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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.
No breakthrough in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan early month, however relative calm continued in conflict zone. Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs met during Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Summit in Bratislava 4 Dec. Armenian FM Mnatsakanyan presented Yerevan’s approach to peace process, including support for NK’s right of self-determination, NK security, need for NK participation in negotiating process, and implementation of OSCE mechanisms for monitoring ceasefire and investigating violations. Azerbaijani circulated memorandum on its position on NK status, return of adjacent territories and security provisions. Azerbaijani FM Mammadyarov said in media interview 5 Dec Armenia’s side’s emphasis on addressing status is pointless before return of internally displaced persons, also said Armenia has not defined security; Yerevan responded claiming it remains sole guarantor of NK security, and reiterated NK right to self-determination. FMs agreed to continue talks early Jan 2020. After summit, OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs 5 Dec released joint statement praising Nov exchange of journalists between Armenia and Azerbaijan and June release of detainees, but also urged both sides to assist International Committee for Red Cross with data on missing persons and to resume discussions on expanding Office of Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office responsible for monitoring along front lines. Azerbaijan and Armenia 17 Dec reported exchange of fire with light weapons in Noyemberyan-Gazakh border region close to civilian-populated areas, first time in more than a year.
Relative calm in conflict zone continued, but rhetoric between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders remained tense ahead of planned meeting between their foreign ministers early Dec. In conflict zone, neither side reported casualties or major incidents, making Nov one of calmest months of 2019. Also in line with March agreement between leaders, groups of journalists from Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert visited each other’s capitals during last week of Nov for meetings with experts, journalists and NGOs, first such visits in over fifteen years seen as possible step forward in preparing populations for peace. Harsh rhetoric between leaders focused on historical interpretations of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict. During speech in Baku 14 Nov, Azerbaijani President Aliyev said NK had always been Azerbaijani land, accused Armenians of “genocide” against Azerbaijanis during 1992-1994 war, and excluded possibility of NK independence. Armenian PM Pashinyan 20 Nov gave speech in Italy accusing Azerbaijan of continuously preparing for war, and calling for Azerbaijan to consider interests of people living in NK, who will stay in region regardless of final outcome. During visit to Yerevan 10-11 Nov, Russian FM Lavrov supported Armenian demand to recognise NK’s role in peace process, stating that without consent of NK people no agreement could be reached; Baku responded with call to include Azerbaijani internally displaced persons from NK in peace process.
Month saw relative calm in conflict zone, but harsher rhetoric between Baku and Yerevan amid signs of frustration over lack of progress in talks related to settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia reported incidents involving civilians in Qazakh/Tavush section of international border: Azerbaijani State Border Service 2 Oct said Armenian military shot dead civilian in Qazakh district; Armenian Defence Ministry denied report, blaming Azerbaijani side for wounding Armenian civilian in Tavush area, and 3 Oct reported death of one Armenian soldier in same section of border. Baku and Yerevan exchanged harsh rhetoric and blame for lack of progress in talks, including Armenian foreign ministry early Oct blaming Azerbaijan’s “maximalist stance” as “main and essential threat to the peace process”. Azerbaijan and Armenian leaders continued personal interactions; Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev clashed in speeches during Commonwealth of Independent States summit 11 Oct, but afterward discussed NK over dinner together. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs visited region 14-17 Oct to prepare possible meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs in margins of annual OSCE Ministerial Council early Dec.
Dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia on issues related to settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict continued despite deadly incident along front lines, while de facto NK authorities held local elections. Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs 23 Sept held meeting at sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York; no immediate results reported. During talks, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs informed FMs about their activities, including recent meetings in Paris and Geneva “on the humanitarian and security dimensions of the conflict”; co-chairs plan to follow up talks with regional trip. In positive sign ahead of talks, Armenian FM 6 Sept publicly stated that purpose of negotiations is to “discuss numerous parameters of a potential settlement”, adding “neither side can be guided by a maximalist approach”, while FM and defence minister 3 Sept spoke out in support of communication channel with Baku, saying it had helped mitigate shootings along front lines. In incident some observers feared might affect talks, Armenia reported it had prevented special operation by Azerbaijani military trying to approach Armenian positions in south-eastern direction of Line of Contact 23 Sept, resulting in death of Azerbaijani soldier whose body was left in neutral zone. NK 8 Sept held unusually open and competitive de facto local elections for heads of eight main regional centres and their councils; turnout reported at 65%. Armenian PM Pashinyan praised vote as “free, fair and competitive”; Azerbaijani FM denounced election, while OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in comments to Azerbaijani media said results do not affect legal status of NK nor outcome of negotiations.
Speech by Armenian PM Pashinyan in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) capital Stepanakert 5 Aug, including assertion that NK was part of Armenia, angered Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan called speech “aggressive” and “major blow” to negotiations. Armenia dismissed criticism as misunderstanding of speech’s “context and content”. Azerbaijan 12 Aug said it had detained Armenian soldier who same day crossed front line in NK from Armenian-controlled territory to Azerbaijani trenches.