The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus has been contributes to a full-scale humanitarian crisis, forced displacement of people and the destruction of infrastructure. After a ceasefire agreement signed in 1994, the conflict still exists as Armenia continues to occupy the Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Although Azerbaijan and Armenia are pursuing a diplomatic settlement through the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, all initiatives and diplomatic talks are fruitless because the current status quo is favorable to Armenia. One can ask why because Armenia supports illegal economic activities and settlement policy in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, which violates the core principles of the OSCE and the UN. The several Armenian banks such as “Artsakhbank”, Armbusinessbank, Armeconombank, Araratbank and others operate in the occupied territories. Additionally, Armenia’s mobile operators such as Armentel (a subsidiary of the Russian Vimpelcom under the “Beeline” brand), and Orange Armenia, a subsidiary of Orange Group France, provide roaming services with reduced rates to “Karabakh Telecom CJSC.
Official Yerevan also supports energy security of the occupied territories. Armenia’s natural gas supplier and distributor, Gazprom Armenia includes the occupied territories into its gas distribution network. The management of the two energy producing enterprises – “Artsakhgas” and “Artsakhenergo”, set up in the occupied territories, were placed under the control of Armenia registered AEG Company, which was tasked to integrate the energy supply system in those territories with that of Armenia.
There was hope for peace and prosperity in the region after the government change in Armenia in 2018. Despite several meetings between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, full de-escalation from war to cooperation was not reached. On the contrary, tension between warrying parties raised again and led to a conflict escalation. The first serious military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the four-day April 2016 war happened on July 12, 2020. Armenian military forces shelled the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan and in this border clash one civilian and several soldiers were martyred as a result of artillery fire. Of course, Armenia also had military causalities. The recent Tovuz clash threatened important energy projects such as pipelines Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) and Baku–Supsa as well as the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP, also called the Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum pipeline) located near the conflict zone.
On August 23 of the current year the commander of Armenia’s sabotage-reconnaissance group, a senior lieutenant Gurgin Alberyan was captured by Azerbaijani armed forces during an operation to repel an attack on Azerbaijani positions in the western Goranboy district. In the video interview the officer described the purpose of the planned sabotage and expressed his desire to stay in Azerbaijan rather than return to Armenia.
All the aforementioned armed clashes threatened regional stability and economic integration. Unfortunately, Armenian leadership’s rhetoric and actions only escalate situation. All developments clearly show that Armenia supports military solution instead of peace. To support the aforementioned facts, it is worth noting that after clashes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in the Tovuz direction, official Moscow has delivered immediately weapons to Armenia by Il-76 planes. The military cargo planes were forced to make a detour on their way to Armenia after Georgia did not allow Russia to use its airspace for the delivery. The Il-76 heavy cargo-carrying aircraft flew along a route stretching from the Russian cities of Rostov and Minvody to the cities of Aktau in Kazakhstan, Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan and Nowsher in Iran. The final stretch of the flight was operated over Armenia’s southern town of Meghri near the border with Iran, finally arriving to Yerevan.
According to Hikmet Hajiyev, a senior adviser to President Ilham Aliyev “Cargoes are being delivered from Russia in various directions, which causes concern for our public. We are not quite satisfied with the explanations of the Russian side that planes are supposedly carrying construction materials. Construction materials can be transported in other ways as well.” This important issue was raised by President Ilham Aliyev before the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, as well as was discussed with the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu during his recent visit to Baku. It is clear that those planes carried only armaments to Armenia, and there is no need to use different air routes to deliver construction materials. The fact is the “third party” supports Armenia and further contributes to the conflict escalation.
Another important issue which rises the tension is the illegal settlement in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. As of August 2020, 15 houses were completed in Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan. It is important to ask a question if Armenia supports peaceful resolution of the conflict then why Armenians from the Middle East settled in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions? Ongoing illegal settlement activity is being continued, especially, after Beirut blast in Lebanon, Lebanese-Armenians from Lebanon arrived Armenia. According to Armenia’s new High Commissioner of Diaspora, Affairs Zareh Sinanyan ““Until now 800 Lebanese-Armenians have arrived in Armenia, some of them came before the Beirut explosion but after July 1, when the first plane landed in Yerevan, with the rest arriving after the August 4 explosion”. The illegal settlement is a serious violation of international law, and it will certainly lead negotiations into a blind alley.
The situation now is very dangerous, and all recent actions of the Armenian leadership indicates their desire to maintain the status quo or choose to escalate the conflict. In this context, a simple question should be asked why Armenian government considers the option to create militia troops? It confirms once again that the country is not ready for peace in the region, and is interested in using the future mercenaries against Azerbaijan army.
In the end, the current conflict escalation prevents the region’s full integration and puts inter-regional projects at increased risk. But more importantly, the people from both countries have suffered enough from this long-lasting bloody conflict. The official position of Azerbaijan is a peaceful resolution of the conflict in accordance with international law, and Azerbaijan now looks forward to real and serious progress toward a resolution of the conflict.