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Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia remained blocked, exacerbating humanitarian crisis and provoking international condemnation.
Blockade of NK remained in place, deepening humanitarian crisis. Azerbaijani-govt-backed “environmental activists” throughout month continued blocking Lachin corridor, which links NK with Armenia. Amid diminishing food and medical supplies in mountainous enclave, de facto authorities 17 Jan began rationing food using coupon system. Reports of hours-long queues to purchase food products from rural areas in de facto capital Stepanakert, home to around roughly half the entity’s population, also emerged. Local energy company ArtsakhGaz 17 Jan reported disruptions to gas and electricity supplies, forcing civilians to begin installing wood stoves for cooking and heating homes. De facto authorities 19 Jan closed schools over gas and electricity disruptions.
Despite international pressure, Baku warned blockade could last for long time. Russian peacekeepers 15 Jan facilitated meeting between representatives from Azerbaijan and de facto leadership to resolve crisis, but came away empty-handed. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan mid-Jan embarked on diplomatic offensive in Europe to spotlight “humanitarian crisis”, meeting with European Union (EU) institutions and EU member states, NATO and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. European Parliament 19 Jan condemned blockade, urging Azerbaijan “to immediately reopen” road. Armenia 30 Jan urged International Court of Justice to break up blockade, calling it part of an act of “ethnic cleansing”; Azerbaijan next day rejected claim, accusing Armenia of using dispute to create leverage at peace talks. Despite mounting pressure, President Aliyev 10 Jan told reporters blockade could continue for long time but did not clarify what actions could be taken to unblock corridor.
In other important developments. De facto NK leader Arayik Harutyunyan 11 Jan appointed Sergey Ghazaryan, previously Stepanakert’s envoy to Yerevan, as de facto foreign minister. Azerbaijan 18 Jan filed interstate arbitration against Armenia under Bern Convention on Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats for destruction of environment and wildlife in NK.
Azerbaijan-backed protesters blocked vital transport link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), fuelling fears of looming humanitarian crisis.
Blockade of Lachin corridor fuelled concerns over humanitarian situation. While Armenia-Azerbaijan border stabilised in Dec (see Armenia, Azerbaijan), new crisis emerged at Lachin corridor, only road connecting Armenian-populated NK with Armenia. Tensions rose after Azerbaijani officials and AzerGold mining company 3 Dec started negotiations with Russian peacekeepers to allow inspections of two mines in NK due to alleged “illegal economic activity” and “damage to the environment”. Russian peacekeepers failed to secure visit, prompting dozens of Azerbaijani govt-backed “environmental activists” 12 Dec to conduct round-the-clock protests near Shusha town. Protesters blocked road during month, preventing movement of people and goods into and out of NK and fuelling fears of humanitarian crisis. Disruptions 12 Dec in natural gas supplies further aggravated situation, with de facto NK authorities 13 Dec announcing school closures due to weather conditions; gas supply 16 Dec resumed. Armenian PM Pashinyan 29 Dec announced Yerevan had approved additional $10mn in aid to ethnic Armenian population in NK.
Baku denied involvement in blockade and underplayed humanitarian risks. Azerbaijani foreign ministry 13 Dec blamed Russian peacekeepers for blocking corridor while Azerbaijani pro-govt media 16, 25 Dec released videos of Russian peacekeepers’ vehicles passing unhindered through Shusha to show that activists are not “blocking the road”. Azerbaijani state-owned Azariqaz gas company 14 Dec denied Azerbaijan’s role in disruption of gas supplies to NK. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s FM Bayramov 15 Dec dismissed fears of imminent humanitarian crisis as “an exaggeration”, saying Azerbaijan is “always ready to meet humanitarian needs of the Armenian residents living on our territories”.
Local and international pressure failed to resolve crisis. International actors, including European Union, U.S., Russia and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres called on Azerbaijani authorities to ensure free movement through corridor, while UN Security Council 20 Dec convened emergency session. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 23 Dec said Russian peacekeepers were working tirelessly to secure free passage through corridor amid criticism from Pashinyan. Meanwhile, thousands 25 Dec rallied in de facto capital Stepanakert, but Lachin corridor remained blocked by end of Dec.
Azerbaijan and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) authorities accused each other of targeting military positions and civilian areas in NK; disagreements over format of future NK negotiations continued.
Azerbaijan and de facto NK authorities traded accusations of ceasefire violations. Reports of sharp increase in attacks at military positions and nearby civilian areas along front line in NK conflict zone drew accusations and denials from Azerbaijan and de facto authorities in equal measure. Notably, Stepanakert 10 Nov said Azerbaijani shooting injured one farmer; Azerbaijan’s defence ministry 26 Nov reported downing of quadcopter allegedly used by de facto forces for surveillance purposes; Stepanakert 28 Nov said Azerbaijani forces injured two soldiers with mine launchers. Russian peacekeepers’ reports of stepped-up shootings aggravated tensions with Baku, which 24, 25 Nov accused mission of partial and biased reporting. Meanwhile, situation at Armenia-Azerbaijan border remained fragile following Sept clashes, with both sides reporting shooting along front line during Nov (see Armenia, Azerbaijan).
Azerbaijan accused Armenia of planting mines in NK conflict zone. Azerbaijan 23 Nov invited military attachés of several foreign states to observe hundreds of mines, reportedly produced in Armenia in 2021 and discovered around Sarybaba heights near Lachin corridor after being captured by Azerbaijani troops during Aug escalation. Baku also invited Russian peacekeeping mission and Russian-Turkish observation centres, mandated to prevent transportation of any weapons from Armenia to NK, to site. Yerevan and Stepanakert 24 Nov denied planting mines in area and accused Baku of staging it as pretext for provocation.
Stepanakert and Baku disagreed over format of future NK negotiations. Russian businessman Ruben Vardanyan 4 Nov became de facto state minister of NK; Azerbaijani President Aliyev 17 Nov ruled out possibility of negotiations with Vardanyan, who he said was sent from Moscow “with a very clear agenda”. In same statement, Aliyev confirmed willingness to speak with “Armenians who live in Karabakh” but excluded talks with de facto NK authorities; de facto FM Davit Babayan next day reiterated readiness to negotiate with Azerbaijan but only in “internationally recognised” format, namely “the OSCE Minsk Group”.
De facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) declared willingness for direct negotiations with Baku, while talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders drew mixed reactions.
Stepanakert declared readiness for direct talks with Baku. Armenia 5 Oct confirmed negotiations to establish “international discussion mechanism” between Baku and Stepanakert were under way. De facto NK FM Davit Babayan same day confirmed readiness for direct talks with Baku, adding that Baku should recognise NK as “full-fledged party to the conflict” so that all sides could negotiate as “equals”; Babayan also said talks should include Armenia and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group in order “to achieve a comprehensive settlement”.
Talks in Prague between Armenia and Azerbaijan prompted mixed reactions in NK. Following deadly violence along Armenia-Azerbaijan border in Sept, Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 6 Oct met in Czech Republic’s capital Prague for EU and French-mediated meeting (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Aliyev same day said sides were gradually moving toward peace, but reiterated that NK was Azerbaijan’s internal affair; added that Azerbaijani govt would continue to develop informal relations with NK Armenians. Prague meeting prompted mixed reactions in NK. Notably, protesters 8-9 Oct held sporadic rallies against being placed under Baku’s rule, while de facto authorities same day complained that Prague statement made no reference to NK. NK residents 30 Oct once more gathered in huge numbers for rally while de facto parliament, who organised rally, issued statement rejecting any peace deal envisaging Azerbaijani control over NK and urging authorities in Yerevan to “approach recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with reservations, taking into account the fact that the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict is not settled.”
