Sunday, January 16, 2022

Even Soviet Military Maps Not Precise Enough to Establish Armenian-Azerbaijani Border, Geographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 27 – Vladimir Putin has promised to provide the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan with Soviet military maps of the region, maps which he says are far more accurate than the larger scale maps that the two countries have relied upon in the past. That will help Yerevan and Baku delimit and then demarcate the borders, he said.

            But geographers and legal specialists say that no map by itself, including maps used by the UN, establishes a border. That can be set only on the basis of international agreement or, failing that, by the application of military force by one or the other of the sides or an outside power (

            Nikolay Silayev, a specialist on border issues at MGIMO, says that the maps Putin has promised Baku and Yerevan are more detailed than those now available but that does not mean that they resolve disputes about the borders, not only because they were drawn as administrative lines rather than international borders but also because they ignored international standards.

            He says that any international border must be established on the basis of international agreements. Some point to the accord establishing the CIS which said that administrative borders from Soviet times were to be state borders from now on. But despite that, most of the member countries have been negotiating about their borders ever since.

            What makes the establishment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border especially difficult, Silayev says, is that there are numerous enclaves, “Armenian villages on the territory of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani villages on the territory of Armenia.” These were treated in various ways, but now the question is: should they be included within the country of their ethnicity?

            “No universal map will resolve this problem,” the Moscow scholar says, and as a result, “the enormous work of demarcating borders in this case must begin from the beginning.” That will take much effort and a long time as new problems will break out if the sides or outside powers try to hurry things along.

            Aleksandr Panin, a geographer at the North Caucasus Federal University, agrees. He points out that each side can always find maps which support its position. But everyone must remember that “in cartography there is no ‘sacred knowledge.’” The decisions about borders are political and not cartographic, no matter how good the maps may be.

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