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Analysis

What’s Behind New Azerbaijani-Armenian Clashes Over Karabakh?

Sunday 19 July 2020
What’s Behind New Azerbaijani-Armenian Clashes Over Karabakh?

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Alwaght- The old Karabakh region crisis between Azerbaijan and Armenia resurfaced over the past few days, triggering clashes between the two sides’ border guards. 

Kerim Veliyev, Azerbaijan’s deputy defense minister, said that his country “dealt hard blows to the enemy forces” in two days of clashes. He added that the clashes continued on July 14, resulting in the death of several officers and soldiers. Seven soldiers from Azerbaijan and two from Armenia were killed, Azerbaijani sources confirmed. 

The Armenian foreign ministry stated that the country’s forces destroyed Azerbaijani border posts. It said that the destruction of the posts came after an assault by Azerbaijan on the Armenian border town of Berd in Tavush province. 

Karabakh crisis, from the beginning to date 

The Karabakh crisis sparked in 1988 and continued beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Under the crisis, about 20 percent of Azerbaijan territories were seized by Armenia. In 1994 Minsk Group, containing the US, Russia, and France, brokered a ceasefire agreement between the two neighbors. The border tensions have so far had around 30,000 victims. 

Although the formal date for the crisis is 1988, the Azerbaijani and Armenian crisis has historical roots. Karabakh as an inhabited region was founded in the 19th century by the Azerbaijani Armenian and Turkic Christians. It then went under the rule of the Russian Empire. 

The Armenian-Azerbaijani war took place from 1918 to 1920. With the collapse of Nicholas II of the Russian Empire and rise of the rule of the Russian revolutionary government in 1917 and also rise of new and independent states in the Caucasus in the closing years of the WWI, a competition to take control of Karabakh region as well as latent border, sectarian, and historical disputes in Nakhchivan region stirred a severe war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The war, as a string of clashes in the Caucasus, lasted for four years. 

After the WWI and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, the news rulers in Russia, as Soviet Russia, founded the Autonomous Karabakh Region as its predominant inhabitants were Armenians. The move was part of a plan to tighten their rule over the whole Caucasus. In the early 1920s, they founded the Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. 

When the soviet grab over the region loosened in the late 1980s, the autonomous region’s parliament declared the independence of the region. Shortly later, it voted to join Armenia, sparking a new wave of clashes between the two countries. 

Throughout the war, which is believed to have killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people from both sides of the conflict and displaced about 1 million others, Armenia solidified its control of the disputed region. The Armenians also took steps to seize an Azerbaijani territory to fully connect Karabakh to mainland Armenia. Although Armenia never recognized Karabakh's independence, it was the main military and economic supporter of the autonomous region. 

In an effort to reach a solution to the decades-long dispute between the two countries, the Minsk Group in 1992 mediated dialogue between Baku and Yerevan. The mediation led to a fragile ceasefire in 1994. 

Since the agreement was signed, heavy clouds of an impasse covered the negotiation atmosphere. Azerbaijanis were so upset to see a territory that they claimed to be theirs occupied by Armenia. On the opposite side, Armenia was satisfied and showed no signs of willingness to quit its claim over the region.

Considerable progress was made in 2009 during the negotiations of the two sides’ leaders over the dispute, however. But this progress very soon unraveled. Since then, intermittent clashes occurred from time to time. The last one was in 2016 which lasted for four days.

What happened on the border?

Both sides accuse each other of shooting at the border regions and forces and that the starter of the clashes is the opposite side. The Azerbaijani ministry of defense claimed that a 76-year-old man in Agdam village of Azerbaijan was killed by the direct fire of the Armenian forces. The ministry also said that four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed on Sunday and Monday by Armenian tank and artillery fire.

Azerbaijan’s army said that in response to the attacks it destroyed Armenian military reinforcement and artillery and inflicted casualties on “hundreds” of Armenian soldiers.

The Azerbaijani president’s aide on the Armenian affairs Hekmat Hajiev accused Armenia of starting the attacks on Azerbaijani forces. “Armenian armed forces apparently violated the ceasefire in Tavush region,” he was quoted as saying.

At an emergency meeting, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said that the political and military leaders of Armenia are held accountable for the provocation of border clashes.

But on the other side, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of shootings at Berd border town. It accused its neighbor of using artillery in an attack aimed at capturing [Armenian] positions."

Shushan Stepanian, the spokeswoman to the Armenian ministry of defense, in a Facebook message reported that an Azerbaijani army vehicle tried to break into Armenian territory in the Tavush region. “After our forces fired warning shots, the Azerbaijani forces left their vehicle and returned to the position,” Stepanian said. She further claimed that an hour later, Azerbaijani forces sought to seize “our border post” using artillery fire. “But they were forced to retreat after sustaining casualties,” she added.

Stepanian continued that the “violation against the Armenian civilians will receive a proper response the accountability of which will be on the Azerbaijani side.”

The border clashes came days after Azerbaijan president called the peace process with Armenia “meaningless” after criticizing the international mediation to solve the border problem. He accused Yerevan of evading the talks to save the status quo.

Minsk Group has always been under fire by Azerbaijan due to what Baku calls “inefficiency” in the road to finally settle the dispute between the two neighbors. These stances by Baku come as over the past three decades, Azerbaijan has failed to make any gains in its claims laid to Karabakh.

The failure by Azerbaijan to make any gains in the negotiations drove it disappointed to bring back its seven regions seized by Armenia. This, in turn, put President Aliyev face to face with mounting home criticism and pressure to get the disputed region back. The recent tensions come while in late May Arayik (Ara) Harutyunian has been sworn in as de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh. The inauguration ceremony, held on May 21 in the city of Shushi which is of paramount cultural significance to Azerbaijan, was attended by an Armenian delegation led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Experts suggest that the direct attacks alongside the disputed borders of the two South Caucasian neighbors are a smart move by Armenia in a bid to pave the way for intervention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) which is led by Moscow as a supporter of Yerevan in the confrontation of Baku in Karabakh crisis.

Some other experts say that the home developments in Armenia are not without influence on the recent tensions. They hold that the failure by Armenian President Armen Sarkissian to realize election promises while his party holds the government and the parliament pushes him to shift the blame and distract the people’s attention from the home problems using tensions with Azerbaijan. 

Will there be a full-scale war? 

As the recent clashes provoked many international sides to ask for self-restraint for both sides and end of the border skirmishes, observers rule out the development of the situation to a full-scale war for some reasons:

First, the disputed region is home to hundreds of towns and villages whose residents in case of a war on a large scale can be directly affected and displaced from their homes. 

Second, the region is also home to a crowded network of oil and gas pipelines as well as strategic roads. In case of a war, access to the roads and operation of oil and gas pipelines will be compromised. 

These two factors can pose immediate challenges to both Azerbaijan and Armenia if they start a showdown war. So, the experts say that a thorough war will not be in interests of any side of the conflict.

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Azerbaijan Armenia Clashes Karabakh Dispute

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