In other important developments. Ahead of 31 Oct summit in Russia’s Sochi city, in which Russian President Putin brought together Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to discuss peace process, de facto NK leader Arayik Harutyunyan 29 Oct expressed hope that meeting would “extend the term of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in NK indefinitely, since the Russian peacekeepers have undertaken a significant share of the effort to ensure the security of Artsakh and its population”.
Fragile calm prevailed in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) as deadly clashes erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan along state border.Disputed NK territory saw relative calm as deadly clashes flared in other areas. Amid high tensions following Baku’s military operation in NK early Aug, clashes 13 Sept erupted along Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, marking deadliest violence between two countries since six-week war in 2020. Fighting killed at least 207 Armenian and 80 Azerbaijani soldiers and forced 2,700 Armenian civilians from their homes (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Addressing UN General Assembly, PM Pashinyan said threat of new offensive remained “very high” and that “Azerbaijan intends to occupy more territories of Armenia”.International actors urged sides to continue normalisation process. Russia, U.S., EU and France 13 Sept called for peace and restraint. Russia 15 Sept called on Baku and Yerevan to “refrain from steps that could lead to increased tensions” and to fulfil “the ceasefire agreements mediated by Russia” that ended 2020 war; U.S. same day called for “comprehensive settlement of all remaining issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.
Azerbaijan launched military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), ending period of relative calm as clashes with ethnic Armenian forces left three dead. Amid reports Baku was pressing for speedy launch of new road linking NK with Armenia and demanding disarmament of local Armenian forces, de facto authorities 1 Aug said Azerbaijani forces wounded one soldier during clashes at north-eastern front, which Russian peacekeepers confirmed; same day said Azerbaijani forces were advancing in western and north-western fronts, and near main road connecting entity to Armenia, known as Lachin corridor. Baku 3 Aug launched military operation in NK, saying de facto NK forces killed Azerbaijani soldier in Lachin region during exchange of fire. Stepanakert same day said strikes killed two of its soldiers. Azerbaijan 5 Aug announced military had taken control of strategic Mount Buzdukh and adjacent heights. International community, including Brussels, Washington, Moscow and UN, 3-4 Aug urged parties to respect ceasefire. Azerbaijani defence ministry 4 Aug said tensions had eased. Following flare-up, de facto authorities in NK 5 Aug instructed Armenian residents from Lachin city and Zabukh village, located along Lachin corridor connecting NK with Armenia, to leave their homes by 25 Aug when area came under Azerbaijan’s control as part of 2020 ceasefire agreement. Armenian PM Pashinyan day before told congress that 2020 truce agreement required Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to establish joint “plan” for construction of new Armenia-Karabakh road before sections of existing Lachin corridor could be transferred to Azerbaijan’s control; he said no plan had been drawn up despite agreement. Azerbaijan 15 Aug announced completion of its part of new road to replace existing Lachin corridor. EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar 19 Aug met with senior representatives from Armenia and Azerbaijan in first senior bilateral meeting after escalation. Both countries’ leaders 31 Aug met in Brussels for EU-mediated talks, which concluded without major announcement. European Council President Charles Michel nonetheless said talks were “open and productive”, focused on humanitarian issues, transport links and border delimitation, and that both sides agreed “to step up substantive work to advance on the peace treaty”.
Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) remained calm amid EU and Russian mediation efforts. Calm persisted along front lines as Armenia and Azerbaijan prepared for new EU-mediated summit, with neither side reporting casualties during month. Russian President Putin 4 July spoke to Azerbaijani President Aliyev on sidelines of Caspian summit in Turkmenistan ahead of first substantial meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials on border demarcation and related security issues, which will take place in Russian capital Moscow in Aug. EU also continued to facilitate diplomatic efforts. European Council President Charles Michel 4 July spoke with Aliyev; EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar 13 July travelled to Armenia for meeting with Armenian PM Pashinyan and 15 July met Aliyev in Azerbaijan. Subsequently, Azerbaijani and Armenian FMs 16 July met for first bilateral talks in Georgian capital Tbilisi, where they reconfirmed their readiness for continued diplomatic engagement. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 25 July spoke with Aliyev and Pashinyan separately about “historic opportunity to achieve peace” and urged “further progress towards peace and stability in the region”. U.S. ambassador to Armenia 26 July reaffirmed willingness to use Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group as “platform” for renewed cooperation with Russia to facilitate settlement to NK conflict.
While security situation remained calm, diplomatic process between Yerevan and Baku did not advance significantly. Situation in NK remained calm throughout month: no reports of clashes, shootings or new causalities. Yet talks made little progress. Speaking to local media, Armenian PM Pashinyan 27 June accused Azerbaijan of undermining diplomatic efforts in order “to legitimise a new war”. Amid ongoing protests organised by Armenian opposition over govt’s stance regarding future status of NK, Pashinyan 15 June addressed parliament, saying that “any status” guaranteeing security, rights and freedoms of NK people should be considered “real solution”; he claimed alternative would be “annihilation not only of Nagorno-Karabakh, but of Armenia as well”. Azerbaijani President Aliyev next day accused Armenian govt of raising NK’s future status despite “verbal agreement” to refrain from discussing topic; also used opportunity to criticise Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, saying it had achieved “zero results” in NK conflict settlement and that there was no need for it. Other parties insisted it remained important international format for negotiations. Notably, U.S. official 20 June praised Minsk Group’s continued relevance and highlighted U.S. readiness to cooperate with Russia on NK; Pashinyan 28 June echoed support for OSCE Minsk Group. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 24 June once more accused U.S. and France of trying to dismantle Minsk group. Disagreements over resumed operations of transportation route between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan exclave via Armenia persisted (see Armenia and Azerbaijan).
Conflict zone remained calm, while thousands of Armenian protesters rallied against PM Pashinyan’s perceived negotiating position with Azerbaijan over territory’s future. Amid rising prospect of renewed peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan following both leaders’ statements in April, situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone remained calm during month, with no reports of clashes, shootings or casualties. Thousands of protesters 28 May rallied in de facto capital Stepanakert in support of Armenian opposition, while raising concerns about Armenian PM Pashinyan’s plans to enter talks with Azerbaijan on NK with perceived low demands on status of entity (see Armenia); largest protest held in Armenian-populated areas of NK since 2020 war. On diplomatic front, Pashinyan during visit to Netherlands 11 May criticised Azerbaijan for not responding to proposal to start discussions of NK status; Azerbaijan 12 May rejected criticism. Azerbaijani President Aliyev 19 May accused Armenia of making excuses to avoid real talks and border demarcation process; Armenia same day rejected accusation. After FMs of both sides met in Tajik capital Dushanbe, Pashinyan and Aliyev 22 May met in EU-facilitated talk in Belgian capital Brussels, agreeing that border demarcation teams would meet “in the coming days” (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Parties maintain different approaches to talks: Azerbaijan sees NK as domestic problem and wants Armenia to renounce territorial claims, while Armenia states its readiness to do so, providing Azerbaijan recognises that under revised NK’s status Armenians should be allowed to continue living in conflict zone.
Peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan gained momentum, triggering concern among de facto NK authorities and Armenia’s political opposition. After major flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) in March that resulted in Azerbaijani forces taking control of strategic mountains inside Armenian-populated areas, EU 6 April facilitated third meeting between Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev; pair agreed to instruct respective FMs to work on peace treaty and convene joint border commission by late April. President Aliyev 12 April said that Armenia during 6 April meeting accepted five principles of settlement proposed by Baku, which included mutual recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and mutual affirmation of absence of territorial claims (see Azerbaijan). Armenian PM Pashinyan 13 April reiterated that Yerevan had accepted Azerbaijan’s proposals regarding peace agreement, including mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity (see Armenia). Momentum toward peace talks raised fears in NK and Armenia that Yerevan is preparing to cede NK’s control to Azerbaijan. Notably, Armenian opposition MPs 12 April travelled various villages in Armenia and NK; Russian peacekeepers in NK same day denied them entry, prompting Armenian foreign ministry to claim lack of access contradicted Nov 2020 ceasefire agreement. De facto NK leader Arayik Harutyunyan 13 April rejected “impossible” Azerbaijani rule over region, while de facto NK parliament 14 April demanded end to “disastrous” Armenian position. Harutyunyan 25 April said Pashinyan had previous day assured him that Armenia would not back any agreements on region’s status unacceptable to Karabakh Armenians. Meanwhile, war in Ukraine strained cooperation between West and Russia and raised doubt over Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 8 April accused U.S. and France of refusing to work with Russia in OSCE format following Russian invasion of Ukraine. French Co-chair 14 April and U.S. Co-chair 18 April visited Armenia to reiterate importance of Minsk Group in finding comprehensive settlement. Pashinyan and Russian President Putin 19 April met and reaffirmed Minsk Group as valid and important format.
Hostilities escalated in Nagorno Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, raising prospect of further clashes in April. Incidents mid-March rose in Armenian-populated areas of NK. Specifically, sides reported near-daily incidents close to mountainous eastern Agdam region (retaken by Azerbaijan following 2020 war) and road in south that connects Azerbaijan to Shusha town and runs near Armenian settlements. Notably, in first use of heavy weapons since 2020 war, mine shell 10 March injured resident in Armenian village Khramort and 120mm mine shell next day landed in Armenian village Khnapat, damaging local school; Azerbaijan 11 March denied attacks and blamed local Armenian forces for provoking tensions. In significant escalation, Azerbaijani troops 24-25 March took over small Armenian settlement Farukh located inside NK close to Khramort and Khnapat and next to strategic mountainous height called Karaglukh, which overlooks Agdam region and big parts of Armenian-populated NK; at least three Armenian soldiers reported dead and 14 injured, including in Azerbaijani attacks by Bayraktarks TB2 drones. U.S., France and Russian peacekeepers 26 March called on Baku to withdraw troops. Russian peacekeepers 27 March said Azerbaijan removed its troops from Farukh settlement; Azerbaijani Defence Ministry same day denied “changes in positions”. Previously, in sign viewed by Yerevan as increasing assertiveness along front lines, Azerbaijan during month continued use of loudspeakers to warn ethnic Armenians against conducting agricultural work and broadcast call to prayer in areas around Agdam region and in southern parts of Armenian-populated areas of NK. Gas pipeline from Armenia to NK 8 March stopped supply due to damage, leaving NK without heating for over one week; Azerbaijan 19, 27 March made repairs, announced that gas supply would be restored. In sign that prospects for talks remain dim, Armenia and Azerbaijan 14 March publicised their visions for resumption of negotiations, reiterating previous mutually exclusive positions: Baku demanded Armenian support to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and Yerevan insisted on respect of right for self-determination. With support from Russian peacekeepers, de facto NK authorities 7 March dispatched humanitarian cargo to separatist entities in Ukraine recognised by Russia.
Skirmishes persisted in conflict zone, while diplomatic engagement between Azerbaijan and Armenia led to humanitarian gesture on detainees and information on 1990s war. Incidents erupted at line between Armenian-populated Karabakh and Azerbaijani-controlled area in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone. Notably, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry 6 Feb claimed de facto NK troops fired at its military near Qapanli village in Tartar district; de facto NK authorities same day reiterated commitment to ceasefire and accused Azerbaijan of truce violation by firing large-calibre machine gun at locals. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry 15 Feb claimed its forces prevented “Armenian illegal armed groups” from building fortifications in NK allegedly under guise of agricultural work; de facto authorities same day accused Azerbaijani troops of opening fire on farmers carrying out agricultural work in Khramort village, who “managed to escape thanks to the intervention of Russian peacekeepers”. De facto authorities same day reported serious wounding of soldier in truce violation at area of same village; Azerbaijan 15 Feb denied incident. Azerbaijani defence ministry 19 Feb said that Azerbaijani army positions in Taghavard village had come under fire; de facto NK authorities same day said Azerbaijani troops fired at residential houses in Taghavard 18 Feb; Azerbaijani defence ministry denied report. Despite skirmishes, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan 4 Feb attended virtual meeting under French and EU mediation (see Azerbaijan and Armenia); engagement led to Azerbaijan 7 Feb returning eight detainees to Yerevan, arguing handover was in return for information about Azerbaijanis killed in 1990s Karabakh war; Pashinyan 9 Feb clarified that Armenia handed over remains of 108 people to Azerbaijan since ceasefire of 2020 war. Tensions also resurfaced over cultural heritage in NK. Azerbaijani Culture Minister Anar Karimov 3 Feb announced research working group on Caucasian-Albanian heritage in territories regained in 2020 war; Armenia 8 Feb condemned move. Official of Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office 15 Feb said that Baku was seeking to arrest de facto leader of NK Arayik Harutyunyan over missile attacks on Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, during 2020 war; Armenian justice minister next day said there were no legal grounds for move.
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan remained high amid skirmishes, as Baku protested visits to Nagorno-Karabakh by French and Russian politicians. As tensions at Armenian-Azerbaijani state border flared up mid-Jan amid series of deadly clashes (see Armenia and Azerbaijan), de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities 10 Jan claimed Azerbaijani troops fired shots in Krasny Bazar (Karmir Shuka) village in Martuni region, and firefighters arriving at scene near kindergarten came under fire; Azerbaijani defence ministry same day denied claims of Azerbaijani troops firing at civilians or civilian facilities. Following Dec visit to Nagorno-Karabakh by Russian MP from ruling United Russia party, Azerbaijani President Aliyev sent letter to United Russia Chairman Dmitry Medvedev “strongly objecting” to visit that he said lacked Baku’s permission. In reaction to Nagorno-Karabakh visit by French presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse, Aliyev 12 Jan said Baku would not have let Pécresse leave if it knew about visit in advance; French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 18 Jan protested “unacceptable” comment, while noting with regret that Pécresse did not consult French govt beforehand.
