belief that America has a special place in the world due to its divine nature and therefore has to be
a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak world. This exceptionalism allows US policymakers to
disregard international law including in relation to human rights. This has resulted in a conduct
where, when convenient, the US has carried out violations of human rights (Philippines, Iraq, and
Afghanistan) despite publicly supporting its ideals. Providential Nationalism is also the concept
behind the reluctance of the Bush Administration to ratify the Rome Statute that created the ICC.
He feared that the ICC may at some point scrutinize the conduct of US servicemen in Iraq and
Afghanistan should he ratify the treaty.
Forsythe puts forward a model which he calls “Muddling Through” which stipulates that the
relationship between US Foreign Policy and Human Rights is ad hoc in nature. It does not take
Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism or Providential Nationalism in nature but is a mix of the two.
This inconsistency is evident in relation to counterterrorism, multilateralism and bilateralism
according to Forsythe.
In 1999, Rieff wrote of a Goldilock’s Hierarchy where the Clinton administration took an
incredibly passive approach to the conduct of its foreign policy. While it made verbal
commitments, they were swiftly reneged upon at the slightest hint of opposition from Congress.
Rieff considers this to be the prerogative of a superpower that does not face any international threat
but makes a conspicuous caution that this environment may change as early as during the term of
Clinton’s successor.

Hamilton et al (2018) attempt to determine whether the shifting demographics (ageing population
and increasing diversity) in the US will have an impact on foreign policy but find no support for
the argument. They also assert that unless America’s isolationist tendencies following Trump’s
election is met by similar policies by its main trading partners such as Mexico, China and Europe,
there should be minimal disruption to the conduct of US foreign policy.
Russian Policy Towards Caucuses
If the Caucasus is a region vital to US interests, it is of even more interest to Russia. Gaining and
retaining an influence over the Caucasus is not only part of Russian efforts to establish influence
over CIS countries. The Caucuses offers a buffer from the most geographically vulnerable region
of Russia. If the Russia was to lose its influence over the Caucasus, an invading army would no
longer have untraversable mountain ranges in its path and Russia’s South-Western border would
consist of the virtually indefensible plains surrounding the Volga.
With Russia losing all its influence in Georgia following the 2008 War, it is imperative to Russia
that it retain at least a modicum of influence in the other two Caucasus republics: Armenia and
Azerbaijan. One of the avenues Moscow uses to advance these goals is to supply both Armenia
and Azerbaijan with military equipment (Nicoll, 2010). The sale of arms to Azerbaijan is seen as
an attempt to begin the restoration of historically distant relations between Russia and Azerbaijan.
Historically, Russia has sided with Armenia, its closest ally in the South Caucasus regarding the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but following the deterioration of relations with Georgia, Russia has
begun to push for a negotiated settlement on the issue (Chernyavski, 2012). While Russia publicly
supports a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the fact that they continue to
sell arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan begs the question of whether the Soviet policy of divide
and conquer persists as a part of Russian foreign policy.
This literature review has examined the multitude of influences that ultimately shape foreign
policy. The following sections will examine those influences in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict and the US stance on it. It will examine the formulation of policy by the State Department
and other agencies as well as Congressional resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh and attempt to
quantify the influence of the Armenian lobby wields over Congress. Moreover, it will examine the
suggestion that Azerbaijan’s human rights indiscretions have led to a deterioration of relations
with the US. Finally, the discussion will also incorporate an examination of Russian policy towards
the region, more specifically of how it affects US policy towards the conflict.

