Friday September 22 2023

Ten escalation commandments

21 September 2022 14:49 (UTC+04:00)
Ten escalation commandments

By Orkhan Amashov

In the aftermath of the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border escalation that took place between 12-14 September, given its implications and the various subsequent reactions, it appears to be judicious to consider certain common precepts that are applicable to all flare-ups of this kind that have erupted since the 10 November ceasefire deal and may happen in the future.

Below are the precepts that are contingent upon the extrapolation of the circumstantial content of the recent border tension:


There is an unmistakably palpable degree of lugubrious inexorability regarding the issue in hand. The gist is simple. So long as a conclusive peace deal, putting a definitive end to all issues falling within the rubric of the Azerbaijani-Armenian negotiations, inter alia, the border delimitation and demarcation, remains unachieved, there will be recurrent escalations with irregular frequency from time to time. To put it more succinctly, the more elusive the possibility of final peace, the deadlier and the more frequent the stand-offs will prove to be.

Indefinability of incidental cause

The question as to “who fired first '' or “whose behaviour provoked an escalation” is a subject in relation to which the sides have so far offered their irreconcilable narratives, which, as sure as the Pontiff retains his Catholicism, are manifestly unlikely to change. Regarding the 12-14 September events, Azerbaijan has provided strong undeniable evidence that Armenia has increased its military presence along the border, amassing arsenals of weaponry and armaments on the day prior to that when it conducted a large-scale provocation by “firing intensively at Azerbaijani positions”, “using the mountain relief of the area” and “valleys to plant mines”.

Armenia, without presenting any evidence as to the ‘military concentration near the border’, simply accused Baku of provoking the tension. In the grand scheme of things, the incidental cause of any escalation will be consigned to the ‘grey zone’, from the point of view of an independent fact-finding mission, which ultimately will have negligible impact on the actual state of affairs.

Predictability of military result

Due to the balance of the respective military capabilities defining the two sides, Azerbaijan has improved its strategic position along the border, and Armenia would inevitably suffer further setbacks in the future. The recent flare-up cost both sides dearly in terms of human loss, with Armenia's death toll being significantly higher. From a positional perspective, Baku has gained important heights, enabling it to oversee the Yerevan-Gorus highway, and neutralised what it regarded as a danger to its territorial integrity and national security.

Correlation with the intensity of peace negotiations

Escalations are likely to blow out of proportion, if concurrent peace negotiations are slackened, as Azerbaijan is expected to be more retaliatory and vigilant as a natural and strategic mode of behaviour. Armenia may resort to deliberate large-scale escalatory moves with the purpose of derailing peace negotiations so as to placate the peace-resistant forces at home and amongst its diaspora, escaping its imminent internal commitments. However, if there is genuine peace momentum, backed up by mutual trust and determination to move forward, escalations will be curbed with brief, short, silent, and irrefutably deadly impact.

Testing of the CSTO defence mechanism

Each escalation will give rise to an Armenian request to the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), whose response is to recalibrate in the wake of a given flare-up on the basis of its inherent territorial stretch factor. As cogently argued by member country Kazakhstan regarding the latest tensions, since the border is undelimited, any claim as to the violation of Armenian territory is a mere suggestion, falling short of underpinning the justification for bringing the CSTO into the equation.

On the other hand, Moscow’s respective arrangements with Yerevan and Baku are likely to lead to no serious interference. Being on the back foot in Ukraine, with “partial mobilisation of troops”, Moscow's willingness to “assist fraternal Armenia" looks highly improbable. Having said all this, the Moscow Declaration signed on 22 February between Azerbaijan and Russia is a significant factor in negating any Russian response outside the CSTO mechanism.

Wider international reaction

All escalations of this kind, in view of Baku’s superior capabilities that are bound to guarantee it some gains, whether substantial or minimal, despite being within the territorial range of the non-delimited zone, will earn Armenia some misguided international sympathy, which needs to be taken into account and properly managed by Baku.

Iranian response

Any flare-up will prompt a pre-prepared Iranian response, stating that the changes of the borders are unacceptable and are the Iranian red line. This will be largely inconsequential. Iran's obstinate recalcitrance towards the Zangazur project will continue to have a consequential bearing on its attitude.

Legal point

So long as Azerbaijan restores its western borders without going beyond that which may be regarded as a ‘presumed undelimited zone’, any aggression accusation levied against it will be legally null and void. 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 with deadly accuracy, which was right and just. In addition, Baku has provided sufficient evidence to substantiate its claim that, under no circumstances, anything but legitimate objects have been targeted.

Neil Watson, British journalist, commented: “The Azerbaijani response was swift, accurate and hard. Any consequential Armenian deaths are part of the collateral damage necessary to avoid further confrontations and to get the peace treaty train back on the rails.”

Double-edged sword

Any escalation is a double-edged sword, on one side, deleteriously impacting any momentum that may be present in the context of negotiations, and, on the other side, by virtue of reiterating the sheer vitality of a conclusive peace, they are episodes of crisis that must be transmogrified into opportunities to enhance peace treaty talks. The former interpretation will be resorted to by the side that is intent on snatching an opportune chance to derail the peace, whereas the latter is the side that wants to intensify its progress and save human life. To this effect, the predicted mode of behaviour that Yerevan and Baku will display leaves negligible room for uncertainty.

Zangazur factor

In view of Armenia’s contumacy regarding Article 9 of the 10 November trilateral declaration and the geography of the tensions, Armenia’s retrenchment alongside the southern section of its border with Azerbaijan will be perceived as a sign of Bakuvian steadfastness in the realisation of the Zangazur corridor.

Some of the aforementioned precepts may be pertinent to any escalation that may erupt near or within the precinct of the area temporarily controlled by the Russian ‘peacekeepers’, albeit in a limited fashion, due to the confrontation’s locality inside Azerbaijan.

As Neil Watson stated: “The only way to negate future violence is a peace treaty. Ultimately the Armenian prime minister knows this, but like a drowning man clutching at straws, he is doing his best to extend the death throes of his nation before this is signed. The only question is how many lives must be lost before his nation and the diaspora understand this and give in to the inevitable.”


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