The past few days have seen a string of serious incidents in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Heavy fighting involving artillery, tanks and aircraft broke out on the contact line between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh early on Saturday, April 2.
It’s so far unclear who's responsible for the harshest escalation in the region since 1994. Both nations accused each other of starting the fighting in violation of the 1994 ceasefire. It could have been anything: an accident or a provocation to kindle the conflict. One can only guess what caused the fighting to renew.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two former Soviet republics, are locked in a decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly-Armenian mountainous region that was part of the Azerbaijani Socialist Soviet Republic. It broke away in 1988. The self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic declared independence in 1991, with a bloody three-year war ensuing. The Russian Federation brokered a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994, but the tensions have never actually stopped since then. Occasional violence occurs off and on. Baku regards the region as an occupied part of Azerbaijan.
The current aggravation of tensions had been expected. For instance, Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper warned in his annual assessment of threats to the United States.
«The aversion of Azerbaijan to publicly renounce claim the Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s reluctance to give up the territory it controls continue to complicate any possibility of a peaceful solution», Clapper said last month.
Russia, the UN and the US, as well as many other countries, called on the warring parties to stop hostilities and return to the round table for further talks, but Turkey adopted a different approach.
It is widely believed that Turkey is the one who keeps adding fuel to the smoldering conflict in the explosive region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to back Azerbaijan in the conflict with Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. During his recent visit to the United States, Erdogan told an Azerbaijani reporter that «we will support Azerbaijan to the end». The remarks were quoted by the US presidency on Sunday, April 3.
«The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been occupied [by Armenia] for many years, is a result of the inability of the Minsk Group», Erdogan said, referring to the international organization co-chaired by Russia, the US and France.
Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz backed Azerbaijan in its renewed struggle with Armenia immediately as the hostilities were reported. «Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and Turkey’s Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, as well as the chief of Turkish General Staff Hulusi Akar held a phone conversation and discussed the current situation. The Turkish side expressed support for Azerbaijan», Azeri Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargakhly told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Last December, the statement made by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hit headlines. He said, «our position on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is clear: Turkey will always support Azerbaijan until all occupied territories of Azerbaijan will be released».
«Turkey will be by Azerbaijan’s side until a complete liberation of Azerbaijani territories. Each inch of Azerbaijan’s land is dear, and those lands should be liberated», the official added during his visit to Baku. Thus he unequivocally sided with Azerbaijan in the confrontation with Armenia, with which Turkey had severed diplomatic relations.
Russian expert Ajdar Kurtov, editor-in-chief of the RISS (Russian Institute for Strategic Studies) Problems of National Strategy magazine, believes that there is a big chance Turkey had a role to play in inciting the flare up.
The experts emphasized the fact that Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev visited Turkey in mid-March. He and the President of Turkey just met at the Washington nuclear summit (March 31- April 1). Both countries have close military ties. Most senior Azerbaijani senior officers go to Turkey for military training. The expert says the statements made by Turkish officials confirm this point of view.
Vagharshak Haroutiunyan, the former Defense Minister of Armenia, said, «I have told about the possibility of such scenario yet long ago. Turkey just waited for a favorable moment».
According to him, this is an attempt to distract the attention of the world community from the problems related to Turkey. Besides, Ankara demonstrates its influence on Azerbaijan to increase its own geopolitical capitalization.
At that Turkey is part of the Minsk Group, which has Russia, the US and France as its co-chairs, and also includes Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland and the two conflicting nations.
Baku is certain that efforts by the Minsk Group of the OSCE, the customary diplomatic instrument of settling the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, are hopelessly stalled and that other actors should be invited to join settlement efforts. Nagorno-Karabakh was discussed at length at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that ended in February. There was no unanimity regarding settlement prospects, either.
Azerbaijan is ready to switch from a diplomatic to a military solution over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, Polad Bulbuloglu, Azeri ambassador to Russia, said following escalation in the area.
«The attempts of a peaceful solution to this conflict have been underway for 22 years. How much more will it take? We are ready for a peaceful solution to the issue. But if it’s not solved peacefully then we will solve it by military means», Bulbuloglu told Govorit Moskva radio station.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan promised that his country will fully execute its obligations to ensure the security of Nagorno-Karabakh.
«We have a legal right to do so because we are a party to the ceasefire agreement signed in 1994», he said on Saturday, April 2.
Sargsyan urged the need to sign a mutual military assistance agreement with Nagorno-Karabakh, tasking the Foreign Ministry with making all the necessary preparations.
The Russia’s stance remains the same as it was from the start. Armenia is a member of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russia has a military base on Armenian soil, the both develop military cooperation. Moscow is to defend Armenia if attacked. At the same time, it has no obligations to defend the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Russian Federation co-chairs the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group created in 1992 to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict involving Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Russia’s proclaimed mission is to make the warring parties stop and avoid casualties. Russia does not take sides in the conflict. No matter how hard the negotiation process can be, it’s better than human losses. Syria is a good example.
Having received the first reports about the combat actions, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the warring parties to cease fire immediately and show restraint.
Russian Foreign and Defense ministers had phone conversations with their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to discuss the cessation of hostilities. Russia pressed for urgent measures to be taken by the OSCE. As a result, the Minsk Group on conflict settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh will meet on Tuesday, April 5 to discuss the renewed violence.
The time has come for the organization to prove its effectiveness. «The federal government should use the German chairmanship of the OSCE this year to support a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict», a deputy of the Bundestag, deputy chairman of the German-South Caucasus Parliamentary Group, Katrin Kunert, has said.
«The attempts to violate the ceasefire are a cause of great concern for us, and the clashes reported in January last year were unprecedented since the conclusion of the ceasefire agreement. The most worrisome are the losses suffered by the peaceful population. We also condemn the use of heavy weapons», said US Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick.
Ambassador Warlick spoke about the Royce-Sherman letter that circulated in the US Congress. The letter co-signed by a number of congressmen outlines a program of maintaining peace in Karabakh. Among the proposals is the installation of equipment at the frontline that would control the direction of firing, as well as the deployment of OSCE observers at the line of contact for better oversight of the ceasefire.
Everyone understands that this is the time to urgently intensify the efforts to prevent a war. Only one country - Turkey - appears to march out of step. Some time ago it prevented the Vienna talks on Syria to be more representative by insisting on the exclusion of Syrian Kurds from the negotiation process. Now it appears to incite an armed conflict the international community is trying to prevent. The country with dismal human rights record notorious for its imperial ambitions is marching out of step again.