Lessons learned from ongoing clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan

14 July 2020 – 11:47 | By Vasif Huseynov

Armenia’s sudden attack on its border with Azerbaijan in recent days testifies to Armenia’s intention to draw Russia more extensively into its conflict with Azerbaijan, writes Vasif Huseynov.

On 12 July, a series of clashes started on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border after the former launched a sudden attack against the position of Azerbaijan’s armed forces with heavy artillery.

This has been the first major escalation between the sides since the April War of 2016 and particularly since Nikol Pashinyan took over the political leadership in Armenia in mid-2018.

Azerbaijan’s ministry of defence has already reported the loss of four Azerbaijani soldiers while the Armenian side has not reported any death which is disputed by local and international observers considering the intense and extensive level of fighting between the two sides.

For an outside observer, the sudden escalation on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan might seem unexpected at this particular time, as both sides have been hit hard by the pandemic.

However, the recent development in the occupied regions of Azerbaijan, including a highly provocative visit of Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan to the historical city of Shusha on 21 May to participate in the so-called inauguration of a new leader of the occupational regime made the situation very tense.

The evolving event offers a number of conclusions that should be drawn for the existing situation and future prospects of the conflict between the two.

First and foremost, it has demonstrated that Armenia does not plan to limit its occupation to the already occupied territories of Azerbaijan and has the intention to use every single opportunity to take control over more areas.

Having launched the attack in the region that has no direct link with the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas, Armenia has sought to expand the area of intense mutual confrontations which they hoped to allow them to take more territories under control.

This was blatantly confirmed by the Minister of Defence of Armenia, Davit Tonoyan, who declared that the Armenian armed forces are instructed to “occupy new advantageous positions” if the Azerbaijani side makes any provocations.

Secondly, Armenia’s sudden attack on its border with Azerbaijan, i.e. not on the line of contact surrounding the occupied territories of Azerbaijan testifies Armenia’s intention to draw Russia more extensively in its conflict with Azerbaijan.

Armenia hoped that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) would stand with Armenia and support its war against Azerbaijan, as the charter of the organization pronounces the principle of “an attack against one is considered an attack against all”.

Towards this end, Armenia quickly albeit unsuccessfully attempted to push for a special session of the CSTO which was apparently not supported by other members as it has been declared that would not take place.

Third, the sudden escalation of the conflict which would quickly spiral into full-scale war as Polad Bulbuloglu, Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation did not rule out once again confirms that Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict is not a frozen one and runs the risk of turning into a regional catastrophe if not resolved shortly and peacefully.

This is of great importance for the extra-regional powers to take note that any negligence towards the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan’s call for the restoration of its internationally-recognized borders further deteriorates the situation and has the potential to lead sides into an all-out war with grave repercussions for the two conflicting sides and the wider region.

Last but not least, the recent escalation has indubitably shown that the imitation of negotiations between the sides over the last few years due to Armenia’s abuse of the peace process to prolong the status-quo and consolidate its control over the occupied region must stop, and its leaders should be pressured into substantive negotiations by the international community.

Importantly, most international organizations and states have recently shared Azerbaijan’s concern more vigorously and called Armenia to respect the international law and norms.

For example, on 10 June 2020, reacting to the construction of a road that will directly connect Armenia and the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region, the members of the European Parliament – the Chair of the delegation Marina Kaljurand, the European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Armenia Traian Băsescu and the European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Azerbaijan Željana Zovko – have issued a joint statement and characterized this as a violation of the international law.

Concluding that the project is an attempt to “consolidate the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories”, the statement urged “the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan to conscientiously take their obligations in negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the conflict within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan”.

This principled position must be a role model for all other international institutions and states, and Armenia should be pressured into immediate substantive talks, otherwise the world will likely have to experience another humanitarian tragedy amidst the already troubled challenges posed by other interstate conflicts, economic crises and the global pandemic.