Did you notice that there has been a war going on in Europe? It started on the 27th of September and concluded with a ceasefire on the 10th of November. The issue of the conflict is the Republic of Artsakh. My guess is that rather few people in Britain know where that is. But there is an important lesson for us.
When the Soviet Union broke up the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic and the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic became independent sovereign nation states. But there was a problem. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh which is situated within Azerbaijan didn’t want to be part of Azerbaijan. The reason for this is that they speak Armenian and are Christians while the people of Azerbaijan speak a language similar to Turkish and are Muslims.
This had not been a problem during the Soviet Union because Nagorno-Karabakh had autonomy and anyway everyone was part of the Soviet Union whether they were part of one republic or another. But the decision to include the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1920s had far reaching consequences.
In November 1991 Azerbaijan abolished the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh. In response the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum on independence which was boycotted by the Azerbaijanis there. This led to full scale conflict which lasted from early 1992 to 1994. The Armenian side won and established the Republic of Artsakh or the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
No UN member state recognised the Republic of Artsakh, but it continued being de facto independent from winning the war in 1994 until November 2020. Unfortunately for the Republic of Artsakh it lost the recent war. Azerbaijan armed forces made significant gains and took back much of the territory that it had lost in the previous war.
This may seem an obscure conflict in a far away place that we would struggle to find on a map, but it illustrates some important points. The population of Nagorno Karabakh is 95% Armenian. There is no question that they wish to live in an independent Republic of Artsakh or merge with Armenia. The democratic wishes of the people of this de facto independent country have for the past 25 years and more been to not be part of Azerbaijan.
When Azerbaijan attacked in September 2020 the United Nations urged both sided to begin meaningful negotiations and end the armed conflict. But Azerbaijan knew that such negotiations would go nowhere. But the territorial gains made by Azerbaijan will be recognized by the whole world. The loss of territory by the Republic of Artsakh will be condemned by no one except the Armenians. This tells us everything we need to know about sovereignty.
It doesn’t matter that Nagorno-Karabakh was once independent or else that it was centuries ago once part of Armenia. It does not matter that it held a referendum and won independence from Azerbaijan. It does not matter that it was merely a whim of Stalin’s that led to Nagorno-Karabakh being a part of Azerbaijan at all. The only thing that matters it that when Azerbaijan became a sovereign independent nation state it had the right to maintain its territorial integrity, whether some of its inhabitants wanted to be citizens of Azerbaijan or not.
The same logic applies to all of the post-Soviet conflicts. Crimea and the Donbass are legally part of Ukraine and do not have the right to declare independence or to join Russia even if the majority vote for that democratically. So too South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia even if they are de facto independent and Transnistria is legally still part of Moldova even if it is de facto separate. These de facto independent statelets are recognised by almost no one, because their independence is illegal. Sovereignty is the only thing that matters because it is the only thing that lasts.
The United Kingdom has just as much right to claim its territory as Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. We have exactly the same right to maintain our territorial integrity. But strangely we lack the will to do so.
If the territorial integrity of any EU member state was threatened it would use armed force to stop the threat and if it were a member of NATO would expect every NATO army to help.
The same goes for the United States. If an uninhabited sand bar off the shore of North Carolina was invaded, the United States would take it back instantly.
Why then does the EU and the United States treat parts of the United Kingdom in a way that is different from how they would treat their own territory? Are they hypocrites?
Not one part of any EU member state nor any part of the USA would be allowed an independence referendum, nor would it be allowed to join another country. If the people of Alaska expressed a wish to rejoin Russia or if the people of Louisiana wanted to revert to being French or if California, New Mexico and other states wished to return to Mexico the United States would prevent them if necessary, by armed force.
Northern Ireland is legally part of the United Kingdom. A terrorist war was fought illegally against Britain, which led us in my view mistakenly to sign the Belfast Agreement. But terrorism and the peace treaty that resulted does not change the fact that Northern Ireland is British territory. The Republic of Ireland has no more legitimate claim to it than Russia does to Crimea or Armenia does to Nagorno-Karabakh. If sharing an island gives you the right to annex the other half, then the Dominican Republic has the right to annex Haiti.
Why then are Joe Biden and the EU siding with IRA side of the argument when they are unwilling to side with Republic of Artsakh? The principle is the same. Irish Republicans attempted to annex Northern Ireland using bombs and Armalites, which is exactly the sort of illegal conflict that led to the de facto independence of various post-Soviet statelets. If Mr Biden thinks that it is fine for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join the Republic of Ireland, then morally he must suppose that it is fine for Crimea to join Russia and for Republic of Artsakh to be independent and or join Armenia.
The EU has consistently sided with the IRA’s united Ireland goal and Mr Biden no doubt sides with it too because he thinks he’s Irish. But what about the United Russia goal of separatists in Crimea and the Donbass. Should their illegal actions be rewarded with success? If not is it simply because Mr Biden is not Russian.
In Britain we have lost touch with our sense of sovereignty and our right to defend the territorial integrity of our country. It fundamentally does not matter what the people of Nagorno-Karabakh want. It does not matter whether the majority of people in Crimea want to be part of Russia or whether they don’t. Crimea is part of Ukraine. But why in Britain do we not apply this same logic both to Scotland and Northern Ireland. If Crimea cannot secede from Ukraine and the Republic of Artsakh cannot secede from Azerbaijan then why does the United Kingdom allow people whether Scottish Nationalists, Irish Republicans, the EU, Ireland and Joe Biden to threaten our territory. Why does Britain lack the right to defend our territorial integrity when every other country in the world has it and would assert it without question if it were threatened.
There is no democratic right to secession. If there were then all the post-soviet de facto independent states would be recognised universally. Instead as we have just learned a unilateral declaration of independence can be annulled even decades later while the world looks on with indifference.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/11/the-uk-too-can-defend-its-territorial.html