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After long pause, high-level talks with Armenia resumed as fatal clashes erupted along border.
U.S., EU and Russia facilitated parallel negotiations between Yerevan and Baku. Amid fears of major violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan after latter in late April installed checkpoint along Lachin road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia, FMs 1 May met in U.S. capital Washington for talks. Key issues discussed included future of Armenians in NK, state border and resumption of transport links. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 4 May said parties “made tangible progress” and were “within reach of an agreement”; FMs 19 May held second meeting in Russian capital Moscow. President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan, meanwhile, 14 May met in Brussels, agreed to resume work on border delimitation agreement and made progress on transport routes. Leaders 25 May met Russian President Putin in Moscow, who said on “principal issues, there is an agreement”, though Aliyev and Pashinyan exchanged harsh words regarding Lachin. Meanwhile, Pashinyan 22 May told news conference that “Azerbaijan’s territory includes Nagorno-Karabakh”, but called for special arrangements to protect rights and security of ethnic Armenians living in enclave (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Sides traded blame for cross-border shelling. Armenia 11, 12 May blamed Azerbaijan for attack on its forces at tensest part of state border between Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar district and Armenia’s Gegharkunik region, reporting one casualty and several injured; Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for escalation, reporting two casualties. Armenia 17 May said Azerbaijani gunfire killed a serviceman at same section of border. Baku 26 May reported detention of two Armenian soldiers who had crossed into Azerbaijan’s Zangelan district, allegedly to mount “sabotage” operations; Armenia denied accusation and said Azerbaijan abducted soldiers. Detentions came after leaders recommitted to releasing soldiers found on their territory during mid-May European Union meeting.
Israeli president visited Baku. Amid Azerbaijan-Iran tensions, which escalated after Baku late March opened embassy in Israel’s capital Tel Aviv, Israeli President Herzog 30 May met with Aliyev in Baku; sides hailed deepening ties and promised further cooperation.
Tensions with Armenia continued to escalate as fresh fighting along border left seven dead, international efforts to restart stalled peace talks persisted, and relations with Iran remained strained.
Border skirmish killed seven, Azerbaijani soldiers detained after entering Armenia. Baku and Yerevan 11 April reported that renewed fighting on Armenian side of border close to Lachin road killed four Armenian and three Azerbaijani soldiers, with sides exchanging blame for incident; EU 12 April deplored “armed clashes”. Foreign ministry 13 April said Armenia had captured two Azerbaijani soldiers who entered Armenian territory and claimed video circulating on social media showed one soldier (who allegedly praised Azerbaijani troops for beheading Armenians and was later charged with killing Armenian citizen) was subjected to “torture and inhumane treatment” by Armenian civilians. EU 13 April, U.S. and UK embassies 14 April criticised “unacceptable” treatment; Armenian ombudsman 17 April denied mistreatment. Armenian prosecutor’s office 11, 14 April charged soldiers with border trespassing and weapons smuggling, 17 April charged one with killing Armenian citizen. Meanwhile, tensions spiked over Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) after Azerbaijan installed checkpoint along Lachin Corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Foreign actors, notably U.S., worked hard to restart direct peace talks. U.S. officials 17 April travelled to capital Baku, 18 April met Armenian officials in their capital Yerevan as U.S. ramped up efforts to prompt resumption of negotiations; FMs late April arrived in U.S. for talks beginning 1 May. Meanwhile, Armenian PM Pashinyan 18 April restated Yerevan’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and readiness to sign peace treaty, while emphasizing that both sides need to recognise other’s territorial integrity “without ambiguities” for durable peace; President Aliyev same day reiterated demand that Armenia recognises that “Karabakh is Azerbaijan”, and said Armenians in NK should accept “Azerbaijani citizenship or find another place to live”.
Tensions with Iran ran high. After Baku late March opened embassy in Israel’s capital Tel Aviv, Iranian Parliament 5 April issued statement criticising move. Authorities 6 April arrested six individuals suspected of working for “Iran’s secret service” to “overthrow” state, same day expelled four Iranian diplomats. Azerbaijani and Iranian FMs 7-8 April discussed disagreements and need to resolve them through dialogue, though situation remained tense.
Tensions with Armenia ran high as sides exchanged blame for attacks along border; peace talks remained stalled amid increasingly hostile rhetoric.
Armenia and Azerbaijan reported number of attacks along border. Azerbaijan 9 March claimed Armenian troops 8-9 March fired at its forces stationed along border in order to provoke reaction and create “a false opinion” about Azerbaijani forces among representatives of EU civilian mission. Azerbaijan 20 March also reported one soldier injured at border, suggesting Armenia was “abusing the presence” of the EU mission “to increase tensions in the region and cover up its military provocations”; Armenia same day rejected “disinformation”. Armenia 22 March announced “enemy fire” had “lethally wounded” serviceman at Yeraskh town near exclave Nakhichevan. Meanwhile, tensions escalated in Nagorno-Karabakh (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Sides made no progress on diplomatic front and ramped up aggressive rhetoric. No in-person meetings occurred in March, and although sides continued exchanging draft peace treaty, their increasingly hostile public statements suggested little progress on diplomatic front. Notably, Armenian PM Pashinyan 14 March confirmed receiving Azerbaijan’s reaction to Armenia’s draft agreement, but claimed Baku was using it to try and “form territorial claims” in Armenia and “obtain a mandate for genocide or ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh”; Pashinyan then warned that “the danger of a new escalation is very high”. President Aliyev 18 March responded that “Armenia must accept our conditions […], sign a peace treaty with us and carry out [border] delimitation” if it is “to live comfortably”.
Foreign mediation produced no breakthrough. EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar and U.S. Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Louis Bono 5, 6 March visited capital Baku to advance peace process. Armenian FM Mirzoyan 20 March met with Russian FM Lavrov, who same day said date for trilateral meeting would be decided “in the near future”. European Council President Charles Michel 25 March called Pashinyan and Aliyev separately to advance “Brussels process”.
Relations with Iran remained strained. Baku 11 March summoned Iranian ambassador over alleged violation of its airspace by Iranian military aircraft.
International efforts to advance peace negotiations continued but with little progress, European Union (EU) launched monitoring mission, and relations with Iran continued to worsen.
Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged draft peace treaty, but talks between FMs did not resume. Blockade of Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia (see Nagorno-Karabakh) continued to hinder diplomatic efforts, with no meetings in Feb between Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs, who are responsible for formal negotiations on peace treaty. Still, Armenian PM Pashinyan 16 Feb announced Yerevan had sent draft proposal of peace treaty to Baku, which President Aliyev 18 Feb confirmed receiving. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 18 Feb chaired meeting with Pashinyan and Aliyev at Munich Security Conference to discuss progress on draft, among other issues. Meanwhile, Russia intensified its own mediation efforts amid growing competition with West over peace agenda. Notably, Russian Special Representative Igor Khovayev 9, 14 Feb visited Yerevan and Baku, respectively; Russian President Putin 14 Feb spoke with Aliyev; and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 27 Feb met with Aliyev in Baku.
Armenia and Azerbaijan debated control of corridors, EU launched monitoring mission. Aliyev 18 Feb proposed establishing Azerbaijani checkpoints along Lachin corridor and creating similar Armenian checkpoints at Azerbaijan-Armenia state border along any future railway and motorway connecting mainland Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan via Armenia; Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 22 Feb rejected proposal, saying Russian peacekeepers should retain control of Lachin corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Meanwhile, EU 20 Feb launched civilian monitoring mission along Armenian side of international border with Azerbaijan, aimed at contributing to border stability, building confidence and supporting efforts toward normalisation.
Relations with Iran continued to deteriorate. Following armed attack late Jan on Azerbaijani embassy in Iran’s capital Tehran, Azerbaijan 31 Jan-1 Feb conducted “special police operations”, resulting in detention of 39 members of “Iranian spy network” and 66 members of criminal gang that trafficked drugs from Iran to Azerbaijan. Aliyev 17 Feb accused Iran explicitly for first time of orchestrating attack on embassy and called for transparent investigation and consequences for those responsible before any normalisation can occur.
Continued blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) led to standoff in peace talks with Armenia, and EU approved civilian monitoring mission to Armenia’s border areas.
Blockade of NK brought peace talks with Armenia to near standstill. Azerbaijan-backed protesters’ continued blockade of Lachin corridor, only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia (see Nagorno-Karabakh), derailed all diplomacy built around Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process. Communication between Yerevan and Baku throughout Jan was almost non-existent as sides exchanged blame for standoff, despite EU and Georgian attempts to arrange talks. Notably, EU early Jan tried to convene associates of Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, but Baku cancelled participation. Georgia also reportedly proposed trilateral cooperation format after receiving request from Baku. However, President Aliyev 19 Jan said at World Economic Forum that Yerevan had rejected proposal; Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 20 Jan responded, saying “Armenia is greatly interested in developing trilateral dialogue” but that initiative failed due to disagreement with Baku over Armenian demand for joint statement against hate speech. Russian foreign ministry 27 Jan emphasised Moscow’s “readiness to organise talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers”.
Baku expressed concern over planned EU monitoring mission to Armenia. EU 23 Jan announced it will deploy two-year civilian monitoring mission to Armenia in border areas to contribute to “stability”, “build confidence on the ground and ensure an environment conducive to normalisation efforts”; Azerbaijan next day warned that EU mission must not be used “for derailing the normalisation process, including in the context of border delimitation process”.
International actors condemned repression of dissent. U.S. State Dept 9 Jan said it was “deeply troubled” by arrest of opposition leader Tofig Yagublu and activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and urged authorities to “release them expeditiously”. EU 13 Jan condemned detention of four human rights defenders and political activists, including Yagublu and Hajiyev.
Situation along Armenia-Azerbaijan border stabilised but tensions rose over blockade of Lachin corridor; sides missed end-of-year deadline for peace treaty.
Situation at border with Azerbaijan calmed as tensions rose over Lachin Corridor. After numerous reports of ceasefire violations along Armenia-Azerbaijan border in Nov, situation stabilised during Dec, possibly due to reduced military activity during winter season. Elsewhere, tensions rose over blockade of only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, known as Lachin Corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Baku and Yerevan missed deadline for peace deal. Despite hope for peace agreement by end of 2022, sides missed deadline due to delays in drafting treaty, gap in vision for terms of deal, lack of outside mediation and worsening relations since Sept border clashes. Sides offered new proposals for peace treaty during month but tensions over Lachin corridor hindered diplomatic efforts; notably, Yerevan requested postponing meeting between Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian FMs scheduled for 23 Dec in Russia. Still, Russian President Putin 26 Dec met with President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan separately on sidelines of Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Russia’s St. Petersburg city; Putin also said three leaders met, but gave few details on what was discussed.
Baku responded to EU plans for new transitional monitoring team in Armenia. European Union (EU) temporary civilian monitoring team, deployed after Sept border clashes along Armenian side of international border with Azerbaijan, 19 Dec completed activities; EU, in agreement with Armenia’s authorities, same day announced new transitional team to “prepare the ground for a possible longer term EU mission in Armenia”. FM Bayramov 27 Dec said Baku had received no report on Oct-Dec monitoring mission and that any new mission should be done in coordination with Azerbaijan.
Tensions with Armenia persisted amid numerous reports of shooting along border and in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK); diplomatic efforts to reach peace deal continued.
Armenia and Azerbaijan traded accusations of shooting along border. Situation at Armenia-Azerbaijan border remained fragile following Sept clashes, with both sides reporting shooting along front line during month. Kremlin 7 Nov called on parties to refrain from actions that could spark “escalation”, while U.S. State Dept 12 Nov said it was “deeply concerned” by reports. Meanwhile, tensions simmered in NK conflict zone, with de facto authorities reporting one civilian and at least two servicemen killed 10, 28 Nov respectively (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Support for bilateral diplomacy continued, but Azerbaijan contested French efforts. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 7 Nov hosted Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs in U.S. capital Washington, praising “courageous steps” toward peace. French President Macron and Armenian PM Pashinyan 19 Nov highlighted importance of “strengthening stability and security in the South Caucasus” during Summit of International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) in Tunisia; according to Pashinyan’s press office, Armenian PM also “stressed the need to eliminate the consequences of Azerbaijani aggression”. Azerbaijan same day criticised OIF members’ “anti-Azerbaijani position” while President Aliyev 25 Nov cancelled Dec meeting with Pashinyan over Armenian request to involve Macron. Meanwhile, Pashinyan 10 Nov made public Armenian proposal to establish demilitarised zone along state border after Azerbaijani troops withdraw from Armenian territory; Baku had not responded by end of month.
