Anticipates Renewed Efforts at Escalation ahead of Sarkisian-Aliyev Meeting
STEPANAKERT, NKR (A.W.)—In the span of a week, four Armenian servicemen were killed by Azerbaijani fire, as Baku resorted to escalate the conflict by deploying and firing a tank on the Line of Contact (LoC). Speaking to the Armenian Weekly, Artak Beglaryan, spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR/Artsakh) Prime Minister Arayik Harutyunyan, said Baku was motivated to escalate the conflict by both geopolitical developments in the region and the country’s domestic reality. Beglaryan also noted that certain events, such as the European Games and the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, had prompted Baku to refrain from resorting to violence. However, developments in Armenia and in the international arena—including Armenia’s constitutional referendum and the September meeting between Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—had the opposite effect.
“In this light, it is expected that Azerbaijan will start a new escalation before the scheduled meeting this month between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents,” said Beglaryan, explaining that Baku falsely believes that escalation can serve to pressure the Armenian side during the talks. “History shows that the opposite is true: the retaliatory actions by the Armenian side will weaken Baku’s position. The Azerbaijani style has not changed, and the content and outcome of the upcoming meeting will not change either,” said Beglaryan.
On Dec. 3, the heads of the delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group countries—Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and French State Secretary for European Affairs Harlem Desir—said that they remain united in their commitment to mediating a peaceful settlement of the Karabagh conflict, and welcomed the upcoming meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serge Sarkisian. The meeting will take place this month under the auspices of the Minsk Group co-chairs.
“I think [the escalation] is conditioned by the overall geopolitical environment of the region, including relations between the West and Russia, Turkey and Russia, the West and Iran; the developments surrounding the Eurasian Economic Union; the crisis around Syria and ISIS,” said Beglaryan.
“They are also conditioned by the domestic political and economic problems Azerbaijan faces, such as massive human rights violations, social and economic concerns, and authoritarianism; as well as by the artificially growing expectations of people engaged in the Karabagh conflict resolution; and the heavy armament of Azerbaijan and its strategy of exerting military pressure on the Armenian and mediating sides.”
On Dec. 8, it was reported that an Azerbaijani tank fired at Armenian positions in the southern direction of the LoC. This was the first time since the 1994 ceasefire that Azerbaijan had fired a tank at Armenian positions.
“If years ago Azerbaijan was violating the ceasefire with snipers and other small-caliber weaponry, later on it turned to diversionary warfare, and—in recent months—mortars and other large-caliber weaponry (artillery, rockets),” said Beglaryan. “Baku hopes to macerate the military defensibility, political will, and psychological immunity of the Armenian authorities and society, as well as the patience of the mediating parties.”
Yet, according to Beglaryan, Baku does not have the military or political will or potential to initiate a large-scale war. “Otherwise, it would not exhaust its own army and its people’s emotions with the retaliatory measures of the Armenian Army,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Baku’s aggression continues to claim lives. The latest casualty, Karen Grigoryan, 20, was killed on Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. Earlier that day, the NKR Defense Ministry announced that Vardan Vardanyan (b. 1994) had been killed at 8:50 a.m.
The Defense Ministry also announced that it has launched an investigation into the incidents, which saw Azerbaijani forces firing more than 1,100 shots from varying caliber weapons, including 60- and 82-millimeter mortars, HAN-17 grenades, and ZU-23 antiaircraft system. Artsakh forces retaliated in force, according to the statement put out by the ministry.
These incidents come 3 days after serviceman Garik Avanesyan, 24, was fatally wounded while serving in a military outpost in the eastern direction of the LoC, according to the NKR Defense Army. He was killed from fire from a large-caliber sniper rifle on Dec. 8.
According to the statement released by the NKR Defense Army press service, the situation remains tense as Azerbaijani forces continue to violate the ceasefire. On the night of Dec. 8, more than 1,500 shots of various calibers were fired from the Azerbaijani side. The NKR Defense Army is currently taking retaliatory actions to supress the Azerbaijani attacks.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, in a statement released by Armenia’s Ministry of Defense, condemned the reported incident in an emergency phone conversation with Andrzej Kasprzyk, the chief OSCE official monitoring the ceasefire regime in the Karabagh conflict. In his conversation, Ohanian urged international mediators working under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group to hold Baku responsible for the latest ceasefire violations.
These incidents came only a few days after NKR Defense Army serviceman Erik Grigoryan (b. 1995) was killed on Dec. 4 in a gunfight, following a penetration attempt by the Azerbaijani Army into NKR territory. That incident took place in Talish, in the northeastern part of the LoC, according to a statement released by the NKR Ministry of Defense.