Why the recent fighting took place between Azerbaijan and Armenia?

On September 27, 2020, with the counter-offensive operation along the entire front Azerbaijani Army, as a countermeasure of the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, started the liberation of the territories, which had been occupied by Armenia in the wake of the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s. The war that lasted 44 days and labeled as ‘the Patriotic War’, depicted the strength of the Glorious Azerbaijani Army and ended with the decisive victory of Azerbaijan. By December 1, 2020 Azerbaijan has restored its territorial integrity at the result of the trilateral statement between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia that signed on November 10, 2020. This 44-day war brought an end to the long-lasting occupation of occupied territories of Azerbaijan and restored its sovereignty over these territories. However, since that time there were ups and downs for the commitment of the trilateral statement. Thus, parties engaged several time military confrontations at the result of the violation of the provision of the trilateral statement of Armenia while attempting to destabilize the situation.

However, the last provocation on November 16 of the Armenian armed forces, which began at about 11:00 with the intense shelling of border military positions Azerbaijan in the regions of Kalbajar and Lachin, escalated into the heaviest clashes since the signing of the above-mentioned trilateral statement between the sides. Azerbaijani Army Forces that stationed in the direction of the Kalbajar and Lachin regions immediately carried out an emergency operation and suppress combat activity of the Armenian armed forces. However, at the result of the clash both sides faced with the death of the military personnel. According to Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, 7 servicemen of the Azerbaijani Army martyred and 10 servicemen of the Azerbaijani Army were wounded in the battles of November 16. There is no official report of the causalities from Armenian side, but it is estimated that there are more than 20 deaths and around 20 wounded with 12 Armenian servicemen.

This clash should be read in the light of the various incidents that have taken place over the last ten days in the region, such as the major military exercises and threatened unspecified action of Iran, another supporter of Armenian during the conflict that accused Azerbaijan of the presence of archenemy Israel in Azerbaijan, near the border with Azerbaijan, the illegal visit Armenian former Defense Minister Arshak Karapetyan to the Azerbaijani territory, gathering of the Armenian forces on the road leading to the Azerbaijani Army positions in Lachin, throwing an “explosive device” at a checkpoint near the city of Shusha by Armenian civilian, as well as intensive shelling of the positions of Azerbaijani Army in Kalbajar and Lachin regions.

Therefore, this piece put forward several hypothesis and scenarios that why the recent bloody fighting took place: 

– Armenia tries to internationalize the problem. It is not secret that since the beginning of the Second Karabakh War Armenian side tried all means to internationalize the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh. In this regard, it “appealed” to Russia and its “western guarantors” for help. Although it has got political, moral, and military support in all meaning during that time, it asked Russia for direct intervention and a possibility to guarantee the security of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic. However, the military operation that was carried out by Azerbaijan was taking place in its internationally recognized territory and Azerbaijan had a legal right to liberate its territories in accordance with the norms and principles of international law that was under the occupation of Armenia almost 30 years. That is why, Azerbaijani side called all “third parties” to abstain to involve the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

However, during recent clash between Armenian and Azerbaijan forces that took place in the Kalbajar and Lachin region of Azerbaijan, Armenia deliberately reported that the clash happened in the territory of Armenia without specifying a precise place. That is why it formally appealed to Russia for intervention and defending its territorial sovereignty. According to Interfax agency, Armen Grigoryan, the chair of National Security Council of Armenia said on Armenian Public Television on November 16 that “Given the Azerbaijani attack on the sovereign territory of Armenia, we call on Russia to protect the territorial integrity of Armenia consistent with the interstate treaty of 1997 and to fulfill mutual obligations within the framework of the logic of the existent treaty”.

Besides, according to Eurasianet, on this occasion Armenian journalist Tatul Hakobyan wrote that “Why do the CSTO and Russia ignore their alliance commitments to Yerevan when Azerbaijan is regularly and openly conducting incursions into the sovereign territory of Armenia. What are the red lines, if any, beyond which Russia will no longer remain silent?”

Hereby, it should be mention that bilaterally and also as it mentioned in the charter of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia has a security obligation to militarily intervene for the defense of Armenia in case of any third parties’ attack to Armenia.

In addition Armenia also tries to draw the attention of its western allies to the conflict via France, the country “that has set itself up as the strongest supporter of Armenia in its “holy war” for the recognition of the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”

– At the eve of the demarcation of border lines between Azerbaijan and Armenia in accordance to the trilateral statement of 10 November 2020, Armenian military forces began large-scale provocations and military operation against Azerbaijan for capturing the high grounds in this direction of the state border and take more advantageous and strategic positions in order to gain military superiority, plus political leverage in the negotiations table.  

– The illegal and unauthorized visit of Armenian former Defense Minister Arshak Karapetyan to the Azerbaijani territory, where Russian peacekeeping forces are in position for preserving peace in the region, having various meeting with the “officials” of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic, expressing views on their combat readiness for the new war with Azerbaijan on the eve of the anniversary of the trilateral statement signed on November 10, 2020, shows that Armenian political and military leadership, which fueled by revanchist ideas, intentionally violates the provisions of the trilateral statement, attempts to destabilize the situation in the region, and overshadow the activities of Russian peacekeepers. The recent clash on November 16, 2021 was the logical continuation of this policy of political and military leadership of Armenia.

– There is chaos and political instability in Armenian society and Pashinyan does not have full control over the government and other national security institutions. The recent unauthorized visit of former Defense Minister Arshak Karapetyan to the territories of Azerbaijan, giving statements, and violation of military provocations in the state border by the Armenian armed forces may have been the Karapetyan’s own initiative in order destabilize process.

