Johnny G. Melikian

Azerbaijan Preparing Groundwork for Another Large-scale Escalation, Employing Disinformation

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By Johnny Melikyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

The process of establishing a multipolar world, which marked the end of the Cold War, has created both new opportunities and risks. Among them is the revision of previously established rules and principles, which has led to a new conflict in the heart of Europe. The Russia-West confrontation, entering a new phase since 2014, has resulted in certain changes also in the South Caucasus.

The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in autumn 2020 changed the status quo, which was formed in the mid-90s, just after the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. Later, in 2021-2022, on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border and in September 2023 in Nagorno-Karabakh, we saw more blood and suffering. As a result of the two-day large-scale aggression against the democracy of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian side had more than two hundred deaths, including civilian population, women and children. As a result of this ethnic cleansing, more than 100 thousand people became forcibly displaced.

After the 2020 war, official Baku started to use the term “Zangezur corridor” as a component of their information warfare strategy, demanding from Armenia to provide an exterritorial corridor to its exclave – Nakhichevan (and Turkiye). In parallel, from August 2022, official Baku started to use other narratives, such as “Western Azerbaijan,” laying claim to the entire territories of the Republic of Armenia and referring to the internationally recognized Armenia-Azerbaijan state border as a “conditional border.” This policy became increasingly apparent following the large-scale military aggression and occupation of over 200 square kilometers of Armenian territory in September 2022.

With Azerbaijan set to host the 2024 United Nations Climate Change Conference (29th Conference of the Parties, COP29) by the end of this year, which will be the most significant international event it has held in its decades of independence, its aggressive tactics are transforming. Recognizing that amidst the preparations for this conference, the previously employed tactic of applying pressure on official Yerevan on the ground could lead to serious political consequences, potentially even the cancellation of the event itself, Azerbaijan is effectively laying the groundwork for further aggressive actions by accusing Armenia of attempting to escalate and instigate hostilities in the Syunik region, which is located in the southern part of the country.

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In line with this strategy, official Baku is employing a disinformation campaign, which includes the involvement of pro-government Turkish media outlets. They are “alarming” the public by claiming that France and Iran are “preparing sabotage” in the Armenian Syunik region, purportedly using thousands of so-called “terrorists.” This tactic mirrors Azerbaijan’s previous use of Syrian mercenaries during the aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, and is an attempt to smear Armenia with similar accusations. The primary objective behind these actions is to justify the occupation of Armenian territory and establish the so-called “Zangezur corridor.” Baku is laying the groundwork for a potential invasion into Armenian territories. However, unlike the provocations seen in 2021-2022, they are aiming to fabricate an information pretext for their future provocations.

Countering the aggressive and confrontational policy of Baku, the steps by the government of the Republic of Armenia to modernize Armenian armed forces and rearm them with purely defensive weapons and military equipment seem quite pragmatic. Restoring the military-technical and military-political balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the only guarantee of maintaining the current status quo and stability in the region. This, in turn, can lead to the long-awaited peace. However, attempts to present these reforms and the process of rearmament of a sovereign state as an “attempt at aggression” are further proof that the authorities in Baku have no desire to achieve peace and stability.

A significant positive development occurred with the decision of EU member states to establish the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA), granting the region an international presence. On February 20, 2023, Brussels, under the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, initiated the deployment of the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA). This civilian mission operates within the territory of the Republic of Armenia under a two-year mandate and currently comprises 103 international staff, with plans for expansion in the coming months. These staff members hail from EU Member States and include EU experts and monitors.

The deployment of EUMA is advantageous for Armenia and poses challenges for Azerbaijan. Tasked with monitoring the Armenia-Azerbaijan borders, the civilian mission goes beyond mere surveillance, actively documenting each provocation and development in the region. This comprehensive approach enhances transparency and accountability, ultimately fostering stability and peace in the area.

However, attempts at all negotiation formats and meetings with or without mediators suggest that official Baku, supported by Turkey, lacks the willingness to pursue peace with Armenia. The recent escalation on the border with Azerbaijan on February 12-13, 2024, resulting in the deaths of four Armenian soldiers, shows that Armenia is under threat of a new large-scale aggression. Following the occupation of over 200 square kilometers of Armenian territories in 2021-2022, Azerbaijan is now attempting to capitalize on the momentum by seizing more sovereign territories of the Republic of Armenia. It is unwilling to return to the negotiation table with a positive agenda.

On the other hand, despite the abovementioned challenges that the Republic of Armenia has been facing since 2020, official Yerevan has repeatedly confirmed its commitment to signing a peace treaty with Azerbaijan based on the principles of international law, with mutual recognition of territorial integrity and sovereignty. Also, Armenia reaffirms its readiness to take part of responsibility and contribute to achieving long-term peace and stability in the region.

As the practical implementation of this idea, official Yerevan developed and proposed the Armenian Crossroads initiative, which later evolved into the Crossroads of Peace project. This initiative, serving as a practical implementation of the Armenian peace agenda, requires the further development of communications between all countries of the region by means of renovating, building, and operating roads, railways, pipelines, cables, and electricity lines. It is based on four main principles: the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the countries, as well as reciprocity and equality. I strongly believe that if Azerbaijan will reject an aggressive agenda, this project will be beneficial to all the people that live in our region and can become one of the pillars of regional stability and further development.

(Johnny Melikyan is a Senior Research Fellow at the Yerevan-based Orbeli Research Center.)

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