In other important developments. President Aliyev 16 Nov signed decree endorsing program for reconstruction and resettlement in territories recaptured during 2020 war; under program, known as “The Great Return”, Azerbaijan plans to return 34,500 displaced families between 2022-2026. Parliament 18 Nov approved decision to open embassy in Israel, which has had an embassy in capital Baku since 1992.
Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders engaged in flurry of diplomatic activity amid ongoing tensions.
Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders engaged in flurry of diplomatic activity. Following deadly violence along border with Azerbaijan in Sept that killed almost 300 people, President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan 6 Oct met in Czech Republic’s capital Prague for meeting mediated by French President Macron and EU Council President Michel. Both leaders committed to respecting each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, agreed to two-month EU civilian mission to observe situation on Armenian side of border with Azerbaijan; first monitors 20 Oct deployed. Aliyev 6 Oct said sides were gradually moving toward peace, but reiterated that Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) was Azerbaijan’s internal affair (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Moscow held separate summit in Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry 6 Oct criticised West’s “not quite balanced” approach to reaching peace agreement; Russian President Putin 27 Oct said “so-called Washington option envisages recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh” but emphasised that “if the Armenian people and leadership believe that Karabakh has its own specificities and these specificities must be taken into account, mentioned in a future peace agreement, this is also possible”. Putin 31 Oct hosted Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders at summit in Russia’s Sochi city; echoing part of outcomes from Prague, sides committed to respecting each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and emphasised “crucial contribution” of Russian peacekeepers.
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan persisted. Aliyev 14 Oct said Armenia had failed to provide access from mainland Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan or to pull troops out of NK, as agreed in Moscow-brokered deal to end 2020 war; Pashinyan same day rejected accusations and warned of “high risk” of new “military aggression” by Azerbaijan. Pashinyan 17 Oct accused Azerbaijani forces of violating Sept ceasefire and blaming Armenia as “pretext for new military aggression”, which Azerbaijan denied. Meanwhile, at Armenia’s invitation, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe sent mission 21-27 Oct to “assess the situation in certain border areas”; Azerbaijan 20 Oct rejected “unilateral” mission.
Clashes erupted along border with Armenia, marking deadliest escalation since 2020 war as fighting spilled deeper into Armenian territory; fighting could escalate once more as negotiating positions harden.Renewed hostilities with Armenia killed hundreds. Clashes 13 Sept erupted along border with Armenia, marking deadliest violence between two countries since six-week war in 2020. Sides blamed each other for renewed fighting; Armenian defence ministry 13 Sept said Azerbaijani forces shelled 200km stretch of southern border in Armenia’s Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces, attacking civilian and military infrastructure in “unprovoked aggression” and moving deep inside Armenian territory; Baku same day rejected characterisation, saying its forces took action to prevent Armenian “saboteurs” from mining supply roads on border near Azerbaijani army positions. Armenian PM Pashinyan 14 Sept said Azerbaijani army had taken control of at least 10 sq km of Armenian territory. Yerevan and Baku 14 Sept issued statements committing to ceasefire, although both countries 14, 21, 23, 24, 28 Sept accused each other of violating it. Fighting in two days killed at least 207 Armenian and 80 Azerbaijani soldiers; Yerevan 19 Sept said four Armenian civilians were killed and that authorities had been forced to evacuate over 2,700 civilians from Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces. Addressing UN General Assembly (UNGA), Pashinyan 22 Sept said threat of new offensive remained “very high” and that “Azerbaijan intends to occupy more territories of Armenia”.Clashes prompted flurry of diplomatic activity. Before fragile ceasefire was announced, Russia, U.S., EU and France 13 Sept called for peace and restraint, with Moscow announcing it had brokered ceasefire, though fighting persisted into following day. In rare show of unity, UN Security Council members 15 Sept condemned violence and urged talks. On sidelines of UNGA, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 19 Sept brought together both countries’ FMs, urging “strong, sustainable diplomatic engagement” to reinforce fragile ceasefire. In less measured response, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi day blamed Azerbaijani forces for “illegal and deadly attacks on Armenian territory” during visit to Yerevan day before; Baku 18 Sept said Pelosi’s “groundless” accusations dealt blow to peace efforts.
Govt launched military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) ahead of high-level meetings with Armenia in Brussels and Moscow, while proceeding with return of internally displaced people to adjacent territories. After weeks of relative calm in NK, clashes erupted early Aug between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces answering to de facto authorities in NK, with Baku 3 Aug launching new military operation; both sides reported casualties as international community called for end to hostilities (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Meanwhile, govt 19-20 Aug moved first group of 200 people from 41 families, internally displaced since war in 1990s, to Agali village in south-western Zangilan district; 325 families hail from area. 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, agreed to “step up substantive work to advance on the peace treaty”; deputy PMs of both countries 30 Aug met in Moscow to discuss issues related to transport, communication and delimitation of international borders (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Foreign ministry 25 Aug criticised appointment of new U.S. co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group, saying “attempts to revive the almost defunct Minsk Group” could lead to sidelining of U.S. from normalisation process of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. Armenian foreign ministry same day said OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs still had international mandate to support comprehensive settlement of NK conflict.
Situation at border with Armenia remained calm as EU and Russia continued mediation efforts, while govt signed energy deal with EU. Despite occasional reports from Baku and Yerevan of shooting at tensest part of state border between Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar district and Armenia’s Gegharkunik region, calm largely persisted along front lines ahead of new EU-mediated summit, expected to take place in Aug. Meanwhile, thanks to EU and Russian mediation efforts, Azerbaijani and Armenian FMs 16 July met in Georgian capital Tbilisi, reconfirmed readiness for continued diplomatic engagement. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 25 July spoke with President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan separately about “historic opportunity to achieve peace” and urged “further progress towards peace and stability in the region” (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Amid EU efforts to diversify gas supplies, and thus reduce dependence on Russia, govt 18 July signed new energy cooperation deal with EU in Baku, which aims to expand Southern Gas Corridor, thereby doubling gas supply from Azerbaijan to EU by 2025. In surprise visit, U.S. CIA Director William Burns 15 July met with Armenian PM Pashinyan in Yerevan along with other govt officials; statement issued following meeting gave few details of what was discussed. Russian Foreign Intelligence Chief 19 July travelled to Yerevan and Baku, respectively; visits prompted speculation about possible secret talks on war in Ukraine; Naryshkin same day refuted claims that there was any connection between two trips.
