Armenia asks for regional help following escalation of border tensions
Tension on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border remains high and on May 13, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan instructed the Foreign and Defense Ministers to address the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military bloc of which Armenia is a member of and begin consultations over the situation in the Syunik region bordering Azerbaijan.
On May 12, the Azerbaijani armed forces crossed the border in the area of Lake Sev Lich (Black Lake), advancing 3.5 kilometers into the territory of Armenia. PM Pashinyan stated that by doing that Azerbaijan is trying to establish control over the lake:
“This is a planned provocation from Azerbaijan. They [Azerbaijani servicemen] have fake maps, which supposedly should confirm that the lake belongs to them, but these are obviously fake documents. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces must return to the positions from which they began to advance”.
Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan explained that Armenia’s appeal to the CSTO, which operates under the auspices of Russia, will help to fully resolve the tension.
This, not the first time that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces have attempted to advance into the territories of Armenia.
On May 13, the Armenian Defense Ministry reported that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, “under the pretext of clarifying the borders, undertook another attempt to infiltrate the sovereign territory of Armenia” trying to advance their positions in the Vardenis region (Gegharkunik region) where they were stopped by Armenian Army which demanded that the Azerbaijani troops retreat immediately to their initial positions.
The protracted incident on the Armenian-Azerbaijani in Syunik has already been discussed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and PM Nikol Pashinyan, as foreign ministers of both countries.
President of France Emmanuel Macron expressed support for Armenia and the US State Department has called for restraint between Armenia and Azerbaijan and peaceful settlement of the situation.
Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry advised Yerevan “not to escalate the situation”.
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Reports from Armenia
What Putin and Pashinyan discussed
The information reported by the Armenian and Russian press services differs.
The Kremlin press service reports that upon the initiative of Armenia, a telephone conversation was held, during which Vladimir Putin emphasized the need to strictly comply with all the provisions of the agreements reached between the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020, and January 11, 2021, and, above all, strictly comply with the ceasefire agreement.
However, the press service of the Armenian prime minister reports that the leaders of Armenia and Russia also agreed on the need to have the Azerbaijani forces return to their original positions, although the official statement issued by Kremlin’s statement does not mention this.
Appealing to the CSTO
For the first time, the Armenian authorities decided to turn to the CSTO for help.
After the aggravation of the situation in Syunik, Nikol Pashinyan stated that the Azerbaijani military was deliberately provoking a new conflict. He stressed that the current situation is fully consistent with the article of the organization’s charter, according to which Armenia can request assistance from its allies.
Pashinyan emphasized that the article of the organization states that in the event of a threat to security, stability, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of a member state, “the participating states immediately put into action the mechanism of joint consultations in order to coordinate their positions, develop and undertake measures to provide assistance”.
The Armenian prime minister also noted that “on the day when the provocations began, Azerbaijan announced large-scale exercises with the participation of 15,000 servicemen to be held on May 16”.
Pressing questions about the conflict
In Armenian society, the most discussed issue is the question of why Armenia does not take decisive steps in response to the actions of Azerbaijan. The Secretary of the State Security Council Armen Grigoryan explained that the country’s authorities consider it important not to take abrupt steps, but to fully resolve the issue rather than escalate it.
“We do not consider this a matter of local significance, the events taking place are the basis for larger-scale actions”, Grigoryan said.
Grigoryan believes that the problem will definitely be resolved with the help of allies in the CSTO.
When asked how the Azerbaijani military managed to cross the border of Armenia, Grigoryan said that Armenia did not manage to equip the entire length of the border after the cessation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh:
“The borderline lengthened, and in these conditions, it was impossible to immediately and completely solve this problem but we will solve it with time. We are taking all measures necessary to resolve the issue as soon as possible”.
In a post on his official Twitter page, the head of the press service of the US State Department, Ned Price urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to exercise restraint and resolve the situation at the border peacefully:
“We are closely following the reports on the growing tension at the section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, where the process of demarcation has not yet taken place. We understand that negotiations between the parties are ongoing and call for restraint and peaceful de-escalation of the situation”.
Michael Chong, MP from the Conservative Party of Canada, called on the government of his country to protect the territorial integrity of Armenia.
“The Trudeau government, which contributed to the disruption of the balance of power in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh by allowing the export of weapons to Azerbaijan, should raise the issue of protecting the territorial integrity of Armenia”, the MP Chong posted on his Twitter page.
Emmanuel Macron, during a telephone conversation with Nikol Pashinyan, stated that France reaffirms its commitment to the territorial integrity of Armenia and emphasized the need for the immediate withdrawal of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces from the sovereign territory of Armenia.
Macron later wrote the following post in Armenian on his Facebook page:
“The Azerbaijani Armed Forces invaded the Armenian territory. They must be withdrawn immediately. Once again I appeal to the Armenian people: France is in solidarity with you and it will be so in the future”.
Statement of the Foreign Ministry
“As per terms of the trilateral agreement signed on November 10, 2020, the process of deploying the border forces of Azerbaijan is underway in the Kelbajar and Lachin regions of Azerbaijan, located on the border with Armenia. This process is carried out as usual and it is carried out systematically”, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Foreign Ministry notes that Azerbaijan and Armenia are now determining the borderline, and this process is carried out on the basis of maps available to both parties. Considering that after the restoration of independence, the two countries, for obvious reasons, did not have a full-fledged state border, the parties, naturally, have different opinions on technical processes:
“Therefore, Armenia’s inadequate reaction to this process, as well as its provocative statements, is surprising. We consider it inadmissible for the officials in Armenia to use this issue for internal, pre-election purposes”.
The Azerbaijani MoFA notes that the leadership of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan was sent to the region on May 12, negotiations are underway between border guards and measures are being taken to normalize the situation:
“We recommend that the military-political circles of Armenia accept the reality of the border regime on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border along the Zangilan, Gubadli, Lachin, and Kelbajar regions of Azerbaijan and refrain from aggravating the tension in the region for no good reason. Any issues must and will be resolved by means of bilateral contacts”.
The Foreign Ministry added that Azerbaijan is committed to eliminating tensions in the region.
Commentary from Baku
In an interview with JAMnews, Azerbaijani political scientist Shahin Jafarli noted that the process of demarcation and delimitation of the state borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia is carried out according to the Soviet maps:
“The parties agreed to establish state borders on the basis of old maps because there is simply no other alternative. Much like elsewhere in the world, the process of delimitation cannot be carried out without causing some conflicts.
Let us recall the recent confrontation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Seemingly friendly countries, both members of the CSTO but the controversy at the border resulted in dozens of casualties on both sides.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are not friendly countries, the war between them has just ended, and such small-scale conflicts are inevitable, I think”.
Shahin Jafarli believes that the main reason for the aggravation of the border problem is the internal political life of Armenia:
“This topic has become the main one on the agenda in Armenia, and this is largely due to the opposition in this country since state security is the weakest link in Nikol Pashinyan’s policy. He lost the war, and now the opposition declares his inability to defend the territory of the country itself.
From the point of view of Azerbaijan, I think that the coming to power of revanchist forces in Armenia is not the most favorable option for Baku. For us, the policy pursued by Pashinyan was relatively constructive. But maybe the leadership of Azerbaijan has other information, and its acts are based on its own interests. But this situation so far only strengthens the position of Pashinyan’s opponents in the upcoming electoral race”.