Research Design
Research Question
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the new independent republics, Azerbaijan became
vital to the US interests as it was the only source of energy to Europe outside of Russian and Iran.
Azerbaijan would become an even more attractive ally to the US when they pledged their support
during the War on Terror following 9/11. This brings up the question of why has the US refused
to take any action to indicate support Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh given that
the issue permeates all aspects of Azeri politics?
The paper will present and examine a number of possible explanations for why the US has not
taken any steps to affirm Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Hypothesis 1 will
attempt to demonstrate the uneasiness and inconsistency of US relations with Azerbaijan following
its independence. Hypotheses 2 would then contemplate on why a close relationship with
Azerbaijan is vital to US interests while Hypotheses 3 will examine whether there is any evidence
of State Department departure from the overall US stance. Hypotheses 4 – 8 will examine why
the US has not genuinely taken the steps to maintain a close relationship with Azerbaijan which
would require an acknowledgement of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Hypothesis 1: Relations between Azerbaijan and the US have been inconsistent with
alternating periods of close and strained relations.
As the paper rests on the premise that the US has been unable to establish sustained close relation
with Azerbaijan, the first hypothesis will attempt to demonstrate these volatile relations by
documenting shifts in US policies towards Azerbaijan similar to the swings depicted by Lundestad.
Should we fail to find evidence in support of this hypothesis, the remainder of the paper would
become irrelevant as it would mean that it’s most fundamental assumption lacks supporting
empirical evidence.
Hypothesis 2: Azerbaijan’s strategic value to the US should make it a key US ally.
Azerbaijan’s abundant sources of energy should make them a very attractive ally to the US who
has consistently demonstrated a commitment to reducing Europe’s (especially Germany’s)
dependence on Russian and Iranian energy sources. Azerbaijan is the only viable source of energy
to Europe outside of Russia and Iran. Moreover, Azerbaijan pledged its support to the US
following 9/11 and sought a partnership with the US to fight extremism in the region. Finally,
Azerbaijan’s can potentially act as a potential facilitator of high-level meetings between Russian
and US officials.

Hypothesis 3: State Department policy on Nagorno-Karabakh should demonstrate a more
favorable position to Azerbaijan than the overall US policy.
While elected officials are constantly concerned with reelection, bureaucrats are not. This would
suggest that the Armenian lobby would have little influence over the State Department. Therefore,
State Department policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be more favorable to
Azerbaijan than Congress legislation. Support for this hypothesis would strengthen the argument
for Azerbaijan being important to the US as career bureaucrats with job security should formulate
policy more consistent with US interests.
Hypothesis 4: The Armenian lobby within the US influences Congressional policy on
Interest groups in the US often carry a large amount of influence over Congress depending on the
amount of people they are capable of mobilizing during elections. Even a Congressman with the
best of intentions would be concerned with reelection given that they would be unable to affect
change if they lose their office. Ethnic interest groups such as the Armenian lobby should be more
effective than other interest groups given that they have less mobilization costs due to diaspora
communities generally living in clusters and retaining a close relationship with their ethnic kin.
Hypothesis 5: The US does not see Russian encroachment into the Caucasus as a threat to
their interests.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has been on a pursuit of reestablishing their
influence over CIS countries. While concerned about potential Russian encroachment into the
Caucasus, there is a prevailing view within the US that this carries little threat to US interests.
While a Caucasian source of energy to its European allies would no doubt be beneficial, there are
other avenues the US can pursue to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy sources.
Hypothesis 6: Azeri human rights indiscretions are detrimental to its relations with the US.
Azerbaijan’s human rights record has been the subject of much criticism. The US would be
unwilling to associate with a country with a less than impeccable human rights record as it prides
itself as being perceived as a bastion of human rights.
Hypothesis 7: The exiting literature overstates US interest and efforts to reduce Europe’s
dependency on Iranian and Russian energy sources.
Given that Azerbaijan is the only source of energy to Europe outside of Russia and Iran that the
US can rely on, the apparent neglect of its relationship with Azerbaijan raises the question of
whether the US concern for reduction of Europe’s energy dependence on Russian sources is
genuine. At the very least, it would suggest that the US commitment to the endeavor is exaggerated
in literature. If this is the case, the systematic failure of the US to establish and maintain a close
relationship with Azerbaijan for an extended period of time would become more understandable.

Hypothesis 8: Russian efforts to mediate the conflict are genuine.
The Russian government has consistently reiterated that their intentions to mediate the conflict are
genuine. Should the conflict be resolved, the US will have the opportunity to reinvigorate their
relationship with Azerbaijan with minimal interference from the Armenian lobby. Allowing the
conflict to be resolved through Russian mediation will allow the US to reestablish their relations
with Azerbaijan with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue no longer relevant.
The study will utilize a critical review of existing information on the relevant topics to examine
the validity of the hypotheses presented in this paper. It will synthesize the available information
in order to analyze whether the hypothesis have merit. Journal articles, CRS materials, newspaper
articles, NGO reports, UN Resolutions, and government documents will be used in order to
accomplish the task that it sets out. The ensuing discussion will shed light on which of the
explanations for the US reluctance to support Azerbaijan’s territorial claims over Nagorno-
Karabakh is supported by empirical evidence. As a result, this paper will aim to provide the most
comprehensive set of explanations for why the US consistently fails to support a vital ally in its
most pivotal national interest.
Given that the hypotheses presented involve disparate issues and agencies, the best method for
carrying out the examination would be to carry out a systematic critical review of the existing
material on each hypothesis. Other methods would not allow for a synthesis and analysis of such
disparate information in a cohesive manner. While the paper does not rely on quantitative methods,
the research design would resemble a Campbell collaboration in that the best available evidence
for the hypotheses presented in this paper is critically evaluated.
In the likely event of a number of the hypotheses leading to conflicting narratives, all the evidence
would be presented and where possible, a determination will be made on the credibility of the
evidence using other supporting evidence. The main shortcoming of the methodology employed
in this paper its potential to lead to subjective findings. This concern is offset however, when we
consider the fact that this paper seeks establish an initial roadmap of the possible factors that affect
US policymaking towards Azerbaijan. It is our hope that in-depth future research will be conducted
on the individual factors that are deemed to influence US policy and that these will utilize a more
detailed and pointed method yielding a more comprehensive analysis of the factor.


