The July flare up ‘froze’ the negotiation process – Armenian experts on border fighting with Azerbaijan
The situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has since stabilised since a serious flare up of violence on July 12-16.
The ceasefire regime on the line of contact of troops has been violated no more than usual in Karabakh. However, the current situation can hardly be called even a fragile world. A ‘barrel of gunpowder’ can flare up at any moment, if one of the parties just slightly activates at the border.
Why did the escalation take place not in Karabakh, but on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border? How will it affect the negotiation process, and are negotiations possible under the current conditions? What role did official Ankara play in the escalation?
JAMnews’ questions were answered by Adviser to the President of Nagorno-Karabakh David Babayan and political observer Hakob Badalyan.
An audible silence at the border
The July exacerbation, which was also called the ‘Tavush’ or ‘Tovuz’ clash – after the names of the Armenian border region and the Azerbaijani region, was the bloodiest since the April 2016 four-day war.
True, then military actions were more active on the Karabakh line of contact. And on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, such serious hostilities unfolded many years ago – during the active phase of the Karabakh war (in 1991-1994), before the signing of the ceasefire agreement.
According to official data, during the July exacerbation, Armenia lost five military personnel, while Azerbaijan announced 12 dead.
The parties reported the defeat of a large number of enemy military equipment. The Armenian Defense Ministry even arranged an exhibition of shot down Azerbaijani unmanned aerial vehicles.
Now the situation in all local hot spots has stabilized. Shots sound, but do not exceed the norm that has become customary for these places. After the military confrontation, Yerevan and Baku switched to a “firefight” at the level of statements.
However, the main question remains: why exactly did the north-east of Armenia become the center of the escalation, and why has this not yet received a proper answer? Political observer Hakob Badalyan recalls that these are not the first clashes on this section of the border. On a smaller scale, there were battles here in 2014-2015 as well. The expert connects the current round with geopolitical processes and Turkey’s desire to influence Russia through Azerbaijan:
“When it comes to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, we need to look for a problem with Russia, which Turkey is trying to solve through Azerbaijan. And this time, in this regard, we saw an unprecedented involvement of different parties.”
The role of Turkey in the aggravation of the situation is also seen by the adviser to the President of NK David Babayan:
“Any clash, any local war could not do without the direct participation of Turkey. We see what military exercises are currently taking place in Azerbaijan. And it was announced that exercises are also scheduled for August. All this is a continuation of the Tavush events.”
Turkey’s unprecedented rhetoric
Immediately after the start of the shelling and the aggravation of the situation on July 12, official Ankara made harsh statements at various levels. The Turkish Security Council issued a statement stating that “Armenia must abandon its aggressive position and leave the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Turkey will support any decision that the fraternal Azerbaijani people take in their just struggle.”
The country’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, went further and stated that Turkey and its army are ready to fully support Azerbaijan. In Yerevan, this was regarded as a direct threat. And the Prime Minister of Armenia said that a third party pushed Azerbaijan to the conflict – and it was Turkey.
Why Ankara, which earlier at least tried to create the appearance of neutrality, now has gone to full support of Baku and harsh criticism of Yerevan? Hakob Badalyan calls this reaction of Turkey unprecedented, but expected for the Armenian authorities:
“Armenia is the zone of responsibility of the Collective Security Treaty Organization [a military bloc that operates under the leadership of Russia and which includes Armenia – JAMnews]. And what happened should be viewed in the context of Russian-Turkish relations.”
The expert points out that since the beginning of 2020, Russian-Turkish relations are very tense. In particular, the parties openly clashed in Syria and Libya:
“The task of Armenia is not to allow the country to become an arena for ‘clarifying’ relations between different countries.”
In this situation, Armenia condemned large-scale military exercises with the participation of the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey in the immediate vicinity of its borders. The country’s Foreign Ministry called them provocative.
“This testifies to the fact that the leadership of Azerbaijan, with its provocative actions, hinders the efforts of international mediators to defuse the situation and resume the peace process, and thereby assumes responsibility for the consequences of further destabilization.”
David Babayan believes that these exercises are a direct threat to Armenia:
“Any such exercise has a purpose. In this case, this goal is Armenia. The number of participating contingent and the quality of weapons are growing every year.”
Babayan believes that Armenia alone is not capable of fully ensuring its security:
“Not a single country is capable of doing this. That is why military alliances arise. Armenia must strengthen its position and deepen cooperation with its allies.”
Turkey is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group and in recent years has been making efforts to take a more active part in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. Yerevan does not allow any other format of negotiations, except for the Minsk Group represented by three permanent co-chairing countries: Russia, the United States and France.
July events “froze” negotiations
The escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border led not only to human losses, but also hit the negotiation process hard. In fact, after 2016, the negotiations on Karabakh never returned to full-scale mode. The parties met at the level of foreign ministers and leaders of the country, but even the principles of the settlement were not discussed, let alone any document.
The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs urge the parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible, but it is not clear when this will happen. David Babayan is sure that the recent clashes have frozen the negotiation process indefinitely:
“Now we cannot expect any discussion around the settlement of the conflict. But there is no need to understand settlement as an end result. The parties have mutually exclusive positions. And it is difficult to assume that it will be possible to find a consensus. De facto, the conflict has been resolved for us. And maintaining the status quo is also one of the solutions to the problem.”
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