Despite deadly incidents along Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) contact line, sides renewed diplomatic engagement, facilitating prisoners release. Insecurity persisted throughout month. Armenia 3 Dec alleged that local from Martuni province lost his way and was killed after Azerbaijani forces forcibly abducted him from neutral zone, labelling killing “gross violation of international humanitarian law”; Azerbaijan defence ministry 3 Dec confirmed civilian’s death, and said ethnic Armenian man had assaulted Azerbaijani soldier who subsequently fired warning shot and “rendered the provocateur harmless”. De facto NK authorities 5 Dec reported one soldier fatally shot; Azerbaijan 7 Dec denied killing Armenian soldier. De facto NK investigative committee 7 Dec alleged Azerbaijan fatally shot Armenian soldier in no-man’s land near Shusha town despite uncertainty over who fired first. Baku 8 Dec reported killing of Azerbaijani soldier in Kalbajar district; Armenian defence ministry 9 Dec reported two Armenian soldiers wounded after Azerbaijani fire in Armenia’s Gegharkunik region. On diplomatic front, meanwhile, there was much progress and diplomatic engagement between both sides during month (see Azerbaijan and Armenia). Notably, European Council President Charles Michel 14 Dec hosted trilateral discussion with Pashinyan and Aliyev, announcing EU’s readiness to offer technical assistance for border delimitation and demarcation, and praising agreement to restore communication channel between defence ministers and set up rail link. Aliyev 14 Dec insisted Lachin corridor – which connects Russian peacekeepers stationed in NK to Armenia – and Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor should have “exactly the same” legal regime without customs controls; Pashinyan same day countered this would contradict earlier agreements.
Insecurity continued in conflict zone, while Armenia and Azerbaijan held second FMs meeting since 2020 war and established hotline to prevent flare-ups. In worrying incident, small group of ethnic Armenian plumbers near Azerbaijani-controlled Shusha were reportedly targeted in shooting, leaving one dead and three wounded 8 Nov; local media attributed shooting to Azerbaijani soldier while Russian peacekeepers next day launched investigation into attack. Local ethnic Armenian resident 13 Nov threw hand grenade at Azerbaijani soldiers at checkpoint near Shusha town; Baku reported three Azerbaijani soldiers lightly injured. Azerbaijan 10 Nov strongly condemned “provocative” visit by Armenian defence minister to Nagorno-Karabakh. On diplomatic front, FMs of Azerbaijan and Armenia 10 Nov met in French capital Paris for second post-Autumn 2020 war meeting under mediation of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs; Armenian foreign ministry same day said FM expressed position to “fully resume the peace process”. Following clashes, European Council President Charles Michel 19 Nov proposed bilateral meeting in Dec between Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, reportedly confirmed by both sides, and reported agreement on direct communication line between defence ministers. Russian President Putin 26 Nov met with both leaders in Russian city of Sochi to discuss situation one year after ceasefire to 2020 war; Sochi summit finished with no progress on establishment of Russia-mediated commission to define state border and instead Armenia and Azerbaijan declared readiness to see prospects to launch bilateral commission; Putin reported progress on unblocking regional transport/communication links with final agreement reportedly expected by end of 2021. On disputed international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, deadly escalation 16 Nov erupted between armed forces (see Armenia and Azerbaijan).
Despite heightened tensions inside Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders continued to voice readiness to resume meetings in OSCE Minsk Group format. In Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, hostilities increased during month. Azerbaijani sniper reportedly 9 Oct killed ethnic Armenian farmer next to military positions; Azerbaijan’s defence ministry same day denied responsibility. Azerbaijani trucks 13 Oct came under fire, with no injuries reported, prompting Baku to pause movement of trucks in area; de facto NK defence ministry 13 Oct denied incident. Clashes along one of front-line sections in Agdam district 14 Oct wounded six NK soldiers; sniper in nearby area same day reportedly killed one Azerbaijani soldier. Similar sniper shots same day reported near Azerbaijan’s exclave in south of Armenia, with no deaths or injuries confirmed. Earlier, Azerbaijani President Aliyev 4 Oct visited NK conflict zone, showcasing Israeli-produced drone and announcing construction of “smart settlement” in southern part of NK conflict zone. Despite hostilities, diplomatic contact increased. Aliyev 2 Oct signalled readiness to meet Armenian PM Pashinyan with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group mediation; Pashinyan 15 Oct confirmed willingness to meet. Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs 14 Oct met in presence of Russian FM Sergei Lavrov to discuss issues related to NK conflict, including implementation of Nov 2020 trilateral statement calling for resolution of “remaining issues”; meeting follows late Sept meeting convened by OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). In positive development, Azerbaijan 6 Oct released one Armenian soldier detained in July at disputed border areas, and 19 Oct freed five Armenian soldiers detained during or shortly after 2020 war, who were previously sentenced to prison terms. Armenian-populated areas of NK 10 Oct held elections in Askeran, Martakert and Martuni regions.
Low-level clashes continued in conflict zone, while Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs met for first time since Nov 2020. Low-level hostilities reported during month, with occasional shootings along front lines. Notably, Russian peacekeepers 17 Sept released report that two Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) soldiers were wounded in shootings; Deputy Chief of Press Service of Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry Anar Eyvazov 19 Sept denied information and called report “surprising and regrettable”. Further incidents were reported on social media without official confirmation from either side. Azerbaijani and Turkish special forces 6-11 Sept organised first ever training drills in Lachin district located between NK and Armenia. Following Russian mediation, Armenia and Azerbaijan 7 Sept exchanged one Azerbaijani soldier with two Armenian soldiers, all of whom were detained in NK in July-Aug. In first diplomatic contact since Autumn 2020 war, co-chairs of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group 24 Sept facilitated joint meeting between Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan on sidelines of UN General Assembly session; meeting focused on “wide range of outstanding unresolved issues”, while co-chairs proposed “specific focused measures to deescalate situation”, according to OSCE. Incoming head of Russian peacekeeping mission in NK Lieutenant General Gennady Anashkin 25 Sept met Armenian defence minister and 28 Sept met Azerbaijani defence minister; previous head of mission faced criticism from Baku. Tensions surfaced between Armenia and Azerbaijan over regional highway. Azerbaijani police 13 Sept installed checkpoint on main highway connecting Iran to South Caucasus and Armenia with its southern regions, violating agreements following Autumn 2020 war (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Armenian and Azerbaijani leadership marked one-year anniversary of start of Autumn 2020 war on 27 Sept amid series of commemorative events held across countries and in NK. Kamo Vardanyan 11 Sept replaced Mikael Arzumanyan as de facto NK defence minister.
Hostilities intensified in conflict zone, while Russian-mediated talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on regional transportation links resumed. Exchanges of fire between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces increased in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), mainly near Shusha town controlled by Azerbaijani forces. Notably, Azerbaijani troops 11 Aug launched unprecedented combat drone attack against positions of local “Nagorno-Karabakhi military troops” since Autumn 2020 war, which prompted Russian peacekeepers to record ceasefire violation for first time in their daily public reports. Russian peacekeepers 20 Aug started regular patrols in three areas in NK, including two along south of front line close to Shusha. De facto NK defence ministry 28 Aug reported one of its soldiers wounded in clashes with Azerbaijani soldiers near Tagavard village. Deadly clashes also continued along state border (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). On diplomatic front, negotiations stalled. Armenian PM Pashinyan 12 Aug called for talks under Minsk Group mediation, while Azerbaijan throughout month insisted that NK conflict had been resolved, implying Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe Minsk Group’s mediation mandate is over, said it prefers bilateral talks with Yerevan, Russian-only mediation or 3+3 format including Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia and Iran. Azerbaijani media and experts during month criticised Russian peacekeepers for allegedly favouring Armenian troops in NK; Azerbaijani President Aliyev 14 Aug criticised Russia for not doing enough to implement ceasefire agreement. Despite dim prospect for peace negotiations, trilateral working group on NK comprising Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia 17 Aug resumed talks in Russian capital Moscow on regional transportation routes; talks were launched with Russian mediation in Jan 2021 and had remained deadlocked since May. Aliyev seeks corridor connecting Azerbaijan with Turkey, while Armenia desires cargo transit through Azerbaijani territory to Russia. Turkish President Erdogan 29 Aug expressed readiness for talks on regional transportation and economic cooperation with Armenia if Yerevan joins Ankara’s proposed 3+3 format uniting Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia (see Armenia).
Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to second deal exchanging Armenian detainees for landmine maps amid ongoing diplomatic tensions and border hostilities. In second deal of its kind since June, talks under Russian auspices led Baku 3 July to release 15 Armenian detainees in exchange for Armenian landmine maps of Fuzuli and Zangilan districts. Tensions with Yerevan rose, however, after Azerbaijani govt 10 July organised visit with diplomatic delegations and international organisations in Azerbaijan to Shusha town; Azerbaijani pro-govt media and social media accounts immediately criticised absence of U.S., French and Russian ambassadors from visit, said it proved failure of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to make diplomatic progress. Armenian foreign ministry 13 July praised U.S., France and Russia for not joining trip, stated that it deemed visit to Shusha – which it called “occupied territory” – unacceptable. Azerbaijan 14-15 July claimed that Armenian forces inside conflict zone had fired at their positions in Shusha town. Hostilities and tensions rose along state border as both sides claimed unprecedented number of ceasefire violations including regular exchanges of fire throughout July (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Meanwhile, Azerbaijan welcomed U.S. participation in peace process; in letter to U.S. President Biden, Azerbaijani President Aliyev 3 July invited U.S. to help establish lasting peace and trust between Baku and Yerevan, adding: “We would like to see U.S. companies as partners” in reconstruction work in Nagorno-Karabakh. OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs 13 July called for resumption of high-level political dialogue; Aliyev next day warned it would be “a very big mistake” for Armenia to refuse peace negotiations and Armenian PM Pashinyan 15 July responded that Yerevan was ready to resume peace talks under auspices of OSCE Minsk Group, while accusing Azerbaijan of “destructive actions and statements”. President Aliyev 7 July signed decree establishing new economic regions that include territories not under Azerbaijani control (see Azerbaijan).
In spite of ongoing border tensions, Azerbaijan exchanged Armenian detainees in return for mine maps from Armenia. Following mediation efforts by Georgian, U.S., EU and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe representatives as well as commander of Russian peacekeeping mission, Azerbaijan 12 June released 15 Armenian detainees in exchange for maps delivered from Yerevan that indicated sites of landmine clusters in Agdam district. Armenian Acting PM Pashinyan 12 June praised handover of Armenian prisoners as “start of a new process” and added that Armenia had provided Azerbaijan with some mine maps back in Dec 2020 “in order to create a constructive atmosphere”. Azerbaijan’s State Security Service and Prosecutor-General’s Office 7 June confirmed that 13 Armenian soldiers were charged with crossing into Azerbaijan and terrorism; 10 June announced criminal cases against 26 more Armenian soldiers had been submitted to court in Azerbaijan. Series of incidents on state border continued to fuel tensions, including deadly mine blast and shelling (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). During Turkish President Erdoğan's visit to Shusha city, Erdoğan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 15 June signed milestone joint declaration on bilateral tries (see Azerbaijan); Aliyev and Erdoğan also confirmed that declaration bolstered military cooperation, and contained “very clear” statements on importance of transport corridors between two countries and opening of consulate in Shusha; Armenian MFA 15 June denounced joint visit to Shusha as “provocation against regional peace and security”. Meanwhile, protesters in Nagorno-Karabakh 21 and 22 June demanded resignation of de facto President Arayik Harutyunyan following reports that he was seen at office of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party on Armenia’s parliamentary election day held on 20 June. Following protests, Harutyunyan remarked that “a snap election will be held in a reasonable time frame” but that he would not stand in elections and would quit politics.
Despite rising border tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, NK conflict zone remained largely stable. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 5-6 May visited Armenia’s capital Yerevan and 10-11 May Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, discussing issues with post-war processes and calling for release of Armenian prisoners of war and detainees as well as for access of international organisations to Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). Azerbaijani President Aliyev 10 May criticised Armenia for refusing to allow transport corridor through Armenia’s southern region of Syunik. After Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, rising tensions on state border turned deadly, as one Armenian soldier killed, in most significant escalation since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Inside NK, de facto General Prosecutor’s Office 17 May reported shooting at military positions of local Armenian forces located close to Sos village, south of line of contact of 2020 war. Defence ministry of Azerbaijan 26 May reported shooting at its soldiers located in Shusha city; Armenia’s defence minister next day denied reports. Meanwhile, three opposition parties of NK’s de facto parliament 20 May called on president Arayik Harutyunyan to resign; Harutyunyan had promised in Dec 2020 to call for snap elections when situation stabilised in de facto entity. NK’s de facto Minister of State and Minister of Finance Grigori Martirosyan 28 May resigned saying that he took decision months ago, but decided to stay in post to help with response to post-war crisis.
Russian-brokered ceasefire held in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone amid tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over release of prisoners of war. Situation inside NK conflict zone remained mostly stable throughout month with minor incidents: car 4 April reportedly stoned on Goris-Kapan road in south of Armenia where Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian forces operate; at southern section of line of separation, two local farmers 12 April said tractor was shot from Azerbaijani military position, prompting involvement by Russian peacekeepers; residential outskirts of NK capital Stepanakert 21 April faced gunfire from Azerbaijani positions close to Azerbaijan’s Shusha city. Both Baku and Stepanakert continued to report civilians and soldiers injured in mine-related incidents in NK conflict zone; mine explosion 26 April injured two Russian peacekeepers inside NK. On diplomatic front, Armenian PM Pashinyan 7 April met Russian President Putin in Russian capital Moscow to discuss post-war issues and assist in release of dozens of prisoners of war captured by Azerbaijan during conflict; Putin next day spoke with Azerbaijani President Aliyev on phone about past agreements. Russian govt 9 April dispatched plane to Azerbaijani capital Baku for transportation of Armenian prisoners of war and detainees to Armenia, but plane same day arrived in Armenian capital Yerevan empty. In response, Armenian Deputy PM Tigran Avinian 9 April accused Azerbaijan of violating terms of Russian-brokered ceasefire by refusing to free Armenian soldiers and civilians captured during conflict; Azerbaijani FM Ceyhun Bayramov same day stated that Baku had no more prisoners or detainees, and all of those detained in Azerbaijan were Armenian terrorists. Head of Russian peacekeeping mission 10 April in short comment to Armenian reporter announced that there was no plan to bring prisoners and detainees from Baku. EU Committee of Ministers 28 April called on Azerbaijan to release Armenian captives.
