Massive escalation on Azerbaijani-Armenian state border draws global attention
By Orkhan Amashov
The old is dead, the new has not been born yet. The war is over, but peace has not been established. The interregnum has its own morbidity. Recurrent flare-ups and deadly confrontations seeing Baku and Yerevan at loggerheads are only integral to an arduous birthing process from the ceasefire to a comprehensive deal, which the former is set on, whereas the latter prefers to view as elusive and contrary to its interim interests.
Any escalation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border, near or within the precincts of the area within the temporary control of the Russian ‘peacekeepers’, is a double-edged sword, indicating, on one side, the critical urgency of a peace treaty between Baku and Yerevan, so as to put an end to regrettable developments of this kind, yet simultaneously reiterating the obstacles on the path to achieving such a desirable eventuality.
Differing perspectives coalesce into concurrence
The facts pertaining to the massive flare-up that took place incrementally during the night of 12-13 September, until the early morning, have been presented in diametrically opposed fashions by the warring sides. No surprise here, for this has been the case with every such previous tension, and will very likely be the case for those that occur in the future, which is regrettably a prediction of the inevitable.
The inescapable truth is that there is clear evidence that the Armenian side had increased its military presence alongside the border, amassing weapons and armaments, on the days preceding the boiling point.
The official information from the Defence Ministry of Azerbaijan stated that in response to Armenia’s large-scale provocation in the Dashkasan, Lachin, and Kalbajar sections of the state border, which manifested itself in “firing intensively at Azerbaijani positions”, and “using the mountainous relief of the area and valley gaps to carry out planting mines”, Baku reacted swiftly and efficiently with retaliatory counter-measures, suppressing Armenia’s firing points so as to avert further enlargement of the escalation.
Yerevan’s official account of what happened appears to emanate from a parallel universe. The Armenian view is that, as a result of the escalation, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces encroached on Armenian territory, a malicious accusation that has been firmly denied by Baku.
Both sides seemed to be in concurrence that Armenia suffered the most losses, with credible sources in Baku indicating that Azerbaijan has assumed control over a 100 sq. km land swath in the undelimited border section, gaining strategic heights overseeing the Yerevan-Gorus highway.
Let us try to look at this logically and without prejudice. The fact is that the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border has not been delimited, and demarcation lines are naturally absent. Any escalation, whatever its incidental root cause may be, is capable of altering the positions held by the opposing sides, with unequal losses in terms of human resources and military equipment for the sides involved.
Retaliatory and preventive measures are part and parcel of any step taken in such a situation. It thus comes as no surprise that, for Armenia, this escalation concluded with a significant strategic military setback, weakening its capacity to ensure border security, with military infrastructure stationed alongside the border being appropriately emaciated, to say the least.
There is a strong case to opine that Azerbaijan has acted in line with its national security interests, destroying anything it deemed as a threat to its positions and civilians, subsequently providing clear evidence of solely shelling legitimate targets on the opposite side.
Any escalation, in particular, large-scale operations of this kind, fits well with Yerevan’s rhetoric that there is currently no auspicious environment for a peace treaty to be concluded, as there is insufficient mutual confidence to move forward. Given the locality of the events, Armenia was also quick to snatch a chance to resort to the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which has prompted some reaction, but no tangible support.
Yerevan also sees the situation of this kind as a mode of drawing international actors into the region, with a possible resuscitation of the resoundingly beleaguered OSCE Minsk Group, whose mandate has never covered the border clashes per se.
On the initiative of France, the incident will also be discussed at the UN Security Council today. Given their track record, it is highly improbable that any verdict putting blame on one of the sides will be adopted. The expectation is that the importance of maintaining the ceasefire and hopes for a durable peace will be emphasised.
The most prevailing consideration that should be central to a deep understanding of the situation must be that any escalation or skirmish alongside the state border is a direct result of the lack of comprehensive peace between the two sides, which would put a definitive end, amongst other matters, to questions related to the delimitation and demarcation of the sovereign dividing lines. This is a root cause of the recurrent confrontations that will remain insoluble if not dealt with, ultimately bringing about further loss of life.
Some commentators and observers might think that, for the sake of maintaining fragile stability, Azerbaijan should not have resorted to the toughest countermeasures. Self-defence, in accordance with the UN charter, can extend to the territory of an enemy nation, provided that proportionality and other warfare maxims are followed. There is no evidence to the effect of Azerbaijan violating Armenian sovereign territory, although it is undeniable that, for the purpose of self-defence, facilities located on the opposite side's territory were targeted, which was right and just.
It is manifestly true that Azerbaijan is ruthlessly effective in neutralising any potential threat, yet it is also undeniably the case that such a mode of action is driven by its heavy-laden duty to act with vigilance to ensure its own legitimate interests. In Baku's worldview, any good-faith concession made to Armenia is likely to be perceived by the latter as an encouragement to make a habit of initiating recurrent flare-ups so as to procrastinate on the progress of a peace agenda.
As the time for negotiations is inexorably running out, and Armenia’s incorrigible aptitude for vacillation has not slackened, the idea of tolerating a provocation is to be inimical to Baku’s drive for a peace deal. Since 9 November 2020, at no point has Yerevan done anything reasonable without having been coerced by the swift application of force. Blaming Baku for not being lenient is a form of out-of-touch arrogance and wishful thinking that cannot be acquiesced with.
For Pashinyan, the task remains unchanged, as he should prepare his nation for peace after eloquently explaining the perils of prolonging its misguided struggle. It is, however, difficult to say how many deadly self-harming escalations this cerebrally-challenged Armenian leader will need to sustain before he will make a strong case to his electorate to substantiate the inexorability of a comprehensive deal. In such situations, baseball bat diplomacy seems the effective course of action.
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