Nuray Rustamova, Yunis Sharifli, Ilkin Akhundlu and Melek Novruzova l
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan reached a peak for the first time since the April 2016 fighting, with a ceasefire violation along the border between Azerbaijan’s Tovuz district and Armenia’s Tavush province on July 12. Despite the fact that the clashes between the two countries usually occur along the line of contact in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, this time the tension took place along the internationally recognized border between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The escalation of violence, heavy artillery and drone clashes on both sides, along with the destruction of infrastructure in the border area, resulted in the deaths of several servicemen and an Azerbaijani civilian.
Reactions in Azerbaijan
Armenia`s provocation along the border coupled with the 25-year occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenian forces sparked an outrage in Azerbaijan. This outrage climaxed with the report on Azerbaijan`s losses (known as shahids or martyrs in Azerbaijan), including a general and a colonel. The death of the general in the battle had a profound effect on Azerbaijanis and spearheaded the rise in collective emotion. The mourning ceremonies in front of the houses of the fallen heroes quickly grew into a spontaneous rally on July 14. People started to flock from the suburbs into the city center of Baku, the capital, despite the strict quarantine amid the pandemic. The demonstrators chanted slogans on justice, martyrs and Karabakh. Even the police joined ordinary citizens, accompanying the march.
According to local observers, about 20,000 people gathered in the event, while some claim the figure was even bigger. Thr protest was unique in its scale and intensity and that the deaths of a number of high-ranking officers, including a general, in the clashes had made people realize that what was happening at the border was “not normal”.
The march was the largest one that had happened in the country since the 1990s. People took to the streets openly expressing their support for the army and their desire for war. Thousands displayed their readiness to mobilize and join the army.
Reactions elsewhere in the world
Although the Armenian Defense Ministry claims that the clashes began on July 12 after the Azerbaijani provocation, the Armenian side used this opportunity to “occupy new favorable positions“, which was acknowledged by Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan, who said in a telephone conversation with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.
Numerous states and international organizations have called on both sides to exercise restraint and adhere to the 1994 ceasefire:
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” over the recent events and stressed that “further escalation of the conflict, which threatens the security of the region, is unacceptable.” The European Union issued a statement calling on both sides to “stop the armed conflict … and take urgent action to prevent it from escalating further.” NATO also urged the parties to take all necessary measures to prevent further escalation of tensions.
However, a few countries, especially Turkey ensured its direct support for Azerbaijan in this conflict. Azerbaijan`s strategic ally, Turkey supported Baku’s position: Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called on Azerbaijan to “protect its territorial integrity”, adding that Armenia’s actions were “unacceptable” and that the country should “come to its senses”. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also stated that Armenian attack was deliberate and that “this attack was beyond the calibre of Armenia.” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced military support to the Azerbaijani army.
Pakistan also officially supported Azerbaijan. By recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and calling on Armenia to end provocations, Islamabad underlined its position not only regarding the July skirmishes but also the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in general. According to the official web site of the Wazarat-e-Kharja, “Pakistan reaffirms its principled position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reiterates its support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
Experts believe that there may be several reasons for Armenia’s attacks in the direction of Tovuz. One of the possible reasons is that the government in Yerevan was trying to divert people’s attention to the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict and away from the difficult socioeconomic situation in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic; in other words, the Armenian authorities believed that a flare-up along the border could push social and economic issues aside.
The second possible reason is to involve the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which Armenia is a member of, and gain Russia’s support by provoking Azerbaijan. The latter`s response at Armenia could have dragged the CSTO, as the organization’s charter guarantees security of member-states. By doing so, Armenia might have aimed to increase support in its favor by attracting more states to the conflict and increase pressure on Azerbaijan.
Another reason could be related to Armenia’s desire to seize a strategically important height in Tovuz, as it is one of the key regions through which several internationally important and strategic roads and pipelines go through. They are geo-politically connecting Azerbaijan to Georgia and Turkey and reshaping the strategic balance in the region. By capturing the heights, Armenia might have been able to increase pressure on Azerbaijan and pose a direct threat to strategic communications.
Another possibility is that the provocation may have been a reflection of tensions within Armenia, with the former regime`s supporters and proteges were interested in escalating the tensions in order to discredit the present government and exert pressure on it.
Finally, another issue is the resumption of oil supplies via the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline, which many of us may have overlooked. On June 21, 2020, oil transportation through this pipeline was suspended. On July 17, it was reported that the pipeline was restored after the events. The resumption of oil supplies at a time of tension between the two countries raises questions about Russia’s role in the conflict.
As a result, the ceasefire violation and losses on the both sides since July 12 have re-ignited tensions in the regional context and provoked strong reactions from both domestic and foreign audiences.
Although the reasons for the escalation of tensions have been interpreted differently by experts, it is clear that the main cause of the existing border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unfortunately, the failure of the years-long negotiations paves the way to new tensions between the two countries, makes it difficult to predict how events will unfold, and makes it impossible to resolve the conflict between the two countries peacefully.
The article was prepared by the group of interns at Baku-based Topchubashov Center: Nuray Rustamova, Yunis Sharifli, Ilkin Akhundlu and Melek Novruzova
Topchubashov Center (top-center.org)