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.
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..
The threat of coronavirus looms large in six self-declared republics that have broken away from post-Soviet states. War and isolation have corroded health care infrastructure, while obstructing the inflow of assistance. International actors should work with local and regional leaders to let life-saving aid through.
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.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
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.
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.
At some point there are things that require somebody to set a leadership agenda. [OSCE] can’t do all of that without somebody in charge.
It seems unlikely the [Azerbaijan-Armenia] crisis would escalate, as neither side has territorial claims on northern border areas and the fighting had not spread to Karabakh itself.
The chances for the potential escalation [of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict] are very high. And the conflict will be more deadly this time, since both sides know each other’s capabilities
[A border clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan] is really very strange and surprising. There have been very few incidents outside Nagorno-Karabakh this year.
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.
Armenia’s new government will likely adhere to long-held positions in its 30-year conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. But the two sides need more direct communication in the conflict zone. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 – Second Update early warning report, Crisis Group urges European policymakers to help forge these links to avoid renewed fighting.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on seizing a chance for peace in Mali, avoiding escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, mitigating conflict in Syria’s peripheral regions, and helping Somalia overcome obstacles to reform. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.