Transport corridor remained central sticking point between Baku and Yerevan. Russia 3 June mediated talks on transport corridor between Deputy PM Shahin Mustafayev and Armenian counterpart Mher Grigoryan in Russian capital Moscow, with parties agreeing to continue efforts to unblock transport links in region. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 9 June visited Armenian capital Yerevan, said that “simplified” border crossing procedures would be used on railway and motorway connecting mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan exclave via Armenia; while providing few details, Lavrov did not exclude possibility of route being under Armenia’s jurisdiction. Armenian PM Pashinyan 14 June told media outlet Al Jazeera that “narrative about the so-called corridor [between Azerbaijan and exclave Nakhichevan] is unacceptable”, referencing 2020 agreement that mentioned only Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) to Armenia via Azerbaijan. President Aliyev 23 June again accused Armenia of failing to provide transport link connecting Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan exclave, as per 2020 agreement. Disagreements over status of NK persisted, hindering peace talks (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Speaking to local media, Pashinyan 27 June accused Azerbaijan of undermining diplomatic efforts in order “to legitimise a new war”. Meanwhile, Armenian defence ministry 20 June said one of its soldiers was killed 18-19 June on border with Azerbaijan. Since mid-April, Armenia has reported two soldiers killed at military positions between Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar district and Armenia’s Gegharkunik region, which have seen particularly deadly skirmishes since 2020.
President Aliyev met Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan as part of efforts to launch border demarcation talks, and pardoned hundreds of prisoners to mark Independence Day. FM Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan 12 May met with Russian mediators in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe to discuss main issues related to post-2020 war situation, including border problems and resumption of transport links, as Russian deputy FM and deputy PM visited capital Yerevan to explore proceeding of talks on transportation routes. In first meeting since early April, PM Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 22 May met in EU-facilitated talks in Belgian capital Brussels, agreed that border demarcation teams would meet “in the coming days” (see Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)). Newly formed Armenian and Azerbaijani border commissions 24 May symbolically met at state border of two countries to launch commission’s work, with reported plans to meet again soon for more detailed talks in Moscow and Brussels. With support of Russian peacekeepers deployed in NK, Baku 26 May handed over to Armenian side Armenian soldier detained in April at state border. Armenia 28 May reported another Armenian soldier killed in shooting from Azerbaijani position at most problematic border area between Kelbajar and Gegharkunik, warning incident could disrupt plans for talks in Moscow; Baku 29 May denied clash and accused Yerevan of attempting to disrupt normalisation process; Yerevan 30 May called on Russia, EU and relevant foreign organisations to condemn Baku’s attempts to disrupt stability along border. Meanwhile, President Aliyev 27 April pardoned 213 prisoners on occasion of Independence Day, including over 20 people identified as political prisoners by human rights activists; decree also applied to 19 people who were prosecuted following 10 July 2018 unrest in western city of Ganca, where two senior police officers were stabbed to death as police dispersed protest. U.S. embassy in Baku same day welcomed decree but urged govt to release remaining political prisoners.
Peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan gained momentum. 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 (see Nagorno-Karabakh). President Aliyev 23 April said in phone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel that Baku had set up commission for delimitation and demarcation of state border and delegation to draft peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia (see Nagorno-Karabakh). 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. Aliyev 22 April said that EU “is very actively involved in the normalisation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia” and added that Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group was no longer involved in process; Armenia’s Security Council secretary previous day had said peace process with Baku was proceeding with assistance from Russia, U.S. and EU. State Border Service 23 April said it detained member of Armenian “subversive group” who attempted to cross border in Zangilan district; Armenian defence ministry same day said soldier had crossed border under unknown circumstances.
Govt reiterated demands for resumption of talks with Armenia on peace deal and signed transport accord with Iran. Govt 14 March publicised five-point plan for resumption of negotiations with Armenia over peace deal: Baku outlined conditions, including mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-use of force and legally binding obligation not to make territorial claims to each other, and delimitation and demarcation of border with establishment of diplomatic relations and unblocking of transportation routes. In significant escalation, Azerbaijani troops 24-25 March took over small Armenian settlement located inside Nagorno-Karabakh (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Govt and Russia 6 March mutually suspended all flights, as Azal Airlines cited insurance risks “connected to the sanctions”; Russian airline Aeroflot 15 March announced resumption of flights for 21 March, and Azal 17 March resumed flights to Russia. Azerbaijan and Iran 11 March signed memorandum of understanding that established plans for new links between southern regions of Azerbaijan (regained by Baku in 2020 war) and its Nakhchivan exclave, including railroad, highway, bridges and energy supply lines.
Armenia and Azerbaijan continued diplomatic engagement as number and scope of skirmishes between their armed forces slightly reduced. Month witnessed reduction in number and geographic range of skirmishes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces along international state border, with direct clashes between armed forces shifting to Armenian-populated areas in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Defence ministry however said its positions in Tovuz district on Armenian border 18 Feb came under fire and its positions in Lachin district 23 Feb faced intermittent fire from Armenia’s Goris city; Armenian defence ministry denied latter report and called on Azerbaijani side “to refrain from spreading obviously false information” on border situation. President Aliyev, Armenian PM Pashinyan, French President Macron and European Council President Charles Michel 4 Feb held video conference at French initiative; govt and Azerbaijan same day announced agreement on UNESCO mission “to both countries”, Azerbaijan also reported exchanges on “humanitarian issues, confidence-building”, landmines, communications, as well as border delimitation and demarcation. In positive sign, Azerbaijan 7 Feb returned eight detainees to Yerevan, explaining handover was in return for information about Azerbaijanis killed in 1990s Karabakh war; Pashinyan 9 Feb clarified that since 2020 war, Armenia had handed over remains of 108 people to Azerbaijan without any preconditions and remains of two more people would be handed over in near future. Following Aliyev’s Dec criticism of unfair division of EU funds between Baku and Yerevan, EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi during visit to capital Baku 4 Feb announced financial package worth €2bn for Azerbaijan. Parliament 1 Feb ratified June 2021 declaration on alliance with Turkey. Aliyev and Russian President Putin 22 Feb signed Declaration on Allied Cooperation.
