Armenia and Azerbaijan are once again on collision course along increasingly active front lines in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Mediators Russia, France and the U.S., should pressure Yerevan and Baku to tone down inflammatory rhetoric, agree to talks and take steps towards peace.
Azerbaijani journalist Afqan Mukhtarli reported he was kidnapped in Georgian capital Tbilisi 29 May and forcibly returned to Azerbaijan where he was arrested, prompting condemnation in Georgia and from U.S., EU. U.S. 3 June said it was “disturbed” by alleged abduction; EU 4 June urged Azerbaijani govt to release detained opposition figures; European Parliament 15 June called on Baku to release Mukhtarli and for Georgia to investigate his abduction. Baku court 16 June convicted opposition activist Fuad Ahmadli of selling personal data of mobile phone operator clients, sentenced him to four years’ prison; Ahmadli said case politically motivated. EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn visited for talks with President Aliyev 16 June. Azerbaijan 21 June reported it had detained Armenian resident at eastern section of Armenian-Azerbaijani state border, accused of attempt to take part in Armenian military incursion; Armenian authorities denied any link to case, suggested detainee had mental health problems or crossed border accidentally. Azerbaijan 26 June reportedly received new batch of Russian-produced anti-missile systems, prompting criticism from Armenia.
Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in early April killed up to 200 people, forcing international attention back to resolving the generation-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The time has come for a decisive push for progress in the peace talks. Both sides are on an unprecedented war footing, and any new clashes risk dragging outside parties into a wider war.
Stronger international engagement is needed to help prevent the deadly conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan from escalating gravely at a time of internal political tensions in both.
As negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh stall, the Azerbaijan government has improved living conditions for the internally displaced (IDPs), though return to the occupied territories remains by far the preferred solution.
Escalating front-line clashes, a spiralling arms race, vitriolic rhetoric and a virtual breakdown in peace talks increase the chance Armenia and Azerbaijan will go back to war over Nagorno-Karabakh, with devastating regional consequences.
If it continues to ignore the need for economic and political reform, Azerbaijan will squander an historic opportunity to use the country’s energy resources to build a more durable state system and a prosperous nation.
Originally published in The International Herald Tribune
In the 1990s, the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia generated one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azeris fled their homes in the face of Armenian forces. Lawrence Scott Sheets, Crisis Group's South Caucasus Project Director, discusses how IDPs have fared and the prospects for a deal that could permit their return.