Armenia ‘Vigilant’ as Joint Turkish-Azeri Military Exercises Begin

(Photo: Armenia’s Ministry of Defense, July 28, 2020)

YEREVAN—Azerbaijan and Turkey have launched a series of joint military exercises just weeks after a failed Azeri assault on Armenian positions in Tavush. The exercises are expected to last two weeks and take place in the Azeri-controlled exclave of Nakhichevan, central Azerbaijan and on the Absheron Peninsula. 

Contract soldier Ashot G. Mikaelyan was fatally wounded by Azeri sniper fire on July 27, 2020

Armenian officials have condemned what they described as an unnecessary provocation on the part of Baku and Ankara as tensions remain high following the recent border clashes. Six Armenian soldiers have died; the most recent casualty occurred on July 27 when Armenian  serviceman Ashot Mikaelyan was shot dead by Azeri sniper fire. Since then, the military situation between the two countries has remained relatively calm, but the dispute has since been exported internationally as reports have been surfacing of members of the Armenian Diaspora being attacked at various protests in capitals across the world.

In light of Turkey’s unilateral support for Azerbaijan amid these large-scale military exercises, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Wednesday that the Republic of Armenia will be disallowing Turkish officers from inspecting Armenia’s Armed Forces. The Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, to which Armenia and Turkey are both parties, as well as the Vienna Document permit signatories to inspect each other’s compliance through random visits to military bases. “Any military inspection conducted on the territory of Armenia by Turkey, which has been openly supporting Azerbaijan’s military operations against Armenia and resorting to unprecedented threats…will adversely impact the security interests of Armenia and may undermine security [sic] of its population,” read the Foreign Ministry’s statement

At a meeting with French Ambassador Jonathan Lacotte, Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan dismissed the joint exercises as “militarily insignificant” while still constituting dangerous grandstanding. Still, the Minister said, “We’ll be keeping a close eye on those exercises.” Turkey has been a vocal supporter of Azerbaijan’s actions, even publicly blaming Armenia for the renewed hostilities. Ankara’s recent posturing has been interpreted in Yerevan as an attempt to either gain further influence or directly intervene in the Caucasus region. Parliamentarian Mikael Zolyan, who is also a political analyst by training, has suggested that Turkey’s participation in the exercises may be intended to bolster Aliyev’s regime domestically following the embarrassing failure of Azeri adventurism earlier this month. 

Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan with French Ambassador Jonathan Lacotte, July 29, 2020

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly assured Russian President Vladimir Putin that the exercises did not constitute a prelude to the permanent placement of Turkish troops in the region. Russia continues to view the South Caucasus as part of its “Near Abroad” and has repeatedly warned against any encroachment into this “backyard” by any competing regional powers—particularly NATO-member Turkey.

In the wake of recent tensions, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (Russia, France and the United States)—which have been tasked with maintaining the cease-fire established in 1994—have urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to make tangible steps to maintain peaceful negotiations. “The Co-Chairs stress once more that refraining from provocative statements and actions, including threats or perceived threats to civilians or to critical infrastructure, is essential during this delicate period,” read a July 24 statement.

While Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan repeatedly signaled his government’s intention to maintain the negotiation process in good faith, even offering to implement certain reconciliatory measures, official statements from Baku have criticized both the current process and the joint efforts of the co-chairing countries themselves—comments which have provoked the ire of international mediators. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev even threatened to pull out of negotiations entirely. “Unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia agreed to all proposals of the international mediators to strengthen the ceasefire by putting on the ground more monitors and introducing investigative mechanisms into ceasefire violations,” Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan told The Jerusalem Post, urging Israel, which supplies Azerbaijan with UAVs that have been shot down by Armenian forces, to end its “deadly business dealings.”

In fact, hateful rhetoric towards Armenians has continued to seep into official statements from Azerbaijani officials. A tweet by Aliyev addressed to the Azerbaijani diaspora claiming that the Azeri State stands behind them has been interpreted as a dog whistle and support for the wave of racist attacks against Armenians in several cities—including the vandalism of an Armenian school in San Francisco, California. A page from the official website of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claiming that “Azerbaijanis were the aboriginal population of [Armenia]” and that Armenians were “invasive aliens” to the Caucasus has also made the rounds on social media. 

