The Gist of Recent Skirmishes in Karabakh
Efgan NiftiyevOn a day when Azerbaijan was commemorating the 24th anniversary of Black January, Armenian news outlets were flooded with an alleged Azerbaijani military provocation and attack at the frontline that left one Armenian soldier killed. The next day, Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense denied the allegations and reported that it was actually Armenian units that tried to break into Azerbaijani defense lines and were repelled by the Azerbaijani army. The Azerbaijani side also reported over 150 ceasefire violations by Armenian troops stationed in Karabakh. These reciprocal statements may sound like mere propaganda, but on the eve of the meeting of Azerbaijan and Armenian foreign ministers, these deserve a careful reading.
At first, it seemed each party established its own narrative of events around the Karabakh conflict, but Armenia used the alleged incident as pretext to accuse the Azerbaijani side of damaging the process of peace talks, thus trying to put Azerbaijan at a low ebb prior to the Paris meeting of the foreign ministers. Reacting to the skirmishes in the frontline, American co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick said the violence and tension along the line of contact would undermine efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement.
However, it should be noted that the possibility of frequent violations at the Azerbaijan – Armenia front line is no surprise. The fact that over 3000 Azerbaijani and somewhat proportionate Armenian soldiers have died, despite the ceasefire, over the last 20 years, shows the extent of the ceasefire’s fragility.
Unless the very reason of the conflict - the occupation of Azerbaijani territories - addressed, the loss of lives would persist.
It should be noted that the chronologic pattern of the serious ceasefire violations are coincided with domestic economic and political upheavals in Armenia. Military-Political leadership of Armenia utilized these incidents at the frontline in order to divert public attention from domestic problems. The occupation of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region cost Armenia, with the exclusion from regional economic projects, and hurt its economy severely. Although the Armenian leadership continues its rule with the strong backing of military establishments, the current popular distaste and unrest is widespread. The exodus of the Armenians in the pursuit of a better life is serious indication of economic failure of the political administration.
In fact, protracted conflict has high costs not just for Armenia, but both countries, including hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, lost relatives and closed borders. However, the way towards conciliation does not go through being intransigent and using inevitable skirmishes as a cloak to run away from resolving the very reason of the trouble – the occupation of the territories of the neighboring country. The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia will meet on Friday in Paris. I hope it will add meaningful progress to the peace talks that will lead to the meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in February.
Efgan Niftiyev, is the coordinator of strategy and policy in the Caspian Strategy Institute.