Hypothesis 1: Relations between Azerbaijan and the US have been inconsistent with alternating
periods of close and strained relations.
According to the US State Department, diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan were established in
1992 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Although the oil rich Azerbaijan provided the
US with a feasible avenue for the supply of energy to Europe, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has
influenced relations between the US and Azerbaijan since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
One of the most powerful indicators of the relationship between the US and other states would be
the amount of foreign aid that that country receives from the US. This indicator becomes even
more important when we consider emerging countries. Therefore, an examination of the trends of
the US aid to Azerbaijan will provide a picture of the trends in US and Azeri relations.
As early as 1992, the House introduced H.R. 4161, severely restricting US aid to Azerbaijan until
such a time that:
“… the President determines and reports to the Congress that Azerbaijan: (1) has ceased all blockades and
uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh; (2) improves the human rights of Armenians,
Russians, Jews, and other minorities; and (3) has committed to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The resolution was supplemented by Section 907 of H.R. 4547 also introduced in 1992 which
reaffirmed H.R. 4161 as part of a larger resolution regarding the newly independent republics
following the fall of the Soviet Union.
In the following year, the Senate would introduce resolution S.Res.218 that would take a gentler
tone calling for the resolution of the conflict to become a priority of US foreign policy. It also
clearly states that the restrictions encompassed in the H.R. 4161 and the H.R. 4547 should be
repealed as soon as the Azeri economic blockade on Armenia is lifted.
While there is a general misconception that the restrictions to the provision of US aid to Azerbaijan
were lifted following 9/11, H.R. 1567, introduced to the House in 1999 called for a repeal of the

US Aid to Caucasus Republics
Millions 700
Azerbiajan Armenia Georgia

Figure 2: US aid to Caucasus Republics. Source: USAID

Figure 2 demonstrates that even when Azerbaijan started receiving US aid in 1994, the amount
was significantly less than what Armenia was receiving. It is interesting to note that the US
withholding of aid to Azerbaijan was justified by the imposition of an Azeri economic blockade
on Armenia despite the fact that Armenia, who had invaded approximately a fifth of Azerbaijan’s
territory received aid in amounts comparable to Georgia. An interesting aspect is that following
the 9/11 attacks, US aid to Azerbaijan almost doubled in 2002 to 73,2 million dollars (although
Azerbaijan had received 75 million dollars in 2000). This supports Kazim’s claim that
Azerbaijan’s strategic value to the US increased following their pledge to support the US in the
fight against terrorism. According to the National Security Concept, one of Azerbaijan’s
contributions to the fight against terrorism was making its airspace and airfields available for the
fight against terrorism.
Despite closer relations between the US and Azerbaijan following the turn of the century, H.R.
3361 proposed to the House in 2005 restricted aid for the construction of a railroad that linked
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey while bypassing Armenia. A similar bill would also be introduced
to the Senate the following year.

