While it has been engaged in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, Armenia also has sought international status and security in new bilateral relations and membership in international organizations. In the first years of independence, Armenia became a member of the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the CSCE, and the CIS. Located in a region that is already unstable, in the early 1990s the three republics of Transcaucasia gained the attention of world leaders because of the potential for a wider war on the northern tier of the Middle Eastern states. The resulting aid and efforts at mediation have had mixed results.
Since the outbreak of fighting in 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh has been the principal foreign policy issue for Armenia, creating a huge drain on its financial and human resources. By the end of 1993, estimates of the number killed in the conflict ranged from 3,000 to 10,000. The war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis repeatedly has threatened to involve not only other CIS member states but also Turkey and Iran, whose borders have been approached and even crossed during the conflict.
In a speech to the UN in September 1992, Ter-Petrosian stated his government's official position that Armenia had no territorial claims against Azerbaijan, but that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh could not be denied the right of self-determination. Advocating the protection of the region by means of permanent international guarantees, Armenia repeatedly called for cease-fires and negotiations between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan, to resolve the issue. In 1992 the Armenian parliament passed a law prohibiting the government from signing any document recognizing Azerbaijani authority over Karabakh. But at that point, TerPetrosian resisted advocating Armenian recognition of Karabakh's independence, which would raise yet another obstacle to peace.
The ARF, the party most supportive of the Nagorno-Karabakh government and its army, called for more forceful prosecution of the war and recognition of the independent status of Karabakh. In early 1993, the ARF began advocating a binding referendum on the status of the region rather than its return to Armenia.
In 1993 the CSCE made repeated but fruitless efforts to maintain cease-fires and to bring the warring parties together for peace talks. Although years of preliminary discussions had finally resolved the details of how a conference would be held, the negotiations of the CSCE's multinational Minsk Group had not resulted in a single meeting by the end of 1993. There were other efforts at peacemaking. A joint meeting of thirty-three states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the former Warsaw Pact expressed its concern, Iran attempted separate mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Russian and CIS leaders (most notably Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin) also negotiated brief cease-fires. In 1993 Ter-Petrosian also maintained telephone contact with Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev.
The situation was complicated by the often unpredictable actions of the government in Nagorno-Karabakh. In December 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself an independent state, and its armed forces often operated independently of the government of the Republic of Armenia. However, the region and its army remained largely dependent on food, medicine, weapons, and moral support from Armenia, especially from the ARF.
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