Commentary from Yerevan: Why the fighting continues at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border?
As tensions at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border continue, experts are trying to figure out the reasons behind it and predict what will happen next.
After the signing of the ceasefire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh, the largest skirmish between the parties to the conflict took place at the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan on July 28 and the next escalation was stopped with the mediation of the leadership of the Russian peacekeeping forces. Although on July 29 the Prime Minister of Armenia said that the provocations of the Azerbaijani side continue.
The Armenian Defense Ministry announced that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces tried to improve their positions and attacked Armenian posts. They were able to temporarily take control over certain territories but the Armenian military managed to push the enemy back and force it to return to its original positions. As a result, three people were killed on the Armenian side while Azerbaijan did not report any losses.
The parties mutually accuse each other of provocations. However, in Armenia, even at the level of public discussion, there is the confidence that by doing this, Baku is trying to strengthen its position before negotiations on border demarcation and delimitation. In addition, it is believed that this is an attempt to force Yerevan to sign a peace agreement, which will put an end to Armenia’s claims over Nagorno-Karabakh.
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The situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border after the war
Although the battles near the village of Verkhnyaya Shorzha became the largest after the 44-day war, this is not the only case of escalation. After the signing of a ceasefire declaration in Karabakh and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers there, the confrontation between Yerevan and Baku actually shifted to the border of the two countries.
On May 12, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces crossed this very border in several directions and penetrated several kilometers into the territory of Armenia. At the same time, Baku declares that it has not violated the border and considers these lands its own.
However, the actions of the leadership of Azerbaijan were publicly and in a rather harsh form condemned by France and the United States.
At the initial stage, it did not come to real battles, although the soldiers of the two countries were located so close to each other that from time to time they even converged in hand-to-hand combat. Over time, the situation became tenser and tenser. There were reports of shootings and then the first casualty occured.
Azerbaijan was simultaneously expanding the escalation zone. The next focus was positions near the Armenian village of Yeraskh, on the border with the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, where an Armenian soldier was also killed.
Now the line of tension essentially stretches from the very south of Armenia to positions that are only 60 kilometers away from Yerevan.
Why the situation did not stabilize after the war?
The signing of a trilateral ceasefire agreement in Karabakh inspired certain hopes that the hot phase of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was over. It seemed that the issues would henceforth be decided at the negotiating table.
The November 9th agreement set clear conditions for the parties. However, it immediately became clear that its points would be carried out selectively. Baku still has not returned all Armenian prisoners of war and detainees. Criminal cases were launched against the prisoners and sentences were passed with real terms of imprisonment.
Azerbaijan also demands Armenia to provide a corridor through the southern city of Meghri, although the statement only talks about unblocking regional communications in general – and Yerevan, at the highest level, declares that it is not going to do this.
But the most painful issue in relations between Yerevan and Baku at the moment is the process of border demarcation and delimitation. It is known that a specific document is being discussed. But the process is hampered by the presence of enclaves, which exist both on the territory of Armenia and on the territory of Azerbaijan.
If Armenia cedes these territories, it will lose its next strategic positions.
The post-war situation is also complicated by the fact that the working trilateral group at the level of deputy prime ministers has not yet achieved tangible results on the issue of unblocking regional communications. This does not suit Baku, which, in hot pursuit, after the war, wants to make the most of the situation. Another escalation broke out on the eve of the most important talks in Moscow between the defense ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
What will be discussed in Moscow
Little is known about the talks between the heads of the defense departments of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Unofficial sources report that the issue of delimitation and demarcation of the borders will be the subject of negotiations. The Armenian Defense Ministry linked another outbreak on the border precisely with the Moscow meeting:
“On the eve of the planned talks in Moscow, the enemy launched an offensive military operation on the Armenian border from Sotk to Verin Shorzh”.
Experts are also talking about the Moscow meeting. Political observer Tatul Hakobyan published details of the preliminary peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, presented earlier in Moscow by Ilham Aliyev.
It consists of three main points:
- Armenia and Azerbaijan recognize each other’s territorial integrity, and the part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic that remains under the control of the Armenian side receives some kind of status (cultural autonomy).
