Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Karabakh Truce Breaks Down

Clash on ceasefire line coincides with mediators’ visit to region.
By Samira Ahmedbeyli, Ashot Beglarian

Armenian and Azerbaijani officials are giving sharply different accounts of a skirmish in the Fizuli region near the ceasefire line dividing their two forces.



Both sides acknowledge that one Azerbaijani soldier, 20-year-old Orkhan Shamilov, died in the incident on the night of November 16 – but each accuses the other of being responsible for the exchange of fire just outside Nagorny Karabakh.



Azerbaijani ministry of defence spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu said that Shamilov, who had been on watch that night, had responded to gunfire coming from an Armenian unit on the other side of the so-called “line of contact” established in 1994 that divides the two armed forces.



Sabiroglu said that after several minutes of firing, Shamilov had attacked and killed two Armenians but had himself been killed. The Armenians recovered their bodies but were unable to recover that of Shamilov.



On November 19, the Armenians handed over the body of Shamilov.



In Karabakh, the Armenian side describes the incident as the second serious violation of the ceasefire this year – following a battle on March 3-4 which left around a dozen people dead – and puts the blame on the Azerbaijanis.



Senor Hasatrian, spokesman for the Karabakh armed forces (a term the Azerbaijani side does not accept), said that there had been an Azerbaijani attack on Armenian positions, “On November 16, at approximately 4 am, a special unit of the Azerbaijani army crossed a section of the line of contact dividing the armed forces of Nagorny Karabakh and Azerbaijan in the south-east and tried to attack positions not far from the village of Ashagi Seidakhmedli.”



Hasatrian said that the Armenian side had repulsed the attack and the Azerbaijanis had retreated, leaving the body of one of their mean behind. He said that his side had not suffered any dead or wounded.



Karabakh president Bako Saakian awarded medals to the Armenian soldiers for repulsing an Azerbaijani attack.



Hasatrian emphasised that the attack had come at the moment when the American, French and Russian negotiators on the Karabakh conflict – the so-called Minsk Group – were visiting the region to try and build on momentum made after the November 2 Moscow declaration signed by the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. In the declaration, the leaders committed themselves to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to confidence-building measures.



In Karabakh, the incident has prompted widespread debate and condemnation of Azerbaijan.



Analyst David Karabekian told IWPR, “The incident demonstrates the essential need for strengthening the steps set out in the Moscow declaration, namely the formation of a system of international security for Nagorny Karabakh; the recognition that it is impossible to make any further steps to settle the conflict without signing a legally binding document between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh; the acceptance by all sides of the conflict of a treaty strengthening the ceasefire regime; and implementing confidence building measures.”



Albert Voskanian, a leading human rights activist in Karabakh, said the incident showed how vulnerable the 1994 ceasefire was. “A fragile peace ought not to be broken and a new war will bring still more human casualties,” he said.



“As a person who knows about war at first hand and who has been dealing with the problems of prisoners of war, hostages and missing people from the years of the war to this day, I condemn any attempt to destabilise the situation. The recent incident must be on the conscience of its organisers, all the more so as today we can observe certain steps forward in attempts to resolve the Karabakh issue.”



“It’s almost 15 years since the ceasefire but the explosive situation continues in a frozen form,” said war veteran Sergei Khachikian. “People continue to die from accidental explosions, shots, attacks. I don’t know how long this situation of ‘no war, no peace’ will continue. I only beg God one thing: may our children have different lives from ours! We’ve seen too much blood!”



Azerbaijani military expert Uzeir Jafarov urged caution about the significance of the incident.



“In my view the ceasefire regime is broken regularly along the whole line, more in some places, less in others,” said Jafarov. “The only exception is Nakhichevan, where you could say that there is no shooting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It’s just that the public is better informed now about these incidents.”



Jafarov said that the armed forces on each side tended to use incidents like this for their own benefit and that they were more inclined to release information on them when the Minsk Group mediators were visiting the region.



“In general, the ceasefire regime gets broken for political reasons,” he said. “The military, headed by the ministers of defence are just people who act according to political orders.”



Samira Ahmedbeyli is a freelance journalist in Baku. Ashot Beglarian is a freelance journalist in Nagorny Karabakh.

Note: The terminology used in this article to describe the conflict was chosen by IWPR and not by the authors.