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Vasif Huseynov

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Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Brink of Renewed Conflict

2023-09-14 11:18

On September 9, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke on the phone with the leaders of France, Iran, Georgia and Germany, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Azatutyan.amPrimeminister.am, September 9). In a manner that resembled his outreach to various world leaders at the beginning of the Second Karabakh War (September 7–November 10, 2020), the Armenian premier warned against intensifying tensions in the region and stated his readiness for immediate talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev without preconditions. Pashinyan’s words came on the heels of several setbacks that threaten to derail Armenian-Azerbaijani peace negotiations and may lead to another military conflict.

Both sides accuse each other of a military build-up along their shared border in preparation for an offensive (Armenpress.am, September 7; TASS, September 8). According to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, a military threat also emanates from the continued presence of Armenian troops in Karabakh, despite Yerevan’s earlier pledge to withdraw them by September 2022 (see EDM, July 21, 2022; TASS, September 8). These accusations are accompanied by almost daily flare-ups along different sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border as well as around the Karabakh region. In one of the most violent confrontations in the Kalbajar direction, on September 1, four Armenian servicemen were killed and a mobile ground station for combat drones was destroyed. This platform had reportedly been used to attack Azerbaijani positions (Apa.az, September 1; Mod.gov.az, September 2). These dynamics have created a dangerous situation that threatens to spiral into a major escalation.

These military tensions follow the failure of Baku and Yerevan to reach agreements on thorny bilateral issues through diplomatic means (see EDM, July 720). Pashinyan’s congratulatory statement on the 32nd anniversary of the independence of “Nagorno-Karabakh” on September 2, which contradicts his earlier recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, has further undermined the peace process (see EDM, May 23; Armenpress.am, September 2). Against this backdrop, the two sides remain in a standoff over the Lachin road and the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the Armenian community in Karabakh.

According to Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev, Azerbaijan and Armenia had earlier agreed to simultaneously open both the Lachin and Agdam-Khankandi roads. On August 31, Hajiyev pointed out, “The integral part of this agreement was that the Aghdam-Khankandi road would be opened, and after that, the Lachin-Khankandi road would also be opened by applying the customs and border regime rules of Azerbaijan. Representatives of the Armenian residents were also supposed to come to a relevant meeting in the city of Yevlakh. … At the last moment, they refused” (Apa.az, August 31). He added that Pashinyan accepted the possibility of using the Agdam road at the Brussels summit between the Armenian premier and Aliyev on July 15. European Council President Charles Michel mediated those talks (Azadliq.org, August 31).

The Armenian side has denied that any such agreement was struck with Azerbaijan in Brussels (Armenpress.am, July 26). Yet, Michel’s statement following the meeting made clear that “discussions on these elements [the use of both the Lachin and Agdam roads] had started following the last meeting of the leaders in Brussels on 15 July 2023” (Consilium.europa.eu, September 1). The emphasis on the opening of “alternative routes … along with the Lachin road” was also mentioned in statements from the US State Department following recent phone calls between Blinken and Aliyev (State.gov, July 30September 6).

Meanwhile, the humanitarian aid sent by different states to the Armenian community in Karabakh remains stuck due to the ongoing political disagreements between Yerevan and Baku. On August 30, Azerbaijan sent 40 tons of humanitarian cargo to the Armenian population in the region via the Agdam road; however, the convoy was reportedly stopped by the separatist regime (Caliber.az, September 4). Additional humanitarian supplies were dispatched to the region with French support around the same time and was stopped at Azerbaijan’s Lachin checkpoint before entering Azerbaijani territory (Armenpress.am, August 30). Another humanitarian convoy has been stuck at the border since July 26 (Armenpress.am, August 1)

These delays have been accompanied with growing instability within the Armenian separatist regime of Karabakh. On August 31, Arayik Harutyunyan, the leader of the regime, stated that the “unstable geopolitical situation” in the region and “internal political and social environments” necessitate flexibility and a change in governance practices. He then promptly resigned (Armenianweekly.com, August 31). In an act that was declared illegal by the Azerbaijani government, the European Union, Ukraine, the separatist regime’s “parliament” and others elected Samvel Shahramanyan as the new “president” on September 9 (Armenpress.amMfa.gov.azEeas.europa.eu, September 9).

In the aftermath of Harutyunyan’s resignation, Russia sent a truck loaded with humanitarian aid to Karabakh via the Russian Red Cross. The supplies passed through the Agdam route and were stopped a few kilometers from Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s state television channel reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) pressured the Russian Red Cross against using the Agdam route (Qafqazinfo.az, September 10). The ICRC later denied these allegations, stating that “the decision to allow humanitarian aid through or not is in the hands of the [two] sides” (Twitter.com/ICRCAze, September 10).

Meanwhile, Hajiyev denied the rumors that the use of the Agdam route by the Russian side would entail the opening of the Lachin road. He asserted, “It is a separate deal and should not be confused with the suggestion on the simultaneous opening of Agdam-Khankandi and Lachin-Khankandi roads for ICRC delivery. … On September 1, Azerbaijan expressed its consent … to ensure the simultaneous opening of the Agdam-Khankandi and Lachin-Khankandi roads. But the illegal regime refused” (Twitter.com/HikmetHajiyev, September 10).

The future of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations is dangerously uncertain at the moment. As the standoff over the roads leading to Karabakh persists and the two sides find themselves increasingly more confrontational in their contacts and public pronouncements, the specter of expanded violence will continue to mount. Furthermore, deteriorating relations between Russia and Armenia and Iran’s increased threats of launching a possible war over the Zangezur Corridor elevate the chances for a serious escalation (Caliber.az, September 8; Iranintl.com, September 9). As such, it cannot be ruled out that all this might end in another war—this time, on a potentially wider regional scale.vasif

https://jamestown.org/program/armenia-and-azerbaijan-on-the-brink-of-renewed-conflict/

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