Clashes with Armenia along state border resumed, jeopardising international efforts to reduce tensions. Azerbaijani defence ministry 8 Jan claimed that Azerbaijani positions in Kelbajar region were “subjected to fire”; Armenian defence ministry same day alleged accusation “does not correspond to reality”. Armenian foreign ministry 11 Jan accused Azerbaijani forces of violating ceasefire using artillery and UAVs against positions in Gegharkunik region in clashes that killed three Armenian and one Azerbaijani soldiers; Azerbaijani defence ministry same day said Armenia “bears full responsibility”. President Aliyev 12 Jan warned Armenia against not recognising Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity”, said Baku would respond in kind. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 14 Jan announced Armenia had submitted proposal on process of demarcation and delimitation of Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which he would share with Azerbaijan, and underscored importance of establishing agenda of priority issues. However, differences surfaced between Yerevan and Baku as FM Ararat Mirzoyan 19 Jan underlined need for “border stability and security”, and preventative mechanisms, whereas Azerbaijani FM Ceyhun Bayramov same day called Armenian preconditions “absolutely unacceptable”. Regarding agreed corridor connecting Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan, Aliyev 12 Jan said main condition in negotiations with Armenia is that highway follow “shortest route” and remain “open in all seasons”. Following unrest in Kazakhstan and deployment of Armenian forces within broader Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) operation early month, opposition alliance National Congress of Democratic Forces 9 Jan condemned CSTO support to “authoritarian regimes”.
Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and FMs renewed diplomatic engagement, facilitating prisoner release and easing tensions. In positive sign of increasing engagement and lowering tensions, govt participated in series of meetings with Azerbaijani counterparts following notable late-Nov breakthrough when Russian President Putin, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan agreed that bilateral commission on delimitation and demarcation of state border should be set by Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 1 Dec and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov 2 Dec met Minsk Group Co-Chairs at Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Stockholm Ministerial Council. Reportedly with Russian mediation, Azerbaijan 4 Dec returned ten captured Armenian soldiers to Yerevan in return for landmines maps. 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 praised agreement to restore communication channel between defence ministers, set up rail link and agree on “further tangible steps” ahead of planned launch of negotiations on delimitation and demarcation talks. Pashinyan and Aliyev 15 Dec also informally met at initiative of French President Macron. Azerbaijan 19 Dec released ten Armenian detainees “with mediation of the European Union”. Armenian soldiers 18 Dec detained two Azerbaijani servicemen after latter crossed into Armenian territory; Armenia 20 Dec returned soldiers. With mediation of Hungary, Azerbaijan 29 Dec handed over to Yerevan five Armenian soldiers detained during 16 Nov border clashes. Aliyev 14 Dec insisted Lachin corridor – which connects Russian peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh 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. After Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sept filed cases against each other, International Court of Justice 7 Dec announced provisional decision for both “to refrain from any action” aggravating or extending dispute, to prevent racial hatred, and for Azerbaijan to protect Armenian prisoners and Armenian cultural heritage. Aliyev 1 Dec appointed Emin Huseynov to new post of Special Representative to Karabakh Economic District, with territory covering regained lands of 2020 war.
Deadly escalation erupted at international border with Armenia, prompting international diplomatic efforts to facilitate dialogue. At undemarcated Azerbaijani-Armenian border near Sev Lich Lake, Azerbaijan 10 Nov raised concerns over increased number of Armenian soldiers. Armenian defence ministry 14 Nov reported Azerbaijani forces surrounding two Armenian positions; related videos showed Azerbaijani soldiers expelling Armenian military from area. Azerbaijani forces 16 Nov reportedly began organised advance toward Armenian positions, with videos purportedly showing use of tanks and artillery from inside Azerbaijan for first time since Autumn 2020 war, leading to clashes before Russian defence ministry brokered ceasefire same day; Azerbaijan next day reported seven soldiers killed and ten wounded, and Armenia 19 Nov reported at least six soldiers dead, and over 30 either detained or missing. Armenia 22 Nov accused Azerbaijan’s armed forces of opening fire and killing Armenian soldier in Gegharkunik province; Azerbaijan same day rejected “false” accusation. Separately, in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, tensions remained high (see Nagorno-Karabakh). 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; however, no progress made on establishment of Russia-mediated commission to define state border, Armenia and Azerbaijan instead declared readiness to launch bilateral commission; Putin reported progress on unblocking regional transport links with final deal reportedly expected by end of 2021. Following recent tensions with Iran, Azerbaijani Deputy PM Sahin Mustafayev 21 Nov travelled to Iranian capital Tehran, announcing joint commission on economic cooperation and agreements on oil, gas and transport; Iranian FM same day declared Iranian companies’ availability for Azerbaijani reconstruction in territories regained in 2020 war, while Iranian roads and urban development minister announced creation of “corridor from the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea”.
Diplomatic engagement with Yerevan increased despite hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh and proceedings at International Court of Justice; tensions with Iran continued. Despite rise in hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone (see Nagorno-Karabakh), Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov 14 Oct met in presence of Russian FM Sergei Lavrov to discuss issues related to NK conflict, including implementation of Nov 2020 trilateral statement. After govt and Yerevan in Sept initiated cases against each other at International Court of Justice on grounds of violating International Convention on Racial Discrimination, court 14 Oct hosted hearings on Armenian case against Azerbaijan, which focused on Azerbaijan’s Military Trophies Park and Armenian prisoners of war, and 18 Oct hosted hearing on Azerbaijan’s separate case against Armenia, which largely focused on landmines. Meanwhile, tensions continued with Iran after police installed checkpoint in Sept on main border zone highway connecting Iran to South Caucasus, and Armenia with its southern regions. Iranian armed forces 1 Oct held military drills, prompting President Aliyev to question “why now, and why on our border?”. Interior ministry 5 Oct suspended prayer hall and Representative’s Office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran early Oct held large-scale military drills at borders with Azerbaijan’s enclave Nakhchivan and Turkey; Azerbaijan and Turkey 5-8 Oct launched joint military exercises. Iran 5 Oct closed airspace to Azerbaijani military. FMs of Iran and Azerbaijan next day discussed bilateral tensions. Azerbaijan 19 Oct detained five Azerbaijani Shia Muslim clerics with alleged links to Iran. After Iranian authorities 20 Oct banned Iranian load drivers from entering NK via Armenia, Baku next day released two detained Iranian truck drivers. Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian 27 Oct said tension between countries were thing of past and nations were “on the right path of cooperation”.
