Military hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalate

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Armenia and Azerbaijan have exchanged daily accusations of ceasefire violations over the past three weeks, amid heightened fears of renewed armed conflict.

On November 29, an Armenian soldier was injured after Azerbaijani forces opened fire on Armenia’s eastern border, according to the MoD of Armenia. The Ministries of Defense of Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of firing along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border every day. 

Two soldiers in the Artsakh Defense Army were injured on November 28 after the Azerbaijani armed forces opened fire on Artsakh’s western border using small arms and grenade launchers, according to Artsakh authorities. 

Artsakh officials say that attacks on Armenian civilians working in farm fields by Azerbaijani forces have intensified in recent weeks. In the past month, Azerbaijani forces have fired on civilians conducting agricultural work in the Khramort, Machkalashen, Hatsi and Sarushen villages of Artsakh.

“Agricultural work is the main source of income for our rural population,” Artsakh Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said on November 16. “With these actions and shootings aimed at intimidation, Azerbaijan simply wants to do everything to prevent our people from having an income, prevent our people from wanting to live in these areas, and eventually, make our people leave the territory of Artsakh for good.”

The military hostilities are taking place as the future of the Lachin Corridor, the sole route connecting Armenia and Artsakh, has come under threat.  

On November 24, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov accused Armenia of transporting mines along the Lachin Corridor and burying them in Artsakh. 

“The corridor is not being used for its intended purpose, and this must be stopped,” Bayramov told reporters. “The Azerbaijani side will take all necessary steps.”

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said that the mines were not found in Artsakh, but in the “sovereign territories of Armenia occupied in 2021-2022.” He said the mines were laid “due to the constant high risk of new military aggressions by Azerbaijan” during an interview with Armenpress news agency on November 28. 

Armenia’s ambassador-at-large Edmon Marukyan said that Azerbaijan “took landmines from occupied Armenian territories” and moved them to Azerbaijani-controlled territory in Artsakh to “create false grounds to dispute [the] Lachin Corridor.” 

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed along the Lachin Corridor since the end of the 2020 Artsakh War. Under the terms of the ceasefire, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to construct an alternate route within the next three years. This summer, the Armenian residents of Aghavno and Nerkin Sus and the town Berdzor along the Lachin Corridor were evacuated after Azerbaijan demanded that Armenians start using the new route, largely constructed by Azerbaijani workers. 

Yerevan-based political analyst Tigran Grigoryan told Eurasianet that the prospect of Azerbaijani control over the Lachin Corridor is “not just a vulnerability but an existential threat” for the Armenian population of Artsakh. 

“If Azerbaijan has any kind of control or presence on the Lachin Corridor, the majority of the population will question the possibility of staying, because that is the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world,” Grigoryan said

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has drawn parallels between the Lachin Corridor and the so-called “Zangezur corridor.” The ceasefire agreement calls for the creation of a route connecting Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan through Armenia to guarantee “unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions.” Aliyev has demanded that Armenia provide a corridor free of passport or customs controls through its southernmost province Syunik. 

Armenian authorities have rejected this demand, stating that the ceasefire agreement does not call for the provision of a corridor, but of a transport route within Armenia’s jurisdiction, which it is ready to provide. 

Aliyev said during his November 25 speech that Azerbaijan is no longer negotiating with Armenia about the Zangezur corridor, but with Russia.

“Armenia is a satellite country. It’s a dependent country. Its independence is very symbolic, and we will not waste time negotiating with them,” Aliyev said. “During my recent communications with Russian officials, we discussed the Zangezur corridor, and I don’t think Armenia will be able to block this project.” 

According to a readout of a call between Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 26, the leaders discussed “practical issues of unblocking transport and economic ties in the region.” 

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that he discussed the restoration of regional railways during his meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the CSTO summit in Yerevan on November 23. He said that there “may be a significant and serious opportunity” to construct a railway that would connect Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan, and Armenia with Iran and Russia. 

While addressing the CSTO summit, Pashinyan said that Armenia “has always been ready and is still ready to provide” transportation between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. He referenced a draft bill submitted to the National Assembly in August that would authorize the government to set up checkpoints near Karahunj in Syunik, Sotk in Gegharkunik and Yeraskh near the border with Nakhichevan. 

“The decision is not made only for one reason: Azerbaijan does not want this route,” Pashinyan said. “If Azerbaijan really wants peace and aims to achieve peace, as it claims, then let’s open those checkpoints, those roads. Let’s create opportunities for people.”

The ceasefire violations come amid an apparent breakdown in negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Aliyev said that he canceled a meeting with Pashinyan scheduled for December 7 in Brussels. 

“Yesterday I got information from Hikmat Hajiyev that he was communicated from the office of Charles Michel and informed that Prime Minister Pashinyan agrees to the meeting on one condition—that President Macron also should participate,” Aliyev said during a speech on November 25. “Of course, that means that this meeting will not take place because of what happened after Prague. The Prague meeting was on October 6, and then less than one week later President Macron in his interview attacked Azerbaijan and accused us of what we hadn’t done.”

Anti-French sentiment among Azerbaijani authorities has increased recently in response to public support for Armenia from France. On October 12, Macron accused Azerbaijan of launching a “terrible war” against Armenia in 2020. On November 15, the French Senate adopted a near unanimous resolution demanding the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal, to their initial positions, of the Azeri forces and their allies from the sovereign territory of Armenia and the Lachin Corridor.” The following week, the International Organization of La Francophonie, a multilateral institution that promotes cooperation between French-speaking countries, adopted a statement of solidarity with Armenia. 

“It is clear that under these circumstances and with this attitude France cannot be a part of the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” Aliyev said on November 25. “So that means that the meeting in Brussels on 7 December will not take place.”

Mirzoyan told reporters on November 28 that Armenia remains ready to arrange a meeting with Aliyev, Macron and Michel “within an acceptable time frame.” 

“We want them to understand that they have nothing to do and nothing to say with Karabakh Armenians. We want the Zangezur corridor,” Aliyev said during his November 25 speech. “It’s not much. We don’t want their territory. We don’t want any war. If we wanted, we would have done it, and no one can stop us.”

Source: Armenian Weekly