Russian-brokered ceasefire continued to hold in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, as de facto NK and Azerbaijani officials cooperated on searching for remains of soldiers and civilians. In NK conflict zone, situation remained stable during month. Azerbaijani govt reported that mine explosions killed at least 18 military and civilians, with 79 others seriously injured, since Nov ceasefire agreement, mainly along pre-war front line. Azerbaijani and de facto NK security services continued coordination on field missions in search of remains of soldiers and civilians in Azerbaijani-controlled areas. NK resident 20 March reported one man missing in village of Karmir Shuka (Krasny Bazar), located at line of separation; de facto authorities 21 March said his body had been found burnt several hundred metres from village and are conducting investigation. Sides made no progress toward releasing Armenian detainees and prisoners held by Azerbaijan; Baku 10 March released one ethnic Armenian woman. In first military drills since Autumn 2020 escalation, Azerbaijan 15-17 March and Armenia 16-20 March held exercises in their respective territories. Swedish FM and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairperson-in-office 15-16 March visited Azerbaijan and Armenia to discuss NK issue and situation after recent war, meeting with de facto NK FM David Babayan in Yerevan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, as well as Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. Russian President Putin 11 March had phone conversation with Aliyev, and 12 March with Pashinyan, reportedly to discuss practical implementation of ceasefire agreements; Putin and Pashinyan 26 March again spoke after Armenian govt held joint Security Council session with de facto NK leadership on situation in conflict zone.
Russian-brokered Nov ceasefire held in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone as Armenia and Azerbaijan continued dialogue and swapped prisoners. In NK conflict zone, situation remained stable throughout Feb. Russian border guards 13 Feb set up additional post near Agarak village in Armenia’s Syunik region (which now borders Azerbaijan) after Azerbaijani troops reportedly fired sporadically in vicinity. Azerbaijani side reported soldier and civilian fatalities in mine explosions in different parts of conflict zone throughout Feb; according to Office of Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General, total of 14 people killed and 60 injured as of 9 Feb since Nov ceasefire agreement. Azerbaijan and Armenia continued cooperation: parties 9 Feb swapped prisoners of war and post-ceasefire detainees with mediation of Russian peacekeepers, with one Azerbaijani prisoner returned to Baku and five Armenian detainees to Yerevan. Armenian side continued search for bodies of its soldiers and civilians killed during war in NK territories controlled by Azerbaijan until mid-month. During first-ever meeting of Armenian, Azerbaijani and de facto NK officials, sides 12 Feb discussed cooperation on missing persons; with International Committee of Red Cross mediation, Armenian side 12 Feb handed over remains of 17 bodies missing during war in NK in early 1990s; Azerbaijani side 16 Feb transferred remains of 106 bodies buried in territories under its control during recent war. Trilateral working group co-chaired by deputy PMs of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan 6, 12 and 27 Feb met and continued work on resuming use of transport links between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in line with 11 Jan Moscow statement. Minsk Group Co-Chairs 16 Feb held separate online meetings with Armenian FM Ara Aivazian and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov, during which they discussed implementation of trilateral agreements on NK. Russian President Putin 17 Feb held phone conversation with Armenian PM Pashinyan reportedly to discuss practical aspects of Nov ceasefire agreement as well as Jan Moscow agreements. Armenia 1 Feb submitted interstate application against Azerbaijan at European Court of Human Rights for violations during 2020 NK war; move follows interstate application against Armenia filed by Azerbaijan in ECHR in Jan.
Ceasefire continued to hold, and Russia hosted Azerbaijan and Armenia for trilateral talks to consolidate Nov 2020 agreement and develop economic ties in region. Russian-brokered Nov ceasefire largely held despite occasional incidents mainly near towns of Stepanakert and Shusha. Armenia 13 Jan reported one soldier injured in shooting; Baku denied incident. Armenia and Azerbaijan reported soldiers and civilians killed in mine explosions in different parts of conflict zone throughout month. Russian President Putin, Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 11 Jan met in Russia’s capital Moscow for Russian-initiated trilateral talks. Talks concluded with signing of joint statement on steps to develop economic ties and infrastructure projects – building on ninth point of ceasefire agreement relating to opening of all regional economic and transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Armenia. Statement indicated that working group will be set up to help unblock transport and communication lines between Azerbaijan and Armenia; group 30 Jan held first meeting to focus on key tasks, with rail and road links as priorities. Armenian, Azerbaijan and Russian representatives 30 Jan agreed to set up three other subgroups on transport issue during meeting held in Moscow. Pashinyan 11 Jan noted that exchange of prisoners of war and detained civilians – which he described as most sensitive issue – excluded from joint statement. Previously, Armenian MFA 9 Jan condemned Baku’s decision to prosecute Armenian soldiers detained during war, accused Azerbaijan of refusing to comply with eighth point of ceasefire agreement mandating parties to exchange all prisoners and casualties; Azerbaijan MFA same day responded that Armenian soldiers were sent to Azerbaijan after ceasefire so they are not considered prisoners of war. Aliyev’s aide 22 Jan said exchange of prisoners of war will continue. Russia 28 Jan facilitated exchange of five Armenian prisoners of war with one Azerbaijani detainee. After Armenian FM Ara Aivazian 5 Jan visited Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) main city Stepanakert, which sparked complaints in Azerbaijani social media and political groups, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 18 Jan reaffirmed right to free travel between Armenia and NK, urged Armenian officials to avoid politicised statements when visiting Stepanakert.
Armenia and Azerbaijan completed first prisoner swaps as part of Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement, and some clashes erupted mid-month. After several weeks of discussion, Baku and Yerevan 14 Dec exchanged first group of prisoners of war, detainees and civilians that included over 44 Armenian and 14 Azerbaijani detainees, with active participation of Russian peacekeeping forces deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) under Nov ceasefire deal; second group of four Armenian and two Azerbaijani detainees released on 28 Dec. In first violation of ceasefire agreement, clashes 11-12 Dec took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces near villages of Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd in Hadrut region under Armenian control; shortly after, Russian peacekeepers deployed to area to stabilise situation. President Aliyev 12 Dec raised incident in his meeting with Minsk Group co-chairs, holding Armenia responsible for new clashes; Armenian MFA next day said Azerbaijani troops exploited absence of peacekeeping forces in area. De facto authorities 16 Dec confirmed handover of nine corpses of its soldiers killed in clashes, and 73 others captured by Azerbaijani forces. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry and State Security Service 13 Dec issued joint statement announcing launch of “anti-terror operation” in response to “acts of provocation” against their servicemen in village of Sur in Nov and on 8 Dec, during which four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and two injured. French and American co-chairs of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group 12-14 Dec visited Baku and Yerevan, but did not travel to NK capital Stepanakert; co-chairs’ meeting with de facto leader of NK Arayik Harutyunyan in Yerevan was cancelled last minute for no clear reason.