Tensions with Armenia continued as both sides initiated legal proceedings at International Court of Justice (ICJ) and disputed control of regional highway. Armenia 16 Sept instituted proceedings at ICJ, accusing Azerbaijan of violating International Convention on Racial Discrimination through decades of state-sponsored discrimination; Azerbaijani foreign ministry 23 Sept filed case against Armenia on same grounds. Tensions surfaced with Armenia over control of highway. After Azerbaijani defence ministry 13 Sept lodged protest with Russian defence ministry and peacekeepers about Iranian trucks entering Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan insists requires Azerbaijani authorisation, Azerbaijani police 13 Sept installed checkpoint on main border zone highway connecting Iran to South Caucasus and Armenia with its southern regions in violation of agreements signed with Russia on restrictions of movement following Autumn 2020 war; Iranian media reports 15 Sept claimed Azerbaijani police detained two Iranian truck drivers after they allegedly travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh. In response, Armenia next day closed highway for Iranian trucks. Russian foreign ministry same day discussed border issue with Baku, whose officials also met Iranian ambassador to Baku.
Deadly clashes with Armenia continued on international border. Clashes on international border persisted throughout month, which – combined with late July hostilities – constituted deadliest period since 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. Fighting in Aug reportedly killed two Armenian soldiers and left one Azerbaijani and one Armenian wounded. Nearly all incidents occurred in two locations along border, namely between Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar and Armenia’s Gekharkunik provinces and at crossing of Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan enclave, Armenia’s Ararat district and Turkey. Meanwhile, after sentencing 13 Armenian soldiers to six years imprisonment in late July, Baku military court 2 Aug sentenced two Armenians detained in Oct 2020 during Nagorno-Karabakh war to 20 years’ imprisonment; according to Armenia’s longstanding position, all detainees are prisoners of war, who should be released.
Tensions with Armenia rose along state border with deadliest clashes since Autumn 2020 war; fighting could intensify in coming weeks. On international border, despite striking second deal to exchange prisoners and mine maps (see Nagorno-Karabakh), Armenia and Azerbaijan traded unprecedented number of accusations of ceasefire violations during month as exchanges of fire occurred almost daily, primarily in Gegharkunik/Kelbajar and Yeraskh/Nakhchivan regions of state border of two republics. Fighting 6-26 July killed at least one Azerbaijani and one Armenian, and wounded three Azerbaijanis and five Armenians (one of whom remains in critical condition). Azerbaijan 14-15 July claimed that Armenian forces inside conflict zone had fired at their positions in Shusha town. Deadliest clashes since Autumn 2020 escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh 27-28 July erupted on international border; Armenian foreign ministry accused Azerbaijani armed forces of infiltrating its territory and attacking its military positions; Baku confirmed incident left two Azerbaijani soldiers wounded and Yerevan said three Armenian soldiers were killed and six wounded. Armenian defence ministry 28 July confirmed Russian peacekeepers brokered ceasefire, which remained in force by end of month despite continued exchanges of fire; concerns remained that fighting could further resume in August. Earlier in month, President Aliyev 7 July signed decree to re-organise economic regions establishing new regions “Karabakh” – including territories partly controlled by Russian peacekeepers and areas not under Azerbaijani control such as Stepanakert and Khojaly cities – and “East Zangezur”. Since 20 June Armenian election that handed victory to PM Pashinyan, Baku intensified calls for peace deal with Armenia and mutual recognition of territorial integrity and borders; Aliyev 14 July warned it would be “a very big mistake” for Armenia to refuse peace negotiations.
Diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving weeks-long military standoff on border with Armenia continued, while govt bolstered ties with Turkey. Following significant escalation in border tensions with Armenia in May, Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives 2 June met in Moscow to discuss de-escalation. Armenian acting PM Pashinyan 15 June proposed that all troops withdraw from frontier to end military standoff and start talks on demarcation of border; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group co-chairs offered to facilitate negotiations. Series of border incidents further fuelled tensions with Yerevan. Govt 2 June reported that group of about 40 Armenian soldiers 1 June crossed into Kelbajar district; Armenia denied reports as “disinformation.” Mine blast in Kelbajar district on Armenian border 4 June killed three Azerbaijani civilians; govt 8 June detained and later released Armenian soldier in Lachin district, on claims he was member of “reconnaissance-sabotage group” which was denied by Armenia; govt reported shelling in Kelbajar district. Armenian defence ministry 10 June reported that Azerbaijani Armed Forces tried to carry out engineering work in border area of Armenian Gegharkunik region. During visit to Shusha city in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkish President Erdoğan and President Aliyev 15 June signed milestone joint declaration that introduces regular joint sessions between Turkish and Azerbaijani security councils, bolsters military cooperation, includes roadmap for consolidation of diaspora relations and expresses formal support for Turkish position on Armenian genocide issue; Armenian MFA 15 June denounced joint visit to Shusha as “provocation against regional peace and security”.
In most significant escalation since Autumn 2020 war, border tensions with Armenia turned deadly. Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, between Azerbaijani-controlled Kelbajar region and Armenian-controlled southern provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik; Yerevan 27 May claimed up to 1,000 soldiers entered its territory while Baku countered that new military positions were inside Azerbaijan. In most significant escalation and crisis since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war, Armenian defence ministry 25 May said fighting with Azerbaijani forces along border of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik district killed one Armenian soldier; Baku same day said death had “nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side”. Azerbaijani defence ministry 27 May reported detention of six Armenian soldiers after their alleged attempt to cross to Kelbajar district; Yerevan same day said detention took place in its controlled territory. Azerbaijan defence ministry 28 May reported one Azerbaijani soldier wounded in exchange of fire with Armenian military at central location of state border with Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhchivan; Yerevan denied involvement. After trip to border area, Pashinyan 27 May called on Azerbaijan to create demilitarised zone monitored by international observers or peacekeepers. Prior to escalation, Armenia and Azerbaijan 12-18 May joined Russian-mediated talks aimed at demarcating border. Moscow 18 May proposed establishment of joint demarcation commission to look into border issues. Separately, President Ilham Aliyev 7 May signed decree declaring recently controlled city of Shusha inside Nagorno-Karabakh territory as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital.
