Fighting between Yerevan-backed separatists and the Azerbaijani army in Nagorno-Karabakh left several dead, civilians and soldiers, on Sunday. They risk plunging the two states into a new open conflict.
Martial law and general mobilization. On Sunday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian put his country on a war footing after deadly fighting between Azerbaijan and Yerevan-backed separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. “The authoritarian regime [azerbaïdjanais] once again declared war on the Armenian people ”, Pachinian said in a speech broadcast on television. Earlier today, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev warned: “The Azerbaijani army is fighting today on its territory, defends its territorial integrity, delivers devastating blows to the enemy. Our cause is just and we will win. ” Hours later, Azerbaijan in turn declared martial law as well as a curfew in Baku and several other major cities as well as in areas close to the Karabakh front line.
The two states appear to be on the verge of falling into open conflict, after a sudden rise in tensions. Baku affirmed by the voice of its Minister of Defense to have launched a “counteroffensive” in order to “Put an end to military activities of the Armed Forces of Armenia”. The separatists accused the Azerbaijani authorities of having launched hostilities. “Early [dimanche] In the morning, the Azerbaijani side launched bombardments all along the line of contact. They also bomb Stepanakert [la capitale]», the spokesperson for the Nagorno-Karabakh presidency wrote on Facebook.
Clashes this summer
Civilian and military casualties are to be deplored on both sides. The fighting had left at least 23 dead on Sunday, including 7 civilians, and a hundred injured, according to the two parties. Azerbaijan said it captured several villages in the disputed region, which the separatists denied: “The Karabakh armed forces have so far thwarted plans [de l’Azerbaïdjan], inflicting heavy losses [à l’adversaire].»
As early as Friday, autocrat Ilham Aliyev had been extremely threatening, accusing Armenia of preparing “Tens of thousands of men with one goal, to attack Azerbaijan”, and criticizing the “aggressive behaviour” of his neighbor in an allusion to the clashes of the summer. In mid-July, the armies of the two countries clashed for a few days on the northern border, far from Nagorno-Karabakh. Twelve soldiers and one Azerbaijani civilian were killed along with six Armenian soldiers.
“These fights were triggered by incidents, they were not really prepared, explains International Crisis Group researcher Olesya Vartanyan. The situation remained very tense afterwards. No international mediation took place, no one came to calm things down, for example by guaranteeing everyone’s safety. ” A long decay that occurred after a period of relative relaxation. Fighting between separatists and the Azerbaijani army, in April 2016, were followed by a resumption of discussions in 2018 and 2019. They notably allowed the establishment of a new communication channel and technical measures intended to reduce tension. The informal agreement was concluded in September 2018 in Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan), on the sidelines of a summit for post-Soviet states organized by Russia.
Moscow calls for a ceasefire
The substantive negotiations have not progressed at all since January, deplores Olesya Vartanyan. The United States is completely behind: “While the Trump administration is in its fourth year in office, it has yet to define a policy for the South Caucasus region”, Paul Stronski noted a few weeks ago, from the Carnegie think tank. The Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, France and Russia, did not obtain any significant results. Sunday, Paris reiterated “Its commitment to achieve a negotiated and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”, while saying “Deeply concerned by the large-scale clashes”.
Likewise, Moscow called for an immediate ceasefire. Traditionally close to Armenia, Russia has developed its partnership with Azerbaijan, which buys it arms. The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, spoke by telephone with his Turkish counterpart, another key player in the crisis. Ankara has been a longtime ally of Azerbaijan, but this support is “Much more explicit [aujourd’hui] than it has ever been ”, highlights on Twitter the specialist of the region, Thomas de Waal. And this growing involvement does not appear to pacify the area. All day Sunday, Turkish officials have multiplied bellicose statements.