Although the Clinton and the Bush administrations were content to overlook Azerbaijan’s human
rights indiscretions, the Obama administration began to take exception to the situation and began
to scrutinize the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. This understandably led to a strain in
relations between the two countries. The situation culminated in H.R. 4264 introduced to the House
in 2015 holding for the refusal of visas to Azeri officials as well as the annulment of all visas
issued to Azeri officials. In addition to this, the legislation held for the prohibition of any financial
assistance to Azerbaijan by US agencies and the seizure of any financial interests of Azeri officials
in the US. The repercussions of this legislation is evident in the US aid to Azerbaijan in 2016,
which stood at 15,3 million dollars down from 38 million in 2015. As of July 26th 2018, Azerbaijan
has only received 4,1 million dollars in 2018.
The evidence paints a picture of inconsistent and at times volatile relations between Azerbaijan
and the US following the former’s independence. This may not seem peculiar at first glance as it
is understandable that a newly independent state would experience a volatile foreign policy.
However, support for Hypothesis 2 would indicate that those interactions are indeed perplexing.
Hypothesis 2: Azerbaijan’s strategic value to the US should make it a key US ally.
The paper has already hinted at the reasons why Azerbaijan is of vital strategic importance to the
US. As early as 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski referred Azerbaijan as a “geopolitical pivot” and
attested to its strategic importance in his book, The Grand Chessboard. More recently, a National
Interest report in 2018 points out that Azerbaijan’s energy resources and commitment to the fight
against terrorism make Azerbaijan a key strategic partner.6 It also brings up an often overlooked
factor in that Azerbaijan can act as an outlet to facilitate productive meetings between Russian and
NATO officials such as the meeting between Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme allied
commander of NATO and the chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
In 2003, construction broke ground on the BTC pipeline and it would begin the flow of oil in 2006.
With a pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean Sea, Europe’s reliance on Russian energy
sources would gradually diminish. According to Sovacool (2012), the BTC pipeline, a map of
which is illustrated in Figure 3, pumps a million barrels of oil a day from the Azeri-Chirage-
Gunashli fields in the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan, in Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
Some have however questioned whether the pipeline would be capable of pumping enough oil to
offset Europe’s reliance on Russian energy. Popescu (2006) states that the pipeline was meant to
reach an output of 8 million barrels a day, an amount of output that the pipeline has not even come
close to. Another concern surrounding the pipeline was its security with Popescu even suggesting
that the US may follow the blueprint of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo to secure the AMBO pipeline
and establish military bases in Georgia and Azerbaijan.


In addition to the BTC pipeline, Azerbaijan contributes a substantial amount of soldiers to ISAF
at 120 which is more of a contributor than twenty-six countries taking part in the operation.
Moreover, as the National Security Concept outlined, Azerbaijan gave unrestricted access to their
airspace and airfields for the fight against terrorism.
Finally, the potential role of Azerbaijan as a facilitator for high-level meetings between Russian
and US officials is extremely valuable considering the current state of relations between Russia
and the US. According to the National Interest article, the prospects of further meetings such as
the one between Generals Scaparrotti and Gerasimov have led some onlookers to question whether
Azerbaijan could become the Caucasian Geneva. This is supported by the fact that Azerbaijan
served as a mediator during the normalization of relations between Russia and Turkey as evidenced
by Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim’s gratitude to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan for their
facilitation efforts.7
Given the circumstances listed above, it is clear that Azerbaijan has a significant amount of
strategic value to the US. Based on this, the findings of Hypothesis 1 become more questionable.
If the strategic value of Azerbaijan to the US is so significant, why have US politicians not
attempted to establish sustained close relations with Azerbaijan?

Figure 3 Map of Azerbaijan’s pipelines. Source: Payvand News


Hypothesis 3: State Department policy on Nagorno-Karabakh should demonstrate a more
favorable position to Azerbaijan than the overall US policy.
If concerns of reelection may affect policymaking of elected officials, such concerns are absent in
the case of bureaucratic policymakers. In an attempt to create a body of apolitical administrators,
the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 held for government positions to be distributed on the basis
of merit rather than political affiliation. Similarly, it prohibited the demotion or promotion of
individuals on the basis of political leanings.
This has gradually led to independent bureaucratic agencies which developed their own SOP’s and
policies. In fact presidents often exhibit a level of distrust towards their cabinet appointments as
their opinions are influenced by their respective agencies given that most cabinet appointments
lack expertise in their department’s area. Therefore, the argument can be made that in order to
determine the true US interest, one should look towards the policies of the respective departments.
This paper will examine whether there is evidence of the US State Departments striving for closer
relations with Azerbaijan than House and Senate resolutions would indicate. According to Yıldırım
(2012), the State Department attempted to get the Section 907 repealed to no avail prior to its
repeal in 2001 at the behest of President George W Bush. However, a 2016 State Department
report on the Human Rights conditions in Azerbaijan eludes to numerous human rights
indiscretions such as restrictions on the freedom of assembly, the absence of fair and free elections,
and mass imprisonment among other practices.8 Previous and subsequent reports would point to
similar concerns on Azerbaijan’s human rights situation. The 2006 State Department report on
Human Rights Practices would contain the following passage regarding Armenia:
“Armenia continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding
Azerbaijani territories.”9