Tensions persisted with Armenia over repatriation of prisoners of war from Azerbaijan. Armenian Deputy PM Tigran Avinian 9 April accused Baku of violating terms of Russian-brokered Nov ceasefire by refusing to free Armenian soldiers and civilians captured during Autumn 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict. In response, FM Ceyhun Bayramov 9 April stated that Baku had no more prisoners or detainees, and all of those detained in Azerbaijan were Armenian terrorists (see Nagorno-Karabakh). President Aliyev 12 April opened new Military Trophy Park in centre of capital Baku, displaying installations of Armenian trenches and soldiers in NK, prompting public outcry in Armenia; Council of Europe commissioner for human rights 27 April raised concerns over park and called on Aliyev “to take a firm stance against any rhetoric or actions which lead to triggering animosity or hatred”; Baku same day rebuffed statement.
De facto Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) and Azerbaijani officials cooperated on searching for remains of soldiers and civilians. Azerbaijani and de facto NK security services continued coordination on field missions in search of remains of soldiers and civilians in Azerbaijani-controlled areas (see Nagorno-Karabakh). EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar 10-13 March visited Azerbaijan, meeting with President Aliyev, among others.
Govt focused efforts on demining Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone and continued de-escalation process in line with ceasefire. President Aliyev 2 Feb signed decree renaming and restructuring Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action as Mine Action Agency of Republic of Azerbaijan, appointing new director, and making it public legal entity able to receive financial assistance from foreign donors. Turkish Defence Ministry 4 Feb said 20 Turkish-made Mechanic Mine Clearance Machines had been sent to Azerbaijan to support demining efforts in NK conflict zone. Delegation from Azerbaijani Emergencies Ministry 4 Feb visited Russia’s capital Moscow, where it held negotiations on cooperation in clearing Azerbaijani territories of mines and training of Azerbaijani mine specialists by Russian colleagues. Govt and Armenia continued dialogue and cooperation. Notably, authorities 9 Feb swapped prisoners of war and post-ceasefire detainees with mediation of Russian peacekeepers (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Authorities attended Russian-sponsored talks with Armenia on steps to further implement Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire. President Aliyev 11 Jan met Russian President Putin and Armenian PM Pashinyan in Russia’s capital Moscow for Russian-initiated trilateral talks following deadly Autumn 2020 escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone; talks – which build on ninth point of Nov ceasefire relating to opening of all regional economic and transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Armenia - concluded with signing of joint statement on steps to develop economic ties and infrastructure projects (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Aliyev 5 Jan announced plans to build international airport in Fizuli district to enable foreign visitors to visit Shusha, town in Nagorno-Karabakh, and 15 Jan visited town. Govt 15 Jan filed case against Armenia with European Court of Human Rights for human rights violations during recent conflict and in past 30 years; Armenia 16 Jan announced intention to file similar complaint against Azerbaijan with European Court of Human Rights.
Govt completed first prisoner swaps with Armenia as part of Russia-brokered ceasefire and bolstered ties with Turkey. 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 under Nov ceasefire deal; second group of four Armenian and two Azerbaijani detainees released on 28 Dec. Govt 10 Dec held victory parade in capital Baku with participation of Turkish political and military leadership, including group of Turkish soldiers joining Azerbaijani troops in parade; govt 28 Dec revealed it had lost 2,823 soldiers during war. President Aliyev 10 Dec discussed opening of Turkey’s borders with Armenia with Turkish President Erdoğan; Erdoğan stated that Turkey was ready to reopen border with Armenia if Yerevan takes unspecified “positive steps”, and later recited poem lamenting division of Azerbaijani lands along Aras river that runs between Azerbaijan and Iran, prompting Iranian lawmakers 13 Dec to condemn such “unacceptable and divisive” remarks (see Iran). Clashes 11-12 Dec took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces near villages under Armenian control in first violation of ceasefire agreement (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Govt 15 Dec signed memorandum of understanding with Turkey, under which Ankara is due to supply natural gas to Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan via new gas pipeline from Turkey’s Igdir region; deal could reduce Nakhchivan’s current dependence on Iranian gas. French and American co-chairs of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group 12 Dec visited Baku for first time since start of Oct 2019; Aliyev 12 Dec told co-chairs that they had not been invited. Govt 18 Dec closed land border with Russia until 1 March 2021 due to stark rise in COVID-19 cases in both countries.
Following deadly fighting with Armenia throughout Oct in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, Azerbaijan signed Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement. Govt 8 Nov announced capture of Shusha, strategically significant city in NK. Two days later, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement along with Russian President Putin; President Aliyev 10 Nov called deal “glorious victory” amid celebrations nationwide. Deal stipulates that Azerbaijan retain captured territories, including Shusha, while Armenia must hand over control of three adjacent areas – Agdam, Kelbajar and Lachin districts (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Despite ceasefire deal only stipulating deployment of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers, govt 11 and 16 Nov also called for stationing of Turkish peacekeepers in NK; Turkish parliament 17 Nov overwhelmingly approved bill to deploy peacekeepers to Azerbaijan to monitor ceasefire deal.