- The process of demarcation and delimitation of the state borders begins, the most important component of which is the issue of enclaves.
- Azerbaijan gets free access through the territory of Armenia to Nakhijevan and Turkey.
As the journalist reports, this document does not suit Yerevan, and partly also Moscow. But he believes the document could be signed in the coming weeks or months:
“Azerbaijan is trying to take away everything possible from Armenia. This is what caused the tension and fighting in the Gegharkunik region. Naturally, there are red lines for Armenia. Azerbaijan must withdraw its troops from the territory of Armenia.
There can be no discussion of a corridor when the agreement involves the unblocking of all communications in the region. The status of Nagorno-Karabakh should not be associated with the process of mutual recognition of borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.
The expert considers the likelihood of a full-scale war to be low. In his words, much will depend on whether the political leadership of Armenia will be able to withstand the pressure being exerted.
Olesya Vartanyan, an expert on the South Caucasus, also notes that Baku is trying to get everything. According to her, now there is no usual format of the negotiation process – the OSCE Minsk Group, and therefore, it is much more difficult to influence the parties:
“So far, the entire logic of the Azerbaijani leadership was based on the principle: ‘ We won, which means we are right’. We do not see Baku’s readiness to compromise and return to dialogue”.
Position of the Armenian authorities
Armenia is in favor of demarcation and delimitation of the borders, says Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, but points to the following conditions:
“To start the demarcation process, Armenia proposes to withdraw the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops from the border, to locate points of the border troops of the Russian Federation, to monitor the borderline, and to start demarcation work, which Armenia has called for.
Taking into account the recent events, we consider it expedient to consider the possibility of placing Russian border points along the entire line of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which will allow carrying out demarcation work without incidents”.
Pashinyan also proposed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, that is, the military bloc, which includes Armenia, to send a monitoring mission to the border with Azerbaijan. Earlier, Yerevan has already applied to the CSTO but did not receive a clear answer, let alone help.
Amid all of the above, the talks about the need to appeal to the UN Security Council are intensifying in the country.
This option may be the subject of serious consideration, however, the appeal must be prepared carefully, otherwise, on this front, it is also possible to fail, political observer Hakob Badalyan believes:
“Armenia should work in this direction and should prepare this appeal. But at what stage we need to apply depends on the political field that we prepare. If we turn, and the reaction is such that there is no sharp condemnation of Azerbaijan’s actions, this is the same as strengthening the position of Baku”.
What the West has to offer
If not an active participant in the processes taking place in the South Caucasus, then at least France is an interested party. After the signing of the ceasefire agreement, Paris has repeatedly sided with Yerevan.
After the aggravation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the French Ambassador to Armenia Jonathan Lacotte stated that Paris would consider Armenia’s applications for assistance in the defense sphere. But he stressed that one should take into account the fact that Armenia and France are members of different military blocs.
“Our goal is not to prepare for a possible war, but to avoid it, because problems in the region should not be solved by force. The Karabakh issue, the issue of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border should be resolved only through negotiations. Any alternative will lead to a dead-end”, the ambassador said.
The statement of the French side about its readiness to consider the application for military assistance should be perceived as a concrete message from the West, political scientist Ruben Ghevondyan is sure:
“France quite clearly, in an understandable language of diplomacy, says that the West is interested in Armenia. I don’t think this is a separate initiative by France. This statement reflects the fact that the West is ready to take part in resolving the security issues of Armenia ”.
At the same time, the expert emphasizes that the deepening of interaction in this area with France and the West, in general, may lead to certain complications in the Armenian-Russian relations:
“It is necessary to find mechanisms that will allow combining relations with Russia with these processes. In any case, the interests of Armenia are paramount. And our interest now suggests that we cannot, at least partially, respond to these proposals”.
Be that as it may, the Armenian society requires notification of the authorities’ readiness to sign any agreement. If Armenia signs a peace treaty with Azerbaijan on the terms proposed by Baku, this will actually mean a refusal to protect and preserve Nagorno-Karabakh.
If the Armenian society forgave Nikol Pashinyan for the defeat in the war, the loss of Karabakh could become fatal for him.