In 2008, the UN passed resolution A/RES/62/243 affirming Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over

Nagorno-Karabakh. It was the fifth resolution on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the first
since the 1994 ceasefire. The US who wields a significant amount of influence within the UN GA
in regards to votes would vote against the resolution. Had they voted for the resolution at least part
of the 100 abstentions would have followed suit. It is worth noting however, that both the Russian
Federation and France also voted against the resolution. Therefore, all three co-chairs of the Minsk
Group voted against the resolution given that any perceived action to affirm Azerbaijan’s
sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh or Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence would be detrimental
to the Minsk Process.


Overall, there is no evidence to suggest that the State Department has had a sustained policy that
detracted from the legislations of the House and Senate. While the US bureaucracy is largely
independent from any branch of the US government, Suova (2005) suggests an explanation for
this. Even a perceived disunity in the policy preferences within a country weakens their bargaining
position in the international stage. Hence, the US bureaucracy rarely pursues a policy diametrically
opposed to the actions of US policymakers.
Hypothesis 4: The Armenian lobby within the US influences Congressional policy on
One of the predominant explanations given for US policymaker’s reluctance to offer Azerbaijan
any support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh is the influence of the Armenian
lobby within the US. Following the Armenian Genocide of 1914 – 1923, a mass exodus of
Armenians from Turkey took place. The largest Armenian diaspora communities were established
in the US. The current population of ethnic Armenians in the US is approximately 1.4 million.
Prior to a discussion on the influence of the Armenian lobby taking place, a look into the
involvement of the Armenian diaspora in the Nagorno-Karabakh war would be warranted.
Establishing the attitudes of the Armenian diaspora on the conflict will bring into context the
mindset of the Armenian lobby in the US. During the Nagorno-Karabakh war, individuals such as
Garo Kahkejian10 and Monte Melkonian11 were immortalized. Following the start of the war, the
two men went to Armenia from the US, leading to both of their demise during the fighting.
Moreover, investments of the Armenian diaspora across the world are to this day a substantial
driving force of the Artsakh economy.12
While the US has not officially recognized Artsakh as an entity, there are nine states that have.
Comparing those states to the distribution of the Armenian diaspora within the US will provide an
initial indication of the influence of the Armenian lobby. If the states with the largest Armenian
communities have recognized Artsakh as an entity, it will serve as a possible indication of the
Armenian lobby’s influence. Figure 4 lists the cities in the US where there is an Armenian
community of more than 50,000 and whether their respective state has recognized Artsakh as an
independent entity. It demonstrates that amongst states where there is a city with an Armenian
population of more than 50000, New York is the only one that has not recognized Artsakh.
City Armenian Diaspora Recognition of Artsakh
Los Angeles 360,000 Yes
New York 100,000 No
Detroit 60,000 Yes
Boston 50,000 Yes
Table 2 Largest Armenian Diaspora Communities in the US (over 50,000). Source: American Community Survey.


Early manifestations of an influential Armenian lobby within the US was evident as early as 1915
when Vahan Cardashian promoted Armenian independence during the Armenian Genocide (Bakis
2015). Nowadays, the two prominent Armenian lobbies in the US are the AAA and the ANCA
(the predecessor of which Cardashian founded). While the AAA and ANCA are widely credited
with the passage of Section 907 and the acquisition of significant amount of US aid to Armenia,
their influence on US policy is questionable (Zarifian, 2014).
Zarifian therefore examines whether the perception of the Armenian lobby as one that wields a
disproportionate amount of influence than their membership warrants holds merit. She goes on to
find that while the Armenian lobby was instrumental in the passage of Section 907, the lobby has
been unable to affect policy in areas the executive branch deems important. She attributes this to
the fact that while the lobby has access to a number of legislators, they lack the same influence
with the executive branch. Ultimately, Zafiran finds inconsistent evidence of the effectiveness of
the Armenian lobby and finds that it is problematic to effectively measure the influence any ethnic
lobby may have.
According to Gregg (2002), the Armenian lobby also seeks recognition for the Armenian genocide.
Moreover, they also attempted alter the route of the BTC pipeline that bypasses Armenia in
addition to blocking financial aid Turkey. Gregg concurs with Zarifan that access to Congress is
the main source of the Armenian lobby’s influence. She also lists the unity of the objectives of the
ANCA and AAA and infers to alliances with other ethnic lobbies such as the Kurds and Greeks as
an explanation for what she considers success. Section 907 and the substantial amount of US aid
to Armenia are presented as evidence of this success. However, Section 907 would be waived
following 9/11 and the US aid to Armenia has gradually declined as evidenced by Figure 2. In
addition to this, the route of the BTC pipeline would be unaltered and even the noticeable decline
in US aid to Turkey beginning in the early 90s can be attributed to the end of the Cold War to a
large extent.
It is evident that the influence of the Armenian lobby over Congress is ultimately overestimated.
Section 907, the passage of which is considered to be their most notable achievement was waived
in 2001. However, the fact that Armenia continues to receive an aid package disproportionate to
its small population is an indication of the lobby’s success. While they were unable the route of
the BTC pipeline to pass through Armenia, Turkey continues to receive a fraction of the aid that it
used to enjoy during the 80s.
Overall, it is difficult to quantify the influence of the Armenian lobby on policymaking. However,
it is clear that whatever influence is wielded by the lobby, it is only over Congress. Although the
role of Congress in the conduct of foreign policy has increased over the years, it is hardly the
preeminent agency in matters of foreign policy. This suggests that the Armenian lobby should have
a limited impact on relations between the US and Azerbaijan.

