Op-ed: what really happened in the July fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, what are the results?
But this “little war” was different from similar exacerbations, the last of which happened in April 2016.
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The scene is the Tovuz region in the north-west of Azerbaijan. Two years ago, the leadership of Azerbaijan made a decision to replace the regular troops of the national army with border guards of the State Border Service (SBS) in this section of the border.
Then many commentators, as well as local residents, took this decision with bewilderment. How is it possible for border guards to keep watch during wartime?
Some attributed this decision to competition between two generals – Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and the head of the State Border Service Elchin Guliyev.
However, the voices of the dissatisfied soon began to subside, as time after time there was news that on this section of the border, the Azerbaijani border guards had moved so many meters forward, taken another height.
Of course, the entire Armenian-Azerbaijani border is not delimited and there are quite extensive “neutral zones” where, apparently, the Azerbaijani posts moved forward.
This continued until July 2020, when, unexpectedly, the Armenian side took the same step and established its post between two Azerbaijanis positions.
It must be said right away that the account of the Armenian Defense Ministry that the Azerbaijani border guards in a light UAZ tried to cross the state border or that they allegedly got lost seems extremely unlikely.
On the video distributed by the Armenian media, it is clearly seen that the car was driving along the beaten dirt road, that is, the usual route.
After warning shots, the crew abandoned the car and withdrew. Scouts and saboteurs do not behave like that.
After some time, Azerbaijani troops tried to regain the post, but the fighting dragged on, both sides suffered losses, and the Azerbaijani side lost two high-ranking officers.
Four days later, the shots died down, and the fate of that post remains unclear. The information is contradictory, and independent journalists are not allowed in the area.
Reaction of the Azerbaijani side
It was clearly evident that the Azerbaijani authorities were taken by surprise by these events. The fact that the press services of the Ministry of Defense, the State Border Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided information with a great delay is not surprising.
We, local journalists, are used to this and, unfortunately, most Azerbaijani citizens are forced to receive information from social media, and even from Armenian sources, which work much more efficiently.
But a few mistakes will have to be highlighted:
After the news of the death of General Polad Gashimov, popular in the army, several thousand people took to the streets of Baku.
President Ilham Aliyev said in his speech the next morning that he personally instructed the police not to disperse people, despite the strict quarantine regime and unauthorized actions.
However, at some point, a group of people broke into parliament. Another group began to shout: “Resignation!”
In his speech, the president said that the head of the draft board reported to him that “150 people volunteered for the front,” and that more than half of them were residents of the Tovuz region, where the fighting was taking place.
This was a clear mistake on the part of the president. People simply could not sign up somewhere at nine o’clock in the evening, and in a time of quarantine. They tried to smooth out the mistake, now, according to official data, there are more than 50,000 volunteers.
President Aliyev, in an emotional speech, made another, even more flagrant political mistake.
Speaking about the opposition, he said that “these people are worse than the Armenians.”
There isn’t much to explain here. How can you potentially offer Karabakh Armenians ‘the broadest autonomy’ if the word ‘Armenians’ is used as the standard of bad qualities?
Former President Heydar Aliyev never made such mistakes.
The third mistake was made by the head of the press service of the Ministry of Defense, Colonel Vagif Diargakhli.
Answering a journalist’s question about the threat of the Armenian general Ter-Tadevosyan (retired for a long time) to hit the Mingachevir reservoir with a rocket, he recalled the country’s “newest missiles” that can destroy the Metsamor nuclear power plant.
This is despite the fact that the nuclear power plant is located 70 kilometers from the borders of Azerbaijan itself and only 16 kilometers from the borders of Turkey. And the accident would entail an irreversible catastrophe for the entire region.
Naturally, the Armenian media immediately seized on this statement and replicated it with appropriate comments. Many world publications have also been reprinted with reference to Armenian sources.
Reaction of the Azerbaijani opposition
These days, the opposition leaders, despite the President’s extremely emotional speech with harsh criticism of the opposition, showed restraint and declared their readiness to forget for a while about internal contradictions.
“Let the authorities not worry about their rear. We put off all our disagreements and disputes until better times. We must unite to repel the enemy,” Ali Karimli, chairman of the Popular Front Party, wrote on his Facebook account.
Leaders of other opposition parties – Musavat and REAL – made similar statements.
The main result of the July battles, it seems to me, is the loss of the psychological advantage that Azerbaijan possessed after the April ‘Four-Day War’ of 2016.
I think one should be wary of new incidents, possibly on other sectors of the front line.
Azerbaijan has threatened to deliver an “asymmetric response”. What is meant by this, one can only speculate, while nothing is clear.
Moreover, on the same days the country’s foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov was dismissed (the resignation is not directly related to the events at the border).
Azerbaijan has a reason to “reset” the entire negotiation process and start from scratch.
I even expect a possible refusal from the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group (how much mediation is possible?) And the start of direct negotiations with the Republic of Armenia and representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Perhaps under the umbrella of mediation of Russia – how could we possibly do without it…