How experts in Armenia and Azerbaijan explain new escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh

A broad variety of weapons has been used on both sides in the past days. Credits: AP

A broad variety of weapons has been used on both sides in the past days. Credits: AP

The dramatic escalation of the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh that began on 2 April caught virtually everyone by surprise. Despite the fact the exchanges of fire on the line of contact have been regular in the past, the intensity shown by a new wave of violence has not been seen for about twenty years.

On 5 April, the Armenia-backed self-declared republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan agreed on ceasefire. However, the reasons and prospects of the situation in the breakaway region remains vague.

Europe Insight surveyed Armenian and Azerbaijani experts and found out how they explained the reasons of the escalation and what they expected would happen next.

Razi Nurullayev, chairman of the Region International Analytical Center (RIAC)

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is like a buried mine that can explode at any time. I would say there are mines of different capacities and only a minor one has been tramped upon this time. But the risk still remains of tramping on a bigger one, and that would mean the breakout of war. Ceasefire violations happen several times a day and on 3 April up to 130 were counted coming from the Armenian side, as quoted by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

There are a number of reasons for the conflict’s escalation. First, the negotiation process has been ongoing for nearly 22 years, since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement was signed in May 1994. Peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, ever since mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, have not produced results. Most Azerbaijanis call the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, USA and France) tourists.

Upon monitoring the Azerbaijani media, one discovers thousands of articles referring to the co-chairs as tourists flying business class, staying in five-star hotels and dining in the most expensive restaurants. Meanwhile, more than half of around 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons still live in dire conditions across Azerbaijan. So, the first reason is an unsuccessful protracted ongoing peace negotiations and the incapability of the OSCE Minsk Group to achieve results.

The second reason is a status-quo which is not acceptable for Azerbaijan but which Armenia wants to preserve at all costs. For Azerbaijan, the status-quo is a threat to a peaceful resolution and it strengthens Armenia’s hand in the talks. As long as the initiatives lack change, escalations will continue.

To avoid further escalation, international organisations and governments should put more pressure on the Armenian government to free the internationally recognised Azerbaijani occupied territories. It is a good thing that Pedro Agramunt, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, called yesterday for “the withdrawal of all Armenian armed troops from the occupied Azerbaijani territories in compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions”.

The third reason is the frequent violation of the ceasefire, and in most cases this is done by the Armenian side. This reason goes deeper into Armenian domestic politics. Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan is heavily challenged by the opposition and has several times faced the threat of being deposed. If he loses power, he may find himself in court and eventually in prison. To my mind, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is used for political purposes and the Armenian president, having been in a political turmoil, wants to divert attention from the capital to the conflict and prolong his stay in power.

The fourth reason is domestic pressure on the Azerbaijani government. Most refugees and internally displaced persons put considerable pressure on the government and call for war to liberate the occupied lands. It seems to me that the president of Azerbaijan can no longer resist this pressure and feels he must do something to satisfy the masses. The Azerbaijani government could even go to war should the Armenian provocations continue. To avoid the breakout of war and restore peace to the region, Armenia must withdraw its  troops from the occupied territories belonging to Azerbaijan in accordance with the UN Security Council’s four resolutions.

The fifth reason has to do with Russia. I think Russia is the only country that can influence Armenia to engage in real peace talks. The fact is that Azerbaijan will not step back from its current position as to provide the widest autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh region. Armenia insists on the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, which means riding the horse onto the top of mountain. Russia is still watching and does little to promote the settlement of the conflict.

Ashot Margaryan, Director of Eurasian Research & Analysis (ERA)

The current escalation over Nagorno-Karabakh is the direct consequence of Washington’s inaction, which gave a green light to Azerbaijan for launching attacks on the civilian settlements of Karabakh. It could also be a possible response by the USA to Russia’s recent success in Syria. Today’s geopolitics is not about one Great Chessboard, as Brzezinski put it, but many boards on which the same actors play different games. Karabakh is one of those boards on which global – US (NATO), Russia – and local – Turkey, Iran, Russia – players can always play active games.

Babken Matevosyan, political analyst

There are several reasons for the escalation, in short:

  1. Low oil price revenues forced Aliyev to search for additional reasons to shut up the hungry mouths inside the country;
  2. Check Azerbaijani official statements starting from 2014 to see how unhappy they have been about the peace process and their desire to change the format – the escalation has been in process since mid-2014;
  3. Recently proposed investigative mechanisms were the main issue to be discussed in the USA, but the meeting between presidents never happened – the Azeris also refused to meet MG co-chairs;
  4. After Armenia joined the EAEU, the Azeris wanted Western support, as if Armenia was on a pro-Russian side while they themselves were pro-Western, which was never the case.

We expect no large-scale war, but we do expect constant escalation, depending on tomorrow’s international response and better information, as there is info-war going on.

Rustem Garayev, political analyst

These events are the logical outcome of Armenia’s decades-long refusal to resolve the issue surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, the desire to solve it only by military means. In my view, the main reason for the military actions is the lack of direct dialogue between Baku and Yerevan, about an informal border delimitation in the very least.

Another important issue is the political bankruptcy of the Armenian government, attested to by the so-called Electric Yerevan. The Armenian authorities have hit the bottom in the crisis of legitimacy, and their interference in the affairs of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh with the resultant aggression against Azerbaijan is an attempt to restore public confidence. But I am certain that this attempt will fail. This time Armenia will not obtain Russia’s indulgent approval, and the provocations will end in the near future.

Ashot Epremyan, political analyst at the South Caucasus Center

The new round of escalation of the Artsakh conflict is the result of exclusively external factors. Russia’s political interests are deadlocked in Ukraine and Syria. In the role of Russia’s main ally in the Caucasus, Armenia is a hostage of the situation. In order to weaken Russia, Turkey and the USA have filled Azerbaijan with false hopes, leading it to attack Artsakh. The goal is to open a new “front” in the war with Russia which has a presence in the region and, one way or another, is the guarantor of the Armenian states’ security. It is highly certain that the conflict will maintain a high degree of intensity. At the same time, one should not expect a fundamental change to the balance of power and positions.

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