Hypothesis 5: The US does not see Russian encroachment into the Caucasus as a threat to
their interests.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has embarked on a persistent effort to
reestablish its influence in the new independent republics. Of special interest to the Russian
Federation would be the three new countries of the Caucasus as Russian regions surrounding them
such as Chechnya and Dagestan would demand autonomy with Russia even getting involved in
two devastating wars to ensure that Chechnya would remain a part of Russia.
Russian strategy towards the Caucuses involves: becoming the sole intermediary between the
Caucasus republics and their external partners; impeding any other country from establishing
influence in the region; preventing the region from ever becoming a threat to Russian interests;
regional integration of the Caucasus republics being carried out on Russia’s terms.13
Armenia would establish close ties with Russia partially due to Russia’s support during the
Nagorno-Karabakh war. If we turn back to the Armenian National Security Strategy, it only lists
Russia as a strategic partner. Azerbaijan’s National Security Concept of 2007, on the other hand,
points to a “balanced and multidimensional foreign policy”. The Georgian National Security
Concept of 2016 is extremely negative of Russia with its first priority being the liberation of
Georgian territories occupied by Russia.14 Accession to NATO and the EU and establishing close
relations with the US also feature prominently in the document.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Russia have been inconsistent over the years. Although the
relationship was initially marred by distrust and distant, there were indications in 2016 that closer
relations may be on the horizon with Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing his hope of
forging a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan.15 However, in 2017, relations between Russia and
Azerbaijan took a sharp decline as Russia decided to shut down the ‘All Russian Congress of
Azerbaijanis’, the largest Azeri diaspora organization in Russia.16 The organization included
prominent Azeri figures in Russia and also enjoyed close links with Azerbaijan.
The evidence presented puts into question the general perception that Russia has had success in
influencing the Caucasus republics. Firstly, Russia severed any possibility of cordial relations with
Georgia by instigating the Russo-Georgian War of 2008. In addition to this, much like the US,
Russia was unable to establish sustained close relations with Azerbaijan. The relationship can be
characterized as one of volatility and alternating periods of distrust and closeness. Therefore,
Russian encroachment into the Caucuses is overstated given that Russia has only managed to
establish close relations with Armenia. However, this creates more questions as to why the US
does not take a more assertive strategy to establish its influence in the Caucasus. The argument
can be made that Russia would take an aggressive approach to counteract the first indication of
US attempts to establish its influence in the region.


