From the Archives: In 1991, Armenia sought UN peacekeepers for Karabakh

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Presidents Bush and Ter-Petrosyan, flanked by foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian and Ruben Adalian of the Armenian Assembly of America, meeting in the White House on November 14, 1991. Image courtesy of ACNIS.am.

On visit to the United States shortly after being elected president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan asked U.S. leaders for expansion of humanitarian support and argued that a “United Nations force is necessary to protect Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh,” according to a confidential State Department cable since declassified.

Meeting with the deputy secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger on November 13, 1991, Ter-Petrosyan warned that the “very survival” of Karabakh Armenians was at stake and urged U.S. to work with Russia to extend security guarantees, starting with the dispatch of UN observers, something that the Azerbaijani leadership opposed. The Armenian leader also noted that Azerbaijan’s transportation and energy blockade of Armenia caused significant hardship and asked for expansion of U.S. assistance and help in opening the border with Turkey.

Ter-Petrosyan said that Armenia sought peaceful relations with all of its neighbors and remained committed to the agreement reached with Azerbaijan on September 23, known as the Zheleznovodsk Communique. Negotiated with mediation of Russia and Kazakhstan, the document promised an end to fighting in exchange for Armenia agreeing to Nagorno Karabakh staying on as autonomy within Azerbaijan. The agreement was reached even though an independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic was declared on September 2 and was due to elect its own leader.

Ter-Petrosyan also said that while Armenia’s independence from USSR was “unavoidable,” Armenia would continue to participate in Moscow-led military and economic alliances. Eaglerburger agreed that authority in USSR has shifted from Gorbachev to the republics, but he also welcomed Armenia’s decision not to create an independent military force. (Note that the meeting was taking place just weeks before USSR’s dissolution.) He also noted that Turkey wanted to have normal relations with Armenia, but would like to first see its government renounce any territorial claims.  Eagleburger expressed support for the Zheleznovodsk agreement and recalled that the U.S. previously urged Azerbaijan to end violence and resolve the Karabakh conflict peacefully.

Incidentally, among those in the meeting was James Warlick, Eagleburger’s assistant at the time, he later served as the U.S. envoy for Karabakh from 2013 to 2016.

The meeting took place the day before Ter-Petrosyan and his delegation were received by President George H. W. Bush.

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