What is going on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Article by Angelachiara Allegretti | Illustration by Francesco Moretti
On Sunday, July 12th, hostilities broke out on the border between the Tavush Province of Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Tovuz district. The clashes don’t have a clear dynamic yet. The authorities of both countries blame each other for starting the hostilities and violating the ceasefire. Media have defined these new clashes as the most serious escalation in hostilities since the “April War” of 2016 in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Three days of clashes
Azerbaijan reported that eleven soldiers had died, including a civilian, General Polad Gashimov, and Colonel Ilgar Mirzoyev. On the other hand, Armenia reported that four of its soldiers had been killed.
Armenian officers accused Azerbaijan of using drones to attack the Armenian town of Berd, a civilian infrastructure. According to the Armenian Defence Ministry spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan, one of the drones was shot down. The Azerbaijani army denies these accusations and claims on the contrary that it was the Azeris who shot down an Armenian drone.
As hostilities continued, Armenia also accused Azerbaijan of launching cyberattacks on the Armenian Government and Armenian Prime Minister websites.
The Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, accused Azerbaijan of provocations and warned that it would lead to unpredictable consequences. The Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, defined the clashes as another provocation of Armenia and its lack of interest in getting back the negotiation. He has promised to protect Azerbaijan’s national territory.
On the night of July 14, thousands of demonstrators have rallied in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, chanting pro-war slogans and calling on the authorities to escalate the conflict with Armenia, and asking for the resignation of Deputy Defence Minister and Chief of Staff of the Azerbaijani armed forces Najmaddin Sadigov. Several demonstrators briefly occupied the parliament building before the protest was dispersed by police.
Turkey Minister of Defence, Halusi Akar, has expressed condemnation for Yerevan’s actions and full support for Baku’s position. President Erdoğan has condemned the attacks made by Armenia “against friend and brother Azerbaijan”. According to the President, the fighting is a deliberate attack directly on Azerbaijan and shows the will to stop the process of the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with a provocative approach. On July 13, Armenian Foreign Minister condemned Turkey´s unconditional support for Azerbaijan and its attempts to instigate instability in the region.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergej Lavrov expressed serious concern about the outbreak of fighting and warned against further escalation that could undermine the region’s security. He held phone conversations with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, calling for an immediate ceasefire. Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitrj Peskov, expressed Moscow worry about the fighting and stands ready to mediate.
The Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) – that since 1992 has been charged with negotiating a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – has condemned the recent ceasefire violations. They called upon both sides to take all necessary measures to prevent any further escalation and hoped that peace negotiations would be resumed as soon as possible.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has expressed serious concern over the aggravation of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and has called for an immediate ceasefire. Armenia belongs to the CSTO, which is led by Russia, and within it, member states are bound by mutual defense obligations.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also has expressed his worry and has called for an immediate end to the fighting and the commitment from both sides to de-escalate the situation.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but mostly governed by the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic), a de facto independent state with an Armenian ethnic majority. Hostilities between the two ex-Soviet republics broke out in 1988 and reached a ceasefire in 1994. However, the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia remain strained ever since then.
The so-called “frozen conflict” has seen the mediation of international actors charged with finding a peaceful solution, but they have ended up creating an unsustainable situation in the region. To know more about the conflict see the documentary film Parts of a Circle: History of the Karabakh Conflict.
A week before the clashes, in an interview, President Ilham Aliyev has expressed discontent over the negotiations with Armenia and denounced delays in Karabakh talks, defining it meaningless. Aliyev also threatened Azerbaijan’s exit from the negotiations.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, Elmar Mammadyarov, who has been conducting the “meaningless” negotiations, has faced pressure from inside the government and attacked about his effectiveness. As a consequence, on July 16, President Ilham Aliyev has fired his Foreign Minister, replacing him by the Education Minister, Jeyhun Bayramov.
The coronavirus outbreak in both countries has caused not only a break in ceasefire violations but also in negotiations. The stalemate continues and ceasefire violation episodes are much more likely to occur.
Many analysts have observed that the location of the clashes is unusual since it broke out far from Nagorno-Karabakh.
In this specific location, there are important infrastructures, including roads and pipelines, which are essential for both countries. In particular, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus Pipeline, vital for Azerbaijani energy supplies to Europe, and also for Ankara’s effort to decrease its dependence on Russian energy.
Even if the situation is unstable, it seems unlikely that the crisis would escalate more, but for sure, there will be long-term consequences on peace processes.