However, when we consider Russia’s inability to establish its influence in the Caucasus, the US
passivity towards the region becomes understandable. If we recall Suchov’s assertion that
Azerbaijan is capable of developing independently with minimal foreign influences. This may
quite well be an acceptable situation to the US as Azerbaijan would be willing and able to
counteract Russian influence. There would be no need for the US to agitate Russia by taking an
overly keen interest in a region that is quite literally Russia’s backyard.
Hypothesis 6: Azeri human rights indiscretions are detrimental to its relations with the US.
Human rights indiscretions were the main purported reason for the deterioration of US-Azeri
relations during the Obama administration. At face value, this is understandable given that the US,
who heralds itself as the bearer of democracy would be reluctant to associate with a country whose
human rights record is closely scrutinized. In a 2011 speech, Obama declared unequivocally that
human rights is “a top priority”.17
In 2010, the Obama called on President Aliyev to improve the human rights situation in
Azerbaijan.18 The proximity of the release of 16 political prisoners by Aliyev to the Nuclear
Security Summit in 2016 have led some to question whether it was a successful attempt to secure
an invitation to the Summit.19 Moreover, in 2017, the House would introduce H.Res. 537 that
makes long-term relations with Azerbaijan contingent on an improvement of their human rights
However, a Human Rights Watch report published in 2017 suggests that Obama’s commitment to
universal human rights is not as strong as his 2011 speech would suggest.20 The report points to
his inability to close Guantanamo Bay despite his promise in only his second day in office. On the
foreign policy front, the report also points to his reluctance to effectively respond to the mass
slaughter of civilians in Syria. Of more relevance to this paper, the report points to Obama
welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US despite him being denied a visa in
2005 due to allegations of his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat attacks on Muslims.


This evidence paints a picture of an administration that willingly affirms its commitment to
universal human rights as evidenced by his departure from the Bush administration policy of
confrontation with the ICC, one of the priorities of which is to adjudicate allegations of human
rights indiscretions. In addition to this, the Obama administration would in 2009 reverse the
previous US policy of distancing itself from the UN HRC by seeking election to the council.21
However, when we take a look into Obama’s actions such as the invitation extended to Modi for
a US visit, it seems that those commitments were only upheld when it was consistent with or at
least not opposed to the larger array of US interests. These tendencies are largely consistent with
Forsythe’s (2011) model of ‘muddling through’ in regards to the relationship between the US and
human rights.
This is supported by the fact that the US persists to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia, a
country that consistently receives scrutiny for its human rights record. In 2015, Saudi Arabia would
receive 152 out of 193 votes in its pursuit to gain one of the four vacant Asia-Pacific seats in the
Human Rights Council.22 While the voting was carried out through a secret ballot, US support for
Saudi Arabia would have influenced the voting. However, in 2018, in her press statement
announcing the departure of the US from the HRC, the US Permanent Representative to the UN,
Nikki Haley would point to the membership of persistent human rights abusers such as Cuba and
Egypt undermining US efforts to reform the council as the primary reason.23
It is clear that the Obama administration, at least on paper was the most committed to human rights
if only due to their commitment to the HRC and ICC. All US administrations indicated support for
the basic principles of human rights, but the Obama administration was the first to demonstrate a
willingness to tackle human rights concerns within an international setting. However, the
administration’s actions such as the invitation to Mondi and retaining close ties to Saudi Arabia
suggests that the Azeri human rights situation would not have been a concern for the US had they
been committed to maintaining close relations with Azerbaijan.
Hypothesis 7: The exiting literature overstates US interest and efforts to reduce Europe’s
dependency on Iranian and Russian energy sources.
If the existing literature misrepresents US commitment to diversifying Europe’s source of energy,
the absence of a sustained US policy to establish close relations with Azerbaijan would become
understandable. Azerbaijan would still retain its value to the US vis a vis their commitment to the
War on Terror but without US interest in their energy resources they would be of less strategic
There is very little empirical evidence for this hypothesis however, and this section will begin by
discussing Europe’s necessity to diversify its energy sources. It will then go into US attempts to
support Europe in this endeavor which would cast doubt over the accuracy of the hypothesis.