Following deadly fighting throughout Oct in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement recognising Azerbaijani gains. Govt 8 Nov announced capture of Shusha, strategically significant city in NK; Armenian side 10 Nov signed Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement with Russian President Putin and Azerbaijani President Aliyev. Deal stipulates that Azerbaijan retain captured territories, including Shusha, while Armenia must hand over control of three adjacent areas – Agdam, Kelbajar and Lachin districts – by 15 Nov, 25 Nov and 1 Dec, respectively; deal also called for deployment of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers as well as return of internally displaced persons and refugees to NK and surrounding territories with support of UN High Commissioner for Refugees; deal did not include provisions to ensure safe evacuation of ethnic Armenians wishing to leave NK conflict zone and adjacent territories, nor to protect those staying. Announcement of deal sparked unrest in Armenia, with thousands 10-11 Nov taking to streets and hundreds storming govt buildings in Armenia’s capital Yerevan and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation (see Armenia entry); Azerbaijani President Aliyev 10 Nov called deal “glorious victory” amid celebrations nationwide. Russia 10 Nov launched deployment of peacekeeping troops and national aid agencies to NK, while Armenian army commenced removal of troops from adjacent territories. Azerbaijan regained control of Agdam district 20 Nov and Kelbajar 25 Nov. Despite deal only citing Russian peacekeepers, Azerbaijani govt 11 and 16 Nov called for stationing of Turkish peacekeepers in NK. Russian and Turkish defence ministers 12 Nov signed memorandum for establishment of joint monitoring centre in Azerbaijan; Russian govt 10 Nov stated that there was no agreement on positioning Turkish peacekeepers in NK. Turkish parliament 17 Nov overwhelmingly approved bill to deploy troops to Azerbaijan for peacekeeping mission to monitor ceasefire deal. Russian defence ministry 19 Nov confirmed establishment of 23 observation points around NK; also reported that around 23,510 people returned to Russian-controlled NK area by 28 Nov.
Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops left hundreds killed and tens of thousands displaced; deadly attacks could further intensify and spread in Nov. Clashes took place in all parts of NK conflict zone, involving artillery, missile, and drone strikes on Armenian positions. Fighting reportedly killed thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. Civilian areas on both sides near front line also suffered continued attacks, resulting in over 100 civilians killed and hundreds injured on both sides. Armenian-controlled NK capital Stepanakert and other towns and villages throughout month faced Azerbaijani artillery, missile and drone attacks, decimating infrastructure and displacing some 90,000 people (out of estimated total population of 150,000). NGO Amnesty International 5 Oct revealed M095 DPICM cluster munitions appeared to have been fired by Azerbaijani forces into Stepanakert; NGO Human Rights Watch 23 Oct confirmed Azerbaijan used cluster munitions four times in NK. Fighting also hit Azerbaijani cities near line of contact, killing dozens of civilians (see Azerbaijan), and spread to Armenian regions close to NK border (see Armenia). Meanwhile, Russia, France, U.S. 1 Oct called for immediate cessation of hostilities and resumption of dialogue; 10, 17 and 26 Oct brokered humanitarian ceasefire agreements, but failed to stop progression of Azerbaijani military in NK as both sides accused other of violating terms. Both Baku and Ankara repeatedly denied Armenian accusations that Turkey had deployed military advisers and provided intelligence; France and Russia 1 Oct corroborated reports that Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fighters had been deployed in support of Baku. President Aliyev and Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan 19 Oct confirmed readiness to cease hostilities and start peace negotiations under certain conditions; Aliyev raised need for Armenia to accept basic settlement principles developed by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, cease fighting and start immediate withdrawal of its troops from NK, while Pashinyan said that any settlement should be based on “compromise, not capitulation.”
Severest escalation since 1994 ceasefire erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan along front line in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, raising risk of worsening fighting in Oct. Large-scale fighting 27 Sept erupted as Azerbaijani army attacked Armenian troops located along key sections of 200km-long front line in NK conflict zone: most intense fighting involving tanks, artillery, helicopters, drones and infantry took place south, north and north east of frontline. Fighting reportedly killed dozens and wounded hundreds of military personnel on both sides. Azerbaijan 27 Sept reported taking control of several Armenian positions in southern part of NK conflict zone; de facto leader Arayik Harutyunyan next day said Armenian troops regained control of initially lost positions. Armenia, Azerbaijan and de facto NK entity 27 Sept declared martial law and started to mobilise reserve troops; on both sides, groups of volunteer fighters, mainly veterans of 1992-1994 war in NK, arrived in conflict zone to support fighting. Civilian areas on both sides located close to front line suffered regular attacks, leading to at least 14 civilians killed and dozens wounded, including children. Towns situated far from front line faced artillery, rocket and drone attacks, including Armenian-controlled Stepanakert city 27 and 29 Sept, and Azerbaijani city Naftalan 28 Sept; Armenia 29 Sept reported attack on its town of Vardenis located close to NK conflict zone. Russia, France, Germany, EU, U.S., Iran, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group co-chairs and UN Security Council 27-29 Sept called for immediate ceasefire and return to talks. Turkey’s President Erdogan 27 Sept said Ankara would support Azerbaijan “with all means”; Armenia 29 Sept accused Turkey of downing its military jet, but Ankara same day denied its involvement. Reuters 28 Sept reported that Turkey deployed up to 1,000 Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fighters from Syria to Azerbaijan days before outbreak of fighting; Ankara and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 29 Sept separately denied report. Previously, deadly clashes 16-21 Sept broke out along state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan; Armenia 16 Sept reported one soldier killed and Azerbaijan 14-21 Sept reported one killed and two wounded; both countries called on public to prepare for imminent war or to be ready for adversary attack.
Following major military escalation along state border in July, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued over foreign arms sales. Following Turkey’s expression of support to Azerbaijan amid July escalation in NK conflict, political consultations between both Ankara and Baku and joint military drills increased in Aug. Meanwhile, Russia made efforts to defuse tensions over recent media reports about weapons supplied to Armenia soon after mid-July clashes; Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu 25 Aug said that shipment in question contained construction materials for Russian military base in Armenia’s Gyumri city and did not include weapons for Armenia; he proposed more military cooperation with Azerbaijan next year (see Azerbaijan). Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 21 Aug blamed Armenia for triggering mid-July clashes by moving its military outpost closer to border and pipelines that deliver gas and oil from Azerbaijan to Europe. Following Baku’s criticism of Serbian weapons being used by Armenia in mid-July clashes, Serbian Deputy PM Nebojsa Stefanovic 11 Aug visited Baku to discuss arms deal and anti-terrorism cooperation with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Baku 23 Aug reported detention of one Armenian soldier in north of NK conflict zone; Armenia said officer got lost because of snow in mountainous area and demanded his release. Following 4 Aug blast in Lebanese capital Beirut, de facto NK President Araik Harutyunyan 5 Aug offered support to Lebanese-Armenians and welcomed them to NK; de facto and Armenian govts 9 Aug sent plane with humanitarian aid to Lebanon; Azerbaijan 8 Aug criticised Harutyunyan’s plans. Azerbaijan 17 Aug released new satellite photos allegedly confirming construction of new buildings in one illegal settlement in Kelbajar district.
In major escalation, deadly clashes erupted along state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, killing at least 18, raising risk of further hostilities in August. Following relative calm at frontline since Sept 2018 agreement that launched direct communication channel between Armenia and Azerbaijan, violence 12-16 July flared up at densely populated frontline between Movses in Armenia and Agdam in Azerbaijan during which both sides used heavy weaponry in severest escalation since April 2016; as of 21 July, Azerbaijan reported twelve military fatalities, including a well-regarded general, and one civilian killed, while Armenia reported four military casualties and one civilian wounded; cause of escalation remained unclear and both sides traded accusations of initiating first attack. Azerbaijan authorities 15 July reported detention of Armenian citizen after crossing into Azerbaijan’s southern exclave of Nakhchivan. Armenia 27 July also reported sniper fire killed one Armenian soldier along border. In absence of international mediation and with both sides on high alert, risk of further clashes in Aug remains high. Following mid-July deadly escalation, external actors called for deescalation: Kremlin 15 July called on both sides “to exercise restraint and honour their obligations as part of a ceasefire”; UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 14 and 22 July urged both countries to exercise maximum restraint in clashes at frontline; EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 14 and 22 July called for both sides to defuse tensions. After escalation, tensions also rose between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and members of diaspora abroad: in Russia, home to one of largest Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora populations, Moscow authorities 18 July arrested more than 25 individuals suspected of attacking several pedestrians and drivers; clashes 21 July broke out between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Los Angeles, U.S..
