Fuad Humbatov, First secretary of the Azerbaijan Embassy in Belgium (Brussels, Belgium)


One of the Caspian regions most problematic issues is determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The status of the Caspian Sea was first enforced in two agreements entered between Russia and Iran in 1921 and 1940. But the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and, as a result, the appearance of newly independent states on the Caspian coast (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan) led to a change in the existing legal, as well as political, positions in the region. This was partially reflected in U.N. documents. The regime established as early as Soviet times no longer met the interests of the littoral states, particularly with respect to use of the economic resources of the Caspians seabed and its contiguous waters, which made re-examination of the issue obligatory.

At present, the countries of the region are divided on this issue, upholding two radically opposing viewpoints.

Irans position, and to some extent Russias, is based on the fact that the Caspian Sea is a lake, the legal status of which was defined by the agreements of 1921 and 1940 which should be considered valid until new agreements are entered on this issue (the condominium thesis). However, the new littoral states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent Turkmenistan) refer to the legal mechanisms of territorial inheritance of the states based on the so-called uti possidetis, ita possideatis principle (as you possess, so may you possess), that is, the principle of succession of territories and boundaries. It enforces the states right to inherit the administrative borders they held at the time the colonial or totalitarian predecessor state collapsed.

In this article, we shall try to offer a legal analysis of the two above-mentioned positions, as well as examine the applicability of the uti possidetis juris principle to the littoral states.

The Legal Status of the Caspian Sea: Past and Present

First it would be expedient to take a closer look at several basic geographical parameters of the Caspian Sea. It is located between 36˚34 and 47˚13 N and 44˚18 and 52˚24 E. It is divided into three main basins: the first is the Northern Caspian with a depth of less than 100 meters and is part of the Volga Plain; the Middle Caspian, the so-called small Caucasian Depression, between 40˚ and 44˚ latitude, where the depth varies from 500 to 800 meters; and the Southern Caspian with a depth that reaches 1,000 meters. Due to the coastline vagaries, which depend on the changes in sea level, the area of the seas surface fluctuates from between 380,000 to 430,000 sq. km. The average width amounts to 200 nautical miles, apart from the northern zone, which is more than 300 miles. The main activities in the sea are fishing and oil and gas production. The Caspian Sea serves as a direct communication network for some of................

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