Call For Negotiations As Hostilities Continue On The Azerbaijani And Armenian Border

Between 12 and 14 July, fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia, resulting in at least 16 deaths including a prominent Azeri general. Although clashes between these two countries are frequent, July’s conflict has been the most serious outbreak since a four-day war in 2016. Past conflicts between these countries often focused on Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly ethnically Armenian breakaway region of Azerbaijan. Instead, fighting took place not in the disputed region but on the internationally recognised border between the two countries. What provoked this outbreak is unclear as both sides accuse the other of taking the first strike. Although violence has subdued for the time being, a “war of words” continues between Azerbaijani and Armenian officials.

International officials have condemned the fighting and called for peaceful negotiations to continue. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “immediate and full de-escalation” and a “return to negotiations”. The co-chairs, U.S and Russia, of the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have called for restraint, while Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has called for an immediate ceasefire. Continued negotiations through the OSCE are made more complicated following criticism from the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, for the Minsky group’s passivity in conflict resolution.

Unfortunately, international efforts to pacify the conflict have stalled and have largely ignored the border regions, choosing to focus on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. To encourage peace going forward both countries should respect the 1994 ceasefire and engage in dialogue to avoid further fatalities. Efforts by the OSCE Minsk group intend to de-escalate the situation. Already, Russia has played an active part in mediating, for example, with the Foreign Minister conducting telephone discussions with both sides. However, Russia’s own involvement in supplying arms to both sides as well as offers to provide mediation efforts does little to encourage peaceful agreements or discourage violence. The economic insecurity brought by the Covid-19 pandemic makes violence outbreaks more destructive for civilians who live in the border regions and highlights the necessity for peaceful settlements now more than ever.

Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and specifically the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has been ongoing since the Soviet era. This region was declared independent from Azerbaijan by ethnic Armenians in the territory when the war ended in 1994. Azerbaijan still regards the area as part of its sovereign territory leading for the need for negotiations between the two countries. Armenia’s president, Nikol Pashinyan, has stated his keenness for peaceful resolution of this conflict. However, on 10 July, his government released a new National Security Strategy which assessed the Azerbaijani leadership as a serious threat to security of Armenian people. In Azerbaijan, protesters outside its parliament building are angry about the death of their well-respected general.

Due to this, the situation between the two countries remains volatile and continued negotiations are urgently needed. The aftermath has also incited violence within the diaspora communities. For example, Russian media has reported a group of men targeting drivers of cars with Armenian licence plates and attacks on an Azerbaijani fruit seller in Moscow.

Resumption of talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk group need to continue in order to retain peace on the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as diaspora communities world-wide. With Turkey citing an alliance with Azerbaijan and Russia supporting mediation from the Armenian side, urgent negotiations are needed to prevent further casualties.  A broader conflict could expand to include Russia and Turkey.

Cait Jobson