Prospects for peace loom as much as prospects for another war in Nagorno-Karabakh

Screenshot taken from news channel Kanal 13 video report.

This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement. 

Ever since the second Karabakh war in 2020, one question keeps getting repeated: will there be another war, considering the on-going tensions and the lack of progress in signing the final, peace agreement. Most recently, on March 26, Azerbaijani forces, as per an announcement by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense crossed the line of contact, under the control of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Russian Ministry of Defense said the move was a breach and violation of the agreement signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020. It urged Azerbaijan to comply with the agreement, which placed areas of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast that Azerbaijan had not taken control of at the time of the ceasefire under the control of a Russian peacekeeping force.

Earlier that month, on March 5, three Nagorno-Karabakh police officers and two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed as a result of clashes. On March 16, two civilians died in a landmine explosion in Aghdam, a region that was formerly under the control of Armenia but which came under Azerbaijan's control following the second Karabakh war. On March 22, the Armenian Defense Ministry said a soldier was killed on the border with Nakhchivan, just south of Yerevan. Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense was quick to deny any involvement in the death of the soldier. It did however hold Armenia accountable for wounding one of its own soldiers on March 20.

Escalated rhetoric

The mutual accusations of ceasefire violations are all too common. The hostile narrative by leaders throws any prospects of further constructive dialogue out of the window. What is different this time, however, is not just the hostile rhetoric from Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and other government officials who echo Aliyev's remarks, but an attempt to “create a pretext for military action by portraying the ‘other’ as unwilling to negotiate,” wrote Azerbaijani writer, activist, Samad Shikhi. President Ilham Aliyev said during Novruz celebrations that “if Armenians wish to live comfortably, they must recognize Azerbaijan's borers and sign a peace deal according to our conditions.”

Following Aliyev's remarks, several Azerbaijani officials posted similar statements online, stating that Armenia must “reciprocate Azerbaijan’s peace proposals” to be allowed to live in its internationally recognised borders. Some, resorted to using “Hayastan,” the Armenian name for Armenia in an apparent attempt to insult Armenia. “Hayasız” means “shameless” in Azerbaijani.

Russian boots

The mutual accusations go beyond Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia's presence on the ground via its peace keepers has been a point of contestation as well. Since March 5, they stand officially accused by official Baku of “escorting Armenian convoys and arms to the region,” reported OC Media, a claim official Yerevan denied. The road in question was used to connect four villages cut off from the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh following the closure of the Lachin Corridor.

The most recent advancement on March 26, with no casualties, concerns the official allegation that Baku claims the move was part of an “urgent measure” to prevent the supply of arms and Armenian troops through what it describes as an alternative unpaved road to the Lachin Corridor.

The 2020 ceasefire agreement stipulated that a new section of the Lachin Corridor be constructed to bypass the entrance to Shusha, though a final agreed route has not been made public. There have been unconfirmed media reports that an alternative route was being used to bring in supplies from Armenia, though no evidence of arms transfers has emerged.

Following the second Karabakh war, Azerbaijan made several military advances, breaching the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh.

In December 2020, in the immediate aftermath of the ceasefire, two villages in the Hadrut region of Nagorno-Karabakh, stipulated to be under the control of the Russian peacekeeping force, were captured by Azerbaijani troops, who took dozens of soldiers captive.

Russian peacekeepers remained silent at the time.

In March 2022, Azerbaijani troops advanced in the direction of the village of Parukh (Farukh), forcing villagers to evacuate and positioning themselves in the mountains surrounding the village. Despite the peacekeeping mission deploying troops and armored vehicles to the area, residents have not been allowed to return due to security concerns.

These and other incidents in Nagorno-Karabakh have led officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert (Khankendi in Azerbaijani) to question the effectiveness of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. There have also been growing calls for an international peacekeeping mission or UN mandate for the Russian mission.

Following deadly March 5 clashes, Baku officially repeated earlier demands that Russia set up checkpoints on the Lachin Corridor. Both Yerevan and Stepanakert reject the demand, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated checkpoints were not envisaged according to the November 9 agreement signed in 2020 during his visit to Baku in late February.

Lachin Corridor is supposedly under the protection of Russian peacekeepers who have been deployed in the territory since November 2020, following the Russia-brokered agreement signed between Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. They are also in charge of providing security for entry and exit points of the corridor. In a broader context, however, the role of some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers remains vague. The lack of clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and activities in the 2020 agreement is now becoming an issue. The blockade is a testament to that.

International calls continue

There have been continuous international calls for de-escalation with the on-going blockade of Lachin Corridor. Most recently, on March 22, the White House called on both parties to de-escalate. “We do not want to see any violence, and we want to see all sides take appropriate steps to deescalate the tension and to stop the violence,” said John Kirby, the White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications. Meanwhile, Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, said she would travel to Yerevan and Baku in early April, in an attempt to “restore free movement along the Lachin corridor and improve the supply of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

In February, the European Union deployed a two-year monitoring mission, consisting of 100 unarmed monitors, to Armenia's border with Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, on March 23, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted:

The tweet was seen by some as a public attempt by the prime minister to avoid a new war.

Pashinyan's tweet was made days before Azerbaijan's advancement on March 26. Since then, there have been no further measures or steps to stall escalations, leaving the prospects for the peace deal looming just as the possibility for yet another war.

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