Europe is heavily reliant on Russian energy sources leading to the Energy Security Strategy that
emphasizes the necessity of diversifying the sources of the energy flow to Europe so as to minimize
the impact of cutoffs of Russian energy such as in 2009.24 LNG shipments to Europe and the
construction of the BTC pipeline would suggest that US is committed to supporting the venture.
Firstly, the US began shipments of LNG to Europe in 2016.25 As the US capacity to export LNG
increased in 2017, its shipment overseas quadrupled as opposed to the previous year.26 While in
2017, Asian and South/North American countries received a much larger volume of LNG than
Europe, in 2018, President Trump revealed that LNG shipments to Europe are set to increase.27
Even more damning to the hypothesis presented is the existence of the BTC pipeline. While the
pipeline is not transporting anywhere near the volumes it was expected to, the US has invested a
significant amount of resources into its creation. In addition to this, it proceeded with the proposed
route of the pipeline despite strong opposition from the Armenian lobby at home. If the
diversification of energy sources to Europe was not a priority of US foreign policy, the US would
not have risked being involved in the creation of a pipeline to Europe in Russia’s backyard.
While support for this hypothesis would have allowed for a certain amount of rationalization for
the US reluctance to take concrete measures to establish sustained close relations with Azerbaijan,
there is little evidence to support it. The only evidence to suggest its validity would be the fact that
Europe was only the third largest recipient of US LNG but this is negated by Trump’s
announcement of an increase in shipments to Europe.
Hypothesis 8: Russian efforts to mediate the conflict are genuine.
One view of Russia’s strategy towards Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be seen as ‘Project
Minimum’.28 It involves attempting to ensure that the ceasefire persists while maintaining close
relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Another view of Russia’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is that Russia is
attempting to mediate the conflict independently of the OSCE Minsk Group. If Russian efforts to
mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are genuine, the US’s willingness to take a back seat in
the mediation of the conflict and subsequently its policy towards Azerbaijan would make sense.
Should Russia manage to mediate the conflict, the US would be free to establish closer relations
with Azerbaijan with less interference from the Armenian lobby at home.
Following a downturn in relations between the Russia and the West, Russia began to seek a
resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict independently of the OSCE Minsk Group. The basic
Russian strategy for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is to affirm Azeri sovereignty over the region
with the understanding that Azerbaijan would extend a degree of autonomy to the region.


The reasoning behind this is that as Russia wields a significant amount of influence over Armenia,
they would be able to strong-arm Armenia to accept a resolution to the conflict in favor of
Azerbaijan. This in turn would draw Azerbaijan closer to Russia’s sphere of influence and possibly
give Russia access to Azerbaijan’s abundant energy resources.29 While the intentions are
questionable, if Russia is successful in its attempt to resolve the conflict, we will see the first
instance of a post-Soviet ‘frozen conflict’ finding a resolution.
This strategy carries three concerns however. Firstly, if we return to Nicoll (2010), Russia
continues to supply arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan leading to questions of whether Russia’s
efforts to mediate the conflict are genuine. Secondly, Artsakh’s opposition to the 1997 Minsk
Group proposal accepted by Armenia and Azerbaijan demonstrates that Armenia did not at the
time possess the necessary influence over Artsakh to impose a settlement of the conflict on it. If
anything, over the last 2 decades, Artsakh has become more independent of Armenia with the
establishment of institutions of government.
Of most concern to the US however, would be the fact that if Russia is successful in resolving the
conflict under its terms, Azerbaijan would most likely gravitate towards Russia and possibly even
affect the energy supply through the TBC pipeline. This would deprive the US of the only avenue
of supplying energy to Europe other than the shipment of LNG. Those concerns bring to question
the feasibility of a Russian led resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh that would not threaten US
interests in the region. Therefore, even if Russian efforts to mediate the conflict are genuine, the
consequences of it would be inconsistent with US interests.


This paper examined the possible factors that have prevented the US from taking a position in
favor of Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Nagorno-Karabakh issue continues to
be a significant impediment to the progress of relations between the US and Azerbaijan.
The first three hypothesis attempted to demonstrate turbulent relations between Azerbaijan and
US despite Azerbaijan’s strategic value to the US. The hypothesis that the State Department
policies towards Azerbaijan should be more favorable than Congress resolutions would imply
received scant support. However, the turbulent relations between Azerbaijan and US despite the
latter’s strategic importance to the former received significant support in hypotheses 1 and 2. Of
the five possible explanations for this anomaly, the one that would receive the most support would
be the Armenian lobby’s influence over US policymakers. However, even this hypothesis would
lead to questions such as the fact that the only significant access the Armenian lobby possesses is
over Congress.
Given that the hypotheses presented in this paper were unable to provide a strong case for why the
US may have distanced itself from Azerbaijan, the turbulence in the relations between the US and
Azerbaijan is possibly a result of the US underestimating the strategic importance of Azerbaijan
to its national interests. While the confines of this paper impede an in-depth look into the concept,
it presents an intriguing avenue for future research. In addition to this, the fact that the US takes a
leading position in the Minsk Process is a possible impediment to US assertion of Azeri
sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, a history of the US acting outside the international
arena in a unilateral manner suggests that this would not have a significant impact on US
On a wider scale, the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a testament to the value of
impartial third party mediation in a conflict. The Institute of Peace Report, points to a multitude
of reasons that make the resolution to the conflict plausible. It also suggest that the OSCE Minsk
Group would be instrumental to the resolution of the conflict.

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