Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 541, 11 August 2022

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Renewed fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 8 August, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of targeting its military positions 10 times in 24 hours. The Azeri Defence Ministry claimed that in six of the incidents, Armenian forces opened fire “from positions in the direction of the Basarkechar, Garakilsa and Gorus regions” on Azeri military units “stationed in the direction of the Kalbajar and Lachin regions.” 

On 3 August, Azerbaijan had claimed it had captured the territory in Karabakh in a retaliatory campaign, Operation Revenge, after an Armenian attack near Nagorno-Karabakh killed one Azeri soldier. Additionally, Baku accused Yerevan of violating the ceasefire, stating that its forces thwarted the Armenian troops’ attempt to capture a hill in the Lachin district, an area controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Meanwhile, the military in Nagorno-Karabakh disputed this and accused Azerbaijan of killing two soldiers, declaring a “partial mobilization” in response to the clash. Following the incident, Armenia called on the international community to help stop Azerbaijan’s “aggressive actions” claiming that Azerbaijan continues its “policy of terror” against the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, Russia accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and that Russia was "taking measures to stabilize the situation" with Armenian and Azeri representatives.

Issues at large
First, the recurring skirmishes in Nagorno-Karabakh. The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh which ended with a Russian-brokered agreement on 10 November 2020 was seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia. However, the ceasefire has since been broken several times with skirmishes becoming a common occurrence in the region. A report by the International Crisis Group highlighted that since mid-July, residents of Azeri villages have testified to increased Azeri forces' activity in Lachin, near the border with Armenia, and Shusha, which lies on high ground close to Stepanakert making it a strategic outpost. 

Second, grievances of de facto authority in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, has expressed frustration over Armenia’s willingness to make concessions to Azerbaijan under a larger prospective peace settlement. Additionally, reports of top Artsakh officials planning a referendum to become part of Russia have increased pressure on Armenia to address these issues. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has raised concerns over Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto authorities retaining an armed force, arguing that this force was illegal and has urged Russian peacekeepers to disarm it. However, Armenia and the de facto authorities rebutted it claiming disarmament was never part of the ceasefire deal.

Third, the stalled negotiations. Armenian and Azeri diplomats have been meeting regularly to formulate a peace deal to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. However, several unresolved issues are yet to be addressed. These include delimiting the border between the two countries, the nature of new transportation corridors in the region, and the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh itself and its current ethnic Armenian population.

Fourth, the apprehensions of Russian peacekeepers. Since 2020, there have been growing frustrations over the Russian peacekeepers’ presence in the region and their inaction in stopping ceasefire violations. Additionally, Russian peacekeeping forces conducted daily patrols in the disputed regions, but the patrols stopped a couple of days before the recent Azeri advances drawing criticism to the Russian troops in the region. 

In perspective
First, the continuation of ceasefire violations. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is likely to witness the continuation of low-intensity attacks as a result of the fallouts of the ceasefire. The 2020 ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan has failed to initiate a peace process because it has altered the power balance between the two countries and left many issues unresolved. Thus, these recurring skirmishes are likely to continue in the future.

Second, the rise of the de facto authority in Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the past few months, the de facto authority in Nagorno-Karabakh has stepped up its engagement with the region both militarily and politically. This is a cause of concern for both countries as they are unable to consult with the group. 

Third, Russian peacekeeping forces. Russian diplomatic efforts and their peacekeepers' presence have not deterred an escalation in the situation. Since the Ukraine war, Russian peacekeeping forces have been criticised for being inactive in the region. Thus, the pressure on the peacekeeping forces is likely to increase.

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