The situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is tense. For the first time since the signing of the ceasefire in 1994, Azerbaijani forces have used large-calibre artillery systems; Armenian troops have responded in kind. The gunfire has resulted in civilian as well as military casualties. Where is this escalation heading? And what are the prospects for curbing it, in the context of the current regional environment?
The Armenian office of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, incooperation with the Public Journalism Club and the Media Center, held a discussion event on the current escalation of military operations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Line of Contact around Nagorno Karabakh. The keynote speakers were Aghasi Yenokyan, director of the Armenian Centre for International and Political Studies; Manvel Sargsyan, an expert at the centre; and Thomas de Waal, a researcher with the Carnegie Endowment who will join the discussion via video link from London.
“The military activities have lately increasingly intensified and it can have several reasons. First, Azerbaijan loses its oil-dollars since the prices for energy resources on the international market are ticking down in big steps. The issues within the country are rising which the authorities are trying to take attention from. Secondly, Russia's factor is decisive here as the latter intends to send peacekeeper forces to the conflict zone under the guise of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Baku, which has always spoken against the peacekeeping mission, now seems willing to have a deal with Russia since Azerbaijan clearly understands that Russia is unlikely to exist long as is,” said Aghasi Yenokyan.
A short-term war during which Azerbaijan may seek to take new lands under its control, Aghasi Yenokyan believes, may become a formal occasion for the placement of peacekeeper forces. “To prevent that scenario both sides must clearly state that peacekeeping mission is unacceptable,” Yenokyan said.
Starting a war is a difficult decision and Baku is not the only one to decide on it, Manvel Sargsyan believes. “A war can always be waged but it is unclear what will ensue. There are thousands of examples across the world,” said Sargsyan, “Baku is not content with the situation in the conflict zone and tends to fuel the tension: snipers, partisan groups, and now artillery and missile,” Sargsyan said.
“Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan are for large-scale military operations,” said Thomas De Waal who believes the status quo is advantageous for Armenia now while Baku lacks the required potential to start a large-scale war.
“A new war in Nagorno Karabakh has big risks for the regime in Baku. It is still unknown how Russia will react if Azerbaijan starts a war. The new weapon Azerbaijan used will hinder the peace settlement,” said De Waal.
Along the line of conflict or Armenian-Azerbaijani borders a serious clash may change everything, De Waal believes, and the political environment in both countries may have an impact. “The political environment in the region is worsening. Serzh Sargsyan's second term is to end soon, and Azerbaijan is suffering an unclear situation amid falling oil prices. The intention of both sides to maintain power is great. In this regard, there is a risk that the sides may as well use the Karabakh card,” De Waal said.