Deadly fighting with Armenia escalated in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), with attacks extending to Azerbaijani cities; deadly attacks could further intensify and spread in Nov. Largest-scale fighting since 1994 ceasefire continued following Azerbaijani military’s late Sept offensive on line of contact in NK conflict zone: fighting reportedly killed and wounded thousands of military personnel on both sides (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Since early Oct, Azerbaijani offensives advanced in direction of Jebrail and Zangelan, near border with Iran, progressing north along border with Armenia towards Lachin district, which hosts main road connecting Armenia with NK. Fighting throughout month reached Azerbaijani cities near line of contact, particularly Barda town, but also areas further away, including Absheron peninsula, Mingachevir town and Ganja city. Authorities reported that ballistic missiles struck Ganja on 4, 8, 11 and 16-17 Oct, resulting in 25 civilians killed and 125 more injured. Missiles 27-28 Oct also killed 26 civilians and wounded over 70 in Barda; NGO Amnesty International next day said cluster bombs used by Armenia for first time during attack. In interview with Russian state-owned news agency, President Ilham Aliyev 19 Oct confirmed govt’s readiness to cease hostilities and start peace negotiations on condition that Armenia accept basic settlement principles developed by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, cease fighting and start immediate withdrawal of troops from NK. COVID-19 cases continued to rise despite govt measures to halt spread in place throughout month, including education institutions closed and two thirds of public sector employees working at home.
Authorities called on public to prepare for war after major deadly clashes with Armenia along front line of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, raising risk of escalation in Oct. Largest-scale fighting since 1994 ceasefire 27 Sept erupted as Azerbaijani army attacked Armenian troops located along key sections of 200km-long front line in NK conflict zone: fighting reportedly killed dozens and wounded hundreds of military personnel on both sides (see Nagorno-Karabakh). 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. Govt 27 Sept declared martial law and started to mobilise reserve troops. 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 police 22 March arrest of member of opposition alliance National Council of Democratic Forces and member of Musavat Party, Tofuq Yagublu, authorities 3 Sept sentenced Yagublu to four years and three months in jail on hooliganism charges; Yagublu went on hunger strike in protest, and on 11th day of strike was transferred to private clinic. More than 30 protesters 9-11 Sept gathered in capital Baku as well as Berlin, Toronto and other cities demanding Yagublu’s release; court 18 Sept revised Yagublu’s sentencing to prison term with bail, allowing him to return home. Govt 28 Sept extended COVID-19 lockdown to 2 Nov, while allowing some internal travel as of 8 Sept.
Turkey and Russia sought to deepen military cooperation with Azerbaijan. Following Turkey’s expression of support to Azerbaijan amid July escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict (see Nagorno-Karabakh), political consultations between both govts and joint military drills increased in Aug. FM Ceyhun Bayramov 11 Aug made first official visit to Turkey; Turkish delegation headed by Defence Minister Hulusi Akar 13-14 Aug visited Baku and met with President Aliyev; ten Azerbaijani opposition parties 6 Aug issued joint statement urging Turkish and Azerbaijani authorities to discuss greater military cooperation, and calling for Ankara to establish military bases in Azerbaijan, despite Azerbaijan’s 2010 military doctrine prohibiting foreign military bases on its territory; Turkish and Azerbaijani military forces 29 July-10 Aug held joint military drills in five cities in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Russia made efforts to defuse tensions over recent media reports about weapons it reportedly supplied to Armenia soon after mid-July clashes along state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan; Aliyev 13 Aug told Russian President Putin during phone conversation that media report had raised “concerns and serious questions in the Azerbaijani society”. During visit to Baku 25 Aug, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu 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. FM Ceyhun Bayramov 26 Aug visited Moscow to discuss NK peace process and bilateral relations. Following 4 Aug deadly blast in Lebanese capital Beirut, govt 5 Aug offered $1mn in assistance to Lebanese authorities; opposition groups criticised financial support to Lebanon on grounds that govt was diverting public funds away from COVID-19 financial relief to support foreign country with pro-Armenian bias. Govt 29 Aug extended some COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, including closure of borders, until 30 Sept. Aliyev 10 Aug congratulated Belarusian President Lukashenko on controversial re-election for sixth term in office.
Death of popular general during clashes at border with Armenia stirred one of largest demonstrations in years. 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 well-regarded senior military official Major General Polad Hashimov, and one civilian killed; cause of escalation remained unclear and both sides traded accusations of initiating first attack (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Following death of Hashimov, highest-ranking official killed on battlefield since 1994 ceasefire that ended war over Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region, tens of thousands of protesters 15 July took to streets in capital Baku, demanding that authorities go to war to return Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; police arrested dozens after small number of protestors stormed parliament. President Aliyev next day dismissed FM Elmar Mammadyarov, key emissary in peace talks with Armenia for sixteen years, replacing him with former Minister of Education Jeyhun Bayramov; dismissal followed recent corruption investigations into foreign ministry and perception of Mammadyarov’s “passive” approach to address recent border clashes. Azerbaijan’s military same day said that its new missile system has range to reach Soviet-era nuclear power plant near Yerevan, prompting outrage in Armenia; high-ranking Azerbaijani official then clarified “Azerbaijan has no policy of targeting critical strategic facilities”. After border escalation, tensions rose between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and members of diasporas abroad: in Russia, home to one of largest Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora populations, Moscow authorities 18 July arrested more than 30 individuals suspected of attacking several pedestrians and drivers; clashes 21 July broke out between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Los Angeles, U.S.. Amid COVID-19 concerns, govt 18 July extended nationwide quarantine until 31 Aug, with stricter measures in place in Baku and other cities until 5 Aug.
Govt’s reimposition of COVID-19 lockdown following resurgence of cases led to small-scale protest and heavy-handed police response. Amid sharp rise in reported COVID-19 cases, govt 4 June introduced curfew for weekend of 6-7 June. Police enforcing curfew 7 June confronted by small protest of residents throwing rubbish, jars and bottles from buildings in central district of capital Baku; govt next day deployed hundreds of police from quasi-military special police force Agile Police Regiment in Baku, and police arrested 11 people in their apartments without court order; all 11 sentenced to administrative detention for between 15 days and two months; after opposition groups criticised police forces’ aggressive methods, authorities 9 June detained several accused police officers. Govt 18 June announced return to strict COVID-19 lockdown until 5 July and general lockdown until 1 August.
Regarding controversial case that contributed to deadlock in negotiation process over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, European Court of Human Rights 26 May ruled that Azerbaijan’s decision to pardon, promote and award benefits to soldier convicted of decapitating Armenian officer in Budapest in 2004 violated European Convention on Human Rights; in response, MFA same day stressed that court ruling stated there was no substantive violation of convention’s Article 2 (right to life) and no demand for annulment of pardon decree.