Armenia and Azerbaijan: Deadliest clashes since 2016

One of the simmering and forgotten conflicts in Turkey’s neighborhood is the Nagorno-Karabakh controversy between Turkey’s “sister state” Turkic Azerbaijan and Armenia. Pursuant the occupation of this formerly Azeri “department”, no peace agreement had been signed, with endless rounds of reconciliation efforts turning out empty.  Since 2010 or so, Azerbaijan, rich with oil and gas revenues began to re-build its military, slowly advancing at the edge of the disputed territory.  An all out war has always been prevented, since both nations take council from Kremlin, but  recent clashes are the deadliest and more extensive. Haz Azeri president Aliyev decided to go for broke and risk war with Armenian to liberate former Azerbaijan territories?

Fierce fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued for a third day, with a reported 11 soldiers on both sides killed. Both sides also reported the other attacking civilian settlements in what appears to be a widening conflict.

The Azerbaijani authorities said that Armenian artillery fire killed one civilian, Aziz Azizov of the village Aghdam in the Tovuz district of western Azerbaijan, on July 14. Houses also were hit in the nearby village of Dondar Gushchu and the village of Alibeyli was targeted, the authorities said, reports Eurasianet.

Across the border in Armenia, Azerbaijani drone fire hit “civilian infrastructure” in the village of Berd on July 14, the Armenian side reported. The day before, the villages of Chinari and Aygepar were targeted, Yerevan said.

Seven Azerbaijani soldiers, including a two-star general, were killed in the fighting on July 14, the Azerbaijani authorities reported. The Armenian side reported two soldiers killed early in the day, and then two more later in the afternoon. That death toll followed the deaths of three Azerbaijani soldiers the day before.

The fighting, which broke out on July 12, is now the deadliest since the “April War” of 2016, when more than 200 on both sides were killed. But that conflict took place on the line of conflict between the Armenian-controlled de facto republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan proper, where clashes have been more common. The more recent battles have been on the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where there have been occasional exchanges of fire in recent years, but not fighting this serious since the 1990s.

Three days in, it still remains unclear which side fired first. The border remains largely unmonitored, with no independent sources of information or verification. When the ceasefire is violated, suspicion typically falls on Azerbaijan, as Armenia has little to gain from disturbing the status quo: its forces control the territory at the heart of the conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as several surrounding districts of internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory.

But given that this fighting started on the border with Armenia, not the line of contact with Karabakh, that logic is less applicable: Azerbaijan has less to gain by fighting in Armenia proper.

Emil Sanamyan, an analyst at the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, suggested that the trigger may have been a new outpost constructed by the Armenian armed forces, which would have given Armenia a tactical advantage in the area and which Azerbaijani forces tried to destroy.

Laurence Broers, a longtime scholar of the conflict, suggested by contrast that Azerbaijan might have had geopolitical motivations to probe the international border, to test the treaty arrangement that Armenia has with Russia.

So, what is the Russian thinking on the conflict?

Izvestia: Armenia-Azerbaijan border clash unlikely to boil over into full-blown armed conflict

According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the main reason for the incident due to mounting discord that amassed within Armenian and Azerbaijani societies.

The coronavirus pandemic caused significant damage to the economies of both countries. Armenia estimated its damages at $1.5 bln. Moreover, a state of emergency has been in effect since March, and recently it was extended until mid-August. Azerbaijan is in a similar bind, as the country is facing an uphill battle with coronavirus. Another factor in Armenia’s mix is its struggle with political opponents. It is also important that negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh have reached an impasse.

“Both sides benefit from an armed confrontation. This way, the authorities can alleviate tension in society, distract [their citizens] from internal problems, and consolidate the public,” expert Nurlan Gasimov told Izvestia.

Experts believe that clashes are unlikely to boil over into a full-blown conflict. “There are still no fundamental prerequisites for war. But the amount of shelling, and battles may increase. International observers should actively encourage the parties to negotiate,” Stanislav Pritchin from the Center for post-Soviet Studies at IMEMO told the newspaper.

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.