Prime Minister Nikol pashinyan

Border Seems Calm after Turbulent Week of Azeri Attacks on Armenia

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — The Armenian and Russia militaries have communicated with each other in connection with deadly clashes that broke out on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan on July 12, official Yerevan said on Monday, July 20.

The hostilities, which left at least 12 Azerbaijani and 4 Armenian soldiers dead, largely ground to a halt on July 16. The two conflicting sides have reported no serious ceasefire violations along the heavily fortified border since then. (See related editorial on Page 17.)

The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalyan, said the American, French and especially Russian co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group have been “actively involved” in efforts to restore the ceasefire in Armenia’s Tavush province.

“The Armenian foreign minister [Zohrab Mnatsakanyan] has been in constant contact with his Russian counterpart,” Naghdalyan said. “There have also been contacts at the level of military officials of the two countries.”

Naghdalyan did not give details of the Russian-Armenian military contacts.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries established a new direct channel of communication after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed in 2018 to boost the ceasefire regime along the internationally recognized border between their countries and “the line of contact” around Karabakh. Truce violations there decreased significantly as a result.

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In a weekend interview with the Sky News Arabia TV channel, Mnatsakanyan said that last week’s hostilities demonstrated that “there can be no military solution to the conflict” and that continued negotiations are the only viable option.

Pashinyan on Saturday, July 18, called for a new international mechanism to maintain the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and said Armenia and Azerbaijani should continue peace talks after the latest deadly clashes on their border.

Pashinyan met with Armenia’s Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan and top army generals to discuss the situation at a volatile border section where at least 16 Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers were killed in heavy fighting that broke out on July 12. The military authorities in Yerevan and Baku reported no serious ceasefire violations there for the second consecutive day.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Pashinyan blamed Azerbaijan for what was the worst escalation of the Karabakh conflict since 2016, saying that it was sparked by a failed Azerbaijani attempt to seize an Armenian border post.

Pashinyan noted that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stepped up his “bellicose rhetoric” and threatened to pull out of Karabakh peace talks in the weeks leading up to the flare-up. The Armenian army proved this week that Azerbaijan cannot resolve the long-running conflict militarily, he said.

Pashinyan also condemned as a “crime against humanity” an Azerbaijani threat to launch a missile attack on Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant.

“We all must finally get out of the whirlwind of continuous statements about ceasefire violations and create an international system of credible monitoring of the ceasefire regime,” said the Armenian premier. “Also, the negotiating process within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group presidency should continue, and Azerbaijan should at last adopt a constructive position.”

On Thursday, Aliyev again threatened to withdraw from peace talks with Armenia, saying that they have been “meaningless” so far. He said the US, Russian and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group should do more to make the talks “substantive” in addition to trying to prevent truce violations.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, the mediators stressed the “importance of returning OSCE monitors to the region as soon as circumstances allow.”

Aliyev and Armenia’s former President Serzh Sargsyan reached agreements on bolstering the shaky ceasefire regime during a series of face-to-face meetings held after the April 2016 hostilities in Karabakh. They specifically agreed to allow the OSCE to deploy more field observers in the conflict zone and investigate truce violations occurring there.

Baku subsequently refused to implement these safeguards against deadly fighting, however, saying that they could cement the status quo. Pashinyan did not clarify whether he now wants to revive Aliyev’s confidence-building agreements with Sargsyan brokered by the mediators.

An Armenian military spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisyyan, said Azerbaijani forces “sporadically” fired small arms overnight. He spoke of a lingering “potential” for renewed attacks on Armenian troops deployed in the mountainous area.

“If they resort to large-scale provocations they will get an adequate answer,” Hovannisyan warned at a news conference.

Meanwhile, Karabakh’s army claimed to have shot down an Azerbaijani military drone early on Saturday. It released photographs of what it described as an Israeli-made Orbiter-3 drone lying in a field.

Hovannisyan said that the reported destruction of the unmanned aerial vehicle does not necessarily mean that fighting could also break out soon at the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh. No major ceasefire violations have been reported from there in recent weeks.

Four Armenian soldiers died during the attack last week. Hovannisyan said 36 other Armenian soldiers were wounded in the clashes.

 

International Concern

President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials on Friday voiced serious concerns over deadly hostilities on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan and offered to help ease tensions between the two South Caucasus states.

They discussed the latest flare-up in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone during a session of Russia’s Security Council headed by Putin.

A statement by the Kremlin said participants of the meeting engaged in a “detailed exchange of views regarding the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border” and expressed “deep concern” over heavy fighting that broke out there on July 12.

They stressed the “urgent need” for Armenia and Azerbaijan to respect the ceasefire and expressed Moscow’s “readiness for mediation activities,” added the statement. It did not give further details.

Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, made identical comments to the Russian press after the meeting attended by the speakers of both houses of Russia’s parliament, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov, Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin and other officials.

Lavrov already telephoned his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts on Monday to call for an immediate end to the skirmishes involving artillery fire and drone attacks. The fighting continued in the following days, however, with the conflicting parties putting the blame on each other.

By contrast, Turkey, Azerbaijan’s closest ally, has blamed the Armenian side and promised military aid to Baku, raising the prospect of a more direct Turkish involvement in the Karabakh conflict.

“Our armed unmanned aerial vehicles, ammunition and missiles are at Azerbaijan’s service along with our experience, technology and capabilities,” Ismail Demir, the head of a state body overseeing the Turkish defense industry, tweeted after meeting with a high-ranking military delegation from Azerbaijan in Ankara on Friday.

For his part, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday that Armenia will be “brought to account” for its “attack” on Azerbaijan.

By contrast, Pope Francis on Sunday, July 19 said he is praying for the families of victims of clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and hopes differences can be resolved peacefully, the Catholic News Agency reports.

“I am following with concern the recovery in recent days of armed tensions in the Caucasus region, between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the pope said after leading the Angelus prayer July 19.

“In particular, while I assure you of my prayers for the families of those who lost their lives during the clashes, I hope that, with the commitment of the international community and through dialogue and the goodwill of the parties, a lasting peaceful solution can be reached, which has at heart the good of those beloved populations,” he continued.

“I wish to assure my closeness to those who are facing the disease and its economic and social consequences,” he stated, adding that he is especially thinking of those people whose suffering is “aggravated by situations of conflict.”

(Stories from RFE/RL and Panarmenian.net were used in this report.)

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