– The political instability and military escalation may be beneficial for some groups and political oppositions in Armenia to topple Pashinyan. Thus, following the recent clash in the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, the political opposition in Armenia called on Pashinyan and his government to step down. In this regard, according to Eurasianet, Armenia Alliance, the main opposition fraction in Armenian parliament made a statement, which reads that “Nikol Pashinyan’s government brings casualties, territorial losses, division and chaos. The ultimate solution to this situation is the departure of these authorities. Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation should be followed by the unification of all possible forces and the formation of a new government”. In addition, Hovhannes Iskhanyan, documentary filmmaker and critics of Pashinyan, wrote in his Facebook post that “Go to cafes, restaurants, cinemas, and call on everyone to remove the Turkish agents [a common epithet for the Armenian government] from Armenia” and called the opposition to topple down the government.  

– Although Pashinyan accused Azerbaijani side for recent clash on the border, he sacked Defense Minister Arshak Karapetyan and appointed his deputy Suren Papikyan to his post. This replacement gives a reason to say that Pashinyan wants to get rid of political-military junta of previous governments of Armenia and to get control in his hand not in military but in entire society while appointing loyal persons to the high positions in Armenia and this escalation created favorable condition for this. Pashinyan will also accuse other military servicemen for failing to do their job and fulfill their duties and will force more strongly for the military reforms. At the result many high-ranking military officers, who resisted Pashinyan political program, will be expelled from the Armenian military.

– The statement of Pashinyan regarding “the Armenian offer to conclude a peace treaty” right after the ceasefire between the parties shows that he is “eager to sign a peace treaty”, but it is important to access internal situation and prepare the society for final peace. That is why, Pashinyan knew that any provocation on the border and military operation against the Azerbaijani Army would result the serious causalities for Armenia. By this act he tried to show Armenian society that the causes of these causalities are those who want war and oppose the peace agreement and without the permanent peace there is no future in the region. In this regard Eurasianet reports that Armenian official “have been emphasizing the positive and trying to sell Armenians on the potential benefits of the new deals, including economic gains from the new trade routes and the chance to finally live in peace with their neighbors”. In addition during the interview on public television on November 7 Pashinyan said “We have adopted the agenda of opening an era of peaceful development… We received the mandate to open this era from our people as a result of the snap parliamentary elections”, according to Eurasianet.

– Pashinyan wants to break the Russian credence in Armenian society. It is well known that Pashinyan was one of the critics of such a strong influence of Russia in Armenian society in all meaning and always opposed Armenian cooperation with Russia before coming to power and early days of his posts. Thus, in this clash Pashinyan deliberately appealed Russia to intervene to defend its territorial sovereignty with full confidence that Russia will not enter into the situation militarily, but will try to solve it in political means, which will give him a chance to show the Armenian society that alliance with Russia is not valuable and Russia does not and will not protect them in terms of security.

– At the result of the Second Karabakh War Azerbaijan managed to restore control over the borderline with Armenia and began to protection measures and start working and delimitation and demarcation of the borders with Armenia. However, the developments in last 10 days shows that Armenian side is not intended to ensure peace and security in the region, as well as in delimitation of borders. In this regard, before the winter comes to the region, Azerbaijan advancing its positions in some point of border in accordance to the map agreed between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia, which is faced military resistance of Armenian side, who are dissatisfied in general about the delimitation and demarcation of borderline and began the provocations against Azerbaijani Armed Forces.

– Last but not least, every attempt made by the Armenian side and provocation on the border against the Azerbaijani Armed Forces is purposefully used by Azerbaijan as “peace enforcement operation”. It is known fact that the military operations by Azerbaijan Armed Forces during the Second Karabakh War were deliberately carried out as a peace enforcement operation in order to force Armenian side to liberate territories of Azerbaijan and withdraw its military forces voluntarily. At the logical consequence of this act Azerbaijan managed to liberate part of its territories with the political operations and the rest in political mean at the result of the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020. Although, Azerbaijan get back its territories in accordance the trilateral statements further issues of the statement remained open and Armenian side used all kind of excuse and reportedly pulled back from fulfilling its obligation that concluded in the trilateral statement. That is why recent fighting in the Kalbajar and Lachin regions of Azerbaijan that provoked by Armenian side may considered another peace enforcement operation by Azerbaijan side to force as a pressure to push Armenia into an agreement and show that it has no alternative but to return the negotiations table and carry out its commitment. In this regard, the aim of the last clash that provoked by Armenia may be to push Pashinyan, who refused to conclude the agreement, to act reasonable. The recent statements of Armenian officials after the fighting regarding the peace and demarcation line may consider logical consequence of this peace enforcement policy of Azerbaijan.

– It is important to mention that in accordance with the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020 Armenia should open a railway and highway between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan via southern Armenian territories in the context of the unblocking of the larger transportation projects of the region, which is referred to as “Zangazur corridor” by Azerbaijan. This will not only provide a link between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Turkey but also lead to the smooth flow of everything between China and Europe. The recent provocations in the border regions of Azerbaijan may be deliberate action of those, first-who oppose the passing of the corridor through Armenian territory under the control of Azerbaijan, second-who are against the new land connection and transportation line between Asia and Europe.

Whether all these hypothesis has any kind of grounds or not, one is for sure that the recent fighting between the sides, which caused human loss for both sides, highlighted the necessity for comprehensive and enduring settlement of those matters between Azerbaijan and Armenia that related to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue for the sake of permanent peace and prosperous future of the region.

Dr.Ceyhun Osmanli
Dr.Ceyhun Osmanli
Dr. Ceyhun Osmanli is a former Member of Parliament, Researcher and Analyst on International Relations and Political Economy, Director of TLM – Initiatives and Projects Center in Azerbaijan