Heated diplomatic exchanges escalated between Armenia and Azerbaijan over planned road infrastructure development in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), while negotiation process remained static. Following Armenian National Security Council’s 2019 announcement of controversial highway between Armenia and NK, de facto NK President Araik Arutyunyan 5 June confirmed road will be constructed in 2020. European Parliament’s rapporteurs on Azerbaijan and Armenia and chair of delegation to EU-Armenia Parliamentary Partnership Committee 10 June issued joint statement stating new road “could symbolically entrench the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and of its surrounding districts”. Azerbaijan 13 June thanked rapporteurs for their statement, saying it was based on EU Council’s 11 May Conclusions on Eastern Partnership Policy beyond 2020; de facto NK authorities 12 June said new road was necessary to combat Azerbaijan’s ongoing efforts to isolate NK; Armenian MPs of EU-Armenia Parliamentary Partnership Committee 13 June criticised statement for referring to NK as “occupied”, while also citing 2009 Basic Principles that stipulate final status of NK should be based on legally binding free expression of NK population. Armenian Foreign Ministry 13 June issued statement to mark “28th anniversary of the occupation of the Shaumyan region by the armed forces of Azerbaijan”, asserting that Armenian population in Shaumyan had suffered “ethnic cleansing” in response; Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry 14 June responded by criticising Armenian statement, while also accusing Yerevan of escalating situation. Armenian authorities 12 June detained Azerbaijani citizen at Areguni village in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik region, which borders Gadabey district in western Azerbaijan; detained man handed over to Armenia’s National Security Service while investigation ongoing.
Armenia and Azerbaijan continued heated diplomatic exchanges with no visible movement in negotiation process, while sporadic exchanges of fire took place along northern part of border zone. Armenian and Azerbaijan forces 13 May exchanged fire near Armenian village Berkaber with bullets reportedly reaching houses for first time in two years; no casualties. Azerbaijan 18-22 May conducted large-scale exercises in different locations, including near Armenian troops stationed in conflict zone and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic; exercises involved newly purchased missile systems, airplanes and drones. Armenia 19-22 May conducted large-scale tactical exercises with involvement of artillery and motorised rifle subdivisions. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group co-chairs 18-19 May continued virtual contacts with Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs, while Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 19 May telephoned Azerbaijani counterpart for third time in a month to discuss NK issue. Arayik Harutyunyan 21 May sworn in as NK’s fourth de facto president at ceremony attended by senior Armenian officials; Harutyunyan called for NK’s unification with Armenia and pledged to carry out economic reforms and work more closely with Yerevan to develop the region.
Former PM Arayk Harutyunyan 14 April won second round of de facto presidential elections in entity; his opponent, current FM Masis Mayilian, called on supporters to abstain from vote to contain spread of COVID-19; turnout lower by nearly 30 per cent in comparison to first round on 31 March. Armenian NGOs serving as election observers in NK capital Stepanakert reported voting violations, but Armenian leadership praised results. Armenian PM Pashinyan faced unprecedented criticism among his supporters who claimed Harutyunyan could turn NK into safe haven for former Armenian officials facing corruption charges, while Mayilian supporters said Pashinyan had “betrayed the revolution”, due to possible increased influence of former political elite. Harutyunyan 1 April proposed cooperation with all politicians and political parties in de facto entity, saying “I am ready to cooperate with any [political] force except for Azerbaijan”, also pledged support for Pashinyan’s policy and development plans in NK. Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs 21 April held online conference; parties agreed to postpone implementation of previously agreed humanitarian measures citing COVID-19 crisis. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 21 April advocated phased approach in NK peace process, starting with return of territories adjacent to NK to Azerbaijan’s direct control and resumption of transport and economic links between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey; Armenian FM denied Lavrov’s claim that plan was discussed in April 2019 and called for more clarity on NK final status; Azerbaijan accused Armenia of disrupting negotiation process.
Ceasefire violations in conflict zone continued early March, and Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders exchanged harsh statements. Two Azerbaijani border guards killed 5 and 7 March near border areas of Gazakh region, two Armenian soldiers and one 14-year-old Armenian civilian wounded 30 March in same area, and one Armenian soldier killed 10 March in clash at Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan. In opening session of new Azerbaijani parliament, President Aliyev 10 March reiterated traditional understanding of conflict’s origins and called on MPs to reinforce efforts to promote such views internationally; Armenia condemned remarks 13 March and questioned whether Baku was ready to proceed with peace process. De facto NK authorities held presidential and parliamentary elections 31 March as planned despite calls by many political forces in Armenia and civil society to postpone them due to COVID-19. By end-month 27 political parties had named their candidates for 33 parliamentary seats and fourteen people had stepped forward as presidential candidates. In attempt to prevent spread of coronavirus, NK closed its crossings, initially 20 March for all foreign citizens and one week later for all residents of Armenia except for those engaged in transporting goods, journalists and local poll observers.
Ceasefire violations in conflict zone remained at low ebb but Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders used hostile rhetoric. Azerbaijani president and Armenian PM 15 Feb met on sidelines of Munich Security Conference in Germany, and in first ever public debate on NK issue expressed irreconcilable positions on history of conflict; domestic audiences in Baku and Yerevan considered their leader to have won debate. Azerbaijan same day reported death of one of its soldiers at line of contact. International Committee of Red Cross 19 Feb evacuated remains of Azerbaijani soldier, who went missing in mined area close to military positions at border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan 24 Feb reported one of its border guards killed in exchange of fire with Armenian army near Gazakh region. Joint meeting of de-facto NK and Armenia Security Councils 22 Feb discussed security situation in conflict zone. Armenia 17 Feb reported record number of at least thirteen non-combat deaths in army since 1 Jan mainly due to poor conditions in military facilities in conflict zone; in response, govt dismissed two senior officials in Armenian defence ministry and de facto NK govt 24 Feb replaced its defence minister.
Azerbaijan 7 Jan reported one of its border guards killed near Joghaz Water Reservoir, in northern section of border; Armenia confirmed firing of “warning shots” following reported sighting of engineering works in trenches while Azerbaijan 7 Jan denied conducting any works, accusing Armenia of pre-determined killing. Incident provoked more shootings 11 and 15 Jan in same area, two Armenian soldiers reportedly wounded; no statements issued by either govt. Series of meetings with Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers, and Co-Chairs of OSCE Minsk Group took place in Geneva 28-30 Jan; topics of discussion included implementation of agreements and proposals made in 2019 and possible next steps to prepare local populations for peace; principles and elements forming the basis of a future settlement; and timing and agenda for advancing settlement process; FMs agreed to meet again in near future under Co-Chairs auspices.