Unquiet Peace Holds on Azeri-Armenian Lines

Russian leader’s solo mediation attempt seems to have worked.

Unquiet Peace Holds on Azeri-Armenian Lines

Russian leader’s solo mediation attempt seems to have worked.

Vladimir Putin meets Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev (left) and Armenia's Serzh Sargsyan in Sochi, August 10. (Photo: Armenian president's office)
Vladimir Putin meets Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev (left) and Armenia's Serzh Sargsyan in Sochi, August 10. (Photo: Armenian president's office)

The alarming summer surge in fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops has died down, apparently as a result of a face-to-face meeting hosted by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In the weeks before the August 10 meeting in the Black Sea town of Sochi, dozens of soldiers were killed and injured on both sides, raising fears of a full-scale conflict 20 years after the Karabakh war ended in an uneasy truce. The shootings occurred both along the “Line of Contact” which marks the boundary between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian-held areas in and around Karabakh, and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border. (See Azeri-Armenian Conflict Fears as Death Toll Rises.)

By hosting the event alone, Putin effectively sidelined the OSCE Minsk Group, the main mediating structure on the Karabakh dispute, chaired jointly by Russia, the United States and Minsk. He said that while Moscow would continue working with international partners, it shared with Armenia and Azerbaijan “special, particularly close relations and a long history that allows us a frank exchange of views on where we are and what we need to do to move forward”. (See also Putin Mediates Azeri-Armenian Talks.) 

Although nothing specific came out of the meeting, both Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Serzh Sargsyan talked of the need for a peaceful process. Putin said he believed both Armenians and Azerbaijanis had the “good will” needed to resolve “any complex situation”.

The fact that  Sargsyan and Aliyev were prepared to meet at all gave observers hope that they were both prepared to step back from the brink, something which appeared to be confirmed by the lull in shooting.

Andrzej Kasprzyk, the OSCE chairperson’s special representative on Karabakh, confirmed that the clashes had receded.

“This is a a very positive phenomenon, and I hope it will continue in this manner,” Kasprzyk said in an interview with the Azerbaijani news agency Trend published on September 4. “Both sides are responsible for ensuring that the ceasefire is not violated.”

He added that he was keen to see new measures put in place on the ground to reduce military and civilian casualties, such as a plan for unit commanders on either side to speak to one another directly using radios that would be provided by the OSCE.

“Overall, I am trying to implement confidence-building measures that can ease tensions and lead to progress in the peace talks mediated by the [Minsk Group] co-chairs," Kasprzyk said.

After the Sochi meeting, Sargsyan repeated a longstanding Armenian request for the international community to get more involved in separating the two sides.

“The most effective mechanism would be the establishment of an international mechanism to warn of incidents and investigate them. If we can create a mechanism, I think it would be a major step towards preventing further incidents, since it would allow us to say who is responsible,” he told Armnews television.

There is currently no peacekeeping force dividing Azerbaijani and Armenian forces. Such a force is envisaged in the “Madrid Principles”, a package of ideas which has been on the table since 2007, and which the Minsk Group would like to see become a basis for progress towards a settlement on Karabakh. Under the principles, Karabakh would be given an interim status pending a referendum, while Azerbaijan would regain adjacent territories also under Armenian control. Refugees would be able to return home, a land corridor between Karabakh and Armenia would be maintained, and the international community would deploy peacekeepers. There is much disagreement about the details, especially about how the different elements would be phased.

As relative calm broke out on the ground, commentators in Armenia tried to dissect the reasons for the extraordinary surge in gunfire. Many held Azerbaijan squarely to blame for starting it.

In the view of former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanyan, “Azerbaijan launched an unsuccessful attempt to put pressure on Armenia with the aim of winning concessions in the Karabakh talks. In Baku, they thought that while world attention was on Ukraine, this was a convenient moment for an attack.”

Ruben Mehrabyan of the the Centre for Political and International Studies in Yerevan agreed that this was the aim, adding that it failed spectacularly.

“These developments show that after deciding to attack, the Azerbaijani army was unable to achieve its military objectives, while the defending Armenian forces did a successful job,” he said.

Richard Giragosian of the Centre for Regional Studies said that what was most important thing was “not what happened, but what didn’t happen”. Despite deploying substantial forces and weaponry, he said, the Azerbaijani military made no headway, indicating that it was “a long way" from being able to mount a full-scale offensive. 

Stung by gibes about its performance made by its Armenian counterpart,  Azerbaijan’s defence ministry issued a statement saying that events over the summer had proved it was Armenian troops who were poorly trained, undisciplined and short of decent equipment.

By contrast, the political leadership in Azerbaijan was ensuing that its armed forces were combat-ready, their morale was high and their conditions of service were improving, the statement, carried by APA news agency on September 6, said.

Yekaterina Poghosyan  reports for with Mediamax.am in Armenia. Vahe Harutiunyan is a freelance journalist in Armenia.


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