Fighting in July interrupted what had been a stretch of relative quiet on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The incidents underscored how quickly and unexpectedly this front can erupt. The two countries should take better advantage of a hotline created in 2018 to avoid dangerous misunderstandings.
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.
If they move quickly, Armenia and Azerbaijan could break out of their long impasse over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. They could pursue quiet talks on thorny issues – settlements, peacekeepers and final status – but along separate tracks rather than in a single package.
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.
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.
Many people would be very surprised if clashes at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border spiral out into war, but that doesn’t mean something cannot happen, say, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
Settlements in proximity to the trenches on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border render civilians on both sides equally vulnerable.
Water was once abundant in the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, thanks to a network of reservoirs and irrigation pipes, but today shortages are chronic.
A new communication channel has sparked hope for negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. But as Crisis Group Analyst Zaur Shiriyev found talking to Azerbaijani soldiers and villagers living near the front, decades of conflict mean that the path to peace will be rocky.
The April 2018 “velvet revolution” in Armenia has brought new meetings and helped improve the dynamics of the three-decade-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Much more needs to happen to reach peace, but Azerbaijan’s old scepticism is giving way to cautious hope in diplomacy.
With his party’s victory in the snap parliamentary elections and a new calm on the frontlines with Azerbaijan, Armenia’s leader Nikol Pashinyan and his team will have more space to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.