Despite this, Armenian and Azerbaijani ambassadors in Moscow have apparently called on their respective diasporas to refrain from further escalating violent confrontations with each other. These statements followed the arrest of over 30 people who were charged with hooliganism following a series of brawls and vandalism against Armenian-owned property in various cities across Russia.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

12 Comments

  1. One interpretation of current events is that Russia is largely standing aside in the current conflict because it wants to show Armenia that if it does not march in lock-step to what Russia wants, Russia will ignore its obligations under the mutual defense treaty.

    Russia may wish to reconsider that tactic because all it goes to prove is that Russia is as unreliable as we always thought.

    For example, Russia gave Artsakh and Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan, handed off huge chunks of Western Armenia to Turkey, and had gotten chummy with Armenia’s genocidal enemies, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

    • I believe Russia’s goal is the reassertion of control of the former SSRs. It will not go to war for Armenia. I believe it will allow, if not encourage, instability and threats in the region as Russia benefits in the long run. By standing on the sidelines during the Azeri-Turk escalation of regional tensions, it quietly delivers the message do what Mother Russia wants or stand on your own.

    • I think you’re correct in your analysis- Russia has always preferred Turkic peoples over Armenians and has always harmed Armenia to appease Turks. I would even go one step further to say that Russia has never helped us per se, regardless of if we follow its orders or not. Russia has never wanted a strong Armenia, which is why it constantly sells weapons to Azerbaijan and then ironically claims to be an ally of Armenia. Could you imagine America selling weapons to Israel’s enemies ?

  2. Russia also said it was the protector of Syria but there are thousands of Turkish soldiers in Syria and the Turks have built a buffer strip on Syrian land. I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin told Aliev to attack Armenia so that Armenia would run to him for protection and the ex-KGB man would say he would protect Armenia if we became a vassal of Kremlin.
    Russia, through its satellites and other means, knows the aggressor in the recent fighting was Azerbaijan. Yet it didn’t condemn Baku. It has also refused to say it would help Armenia if the Azeris are the aggressor although the Armenia/Russia pact states Russia would support us if we are attacked. What kind of ally is Russia?

  3. The Bolsheviks gave these lands to the turks
    Russia has liberated Eastern Armenians and now Armenians enjoy the 98% of the population
    Russia proctected Armenia in !993 against the the a turkish possible invasion
    stop ignoring the real ally

    5%

    • Greg, you need a better history/politics tutor. That was the Soviet Union, not Russia. Two different animals,even if they spoke the same language.

  4. @ Greg
    you are like other stubborn Armenians still confusing communists with Russia
    Turkey is is still surviving as an entity because of western military support
    remember who protected turkey in the 1947 from carving Kars Ardahan to Armenia and part to Georgia
    remember who threatened turkey in 1993 with nukes to protect Armenia and let Armenia to focus its limited resources on the Karabakh war
    because of Russia we managed to liberate parts of Eastern Armenia and enjoy 98% of the population.
    remember who gave Kilikia to your enemies, your beloved france
    Russia sells weapons to azeris with market prices but selling you the Iskander missiles(no other country has it) and Su 30 with domestic prices.
    no wonder Armenians have such a miserable history in spite of their bravery,
    because of the lack of strategic foresightedness the vast majority of Armenians have

  5. Concerned Armenian, firstly, attack the message and not the messenger. Notice how I never got personal with Hagop and did not say what he needs nor try to belittle him.

    Both the Soviet Union and Russia have done more harm than good for Armenia.

    Are you concerned about Russia selling weapons to Azerbaijan whilst calling itself an ally of Armenia ?

    • Greg, nice try. I am actually happy Russia is selling weapons to Azerbaijan. I don’t expect you to understand why, nor do I feel like explaining…

    • Greg,
      Putin protecting Axeri oil line from Armenian side. Russian gazprom has huge share with those pipelines…they want to squeeze Axeri dictator, Turkish sultan, and Israel for more money and Putin will do that with the help of Armenian army… especially after Tavush border skirmishes! Unfortunately we have no other choices we need peace and stabilities in our side. A Time will come when God will be our side…for now we need strong army and UNITY and know how to play politics with Putin and West. Pashinyan is doing good job with Putin. Chess game, so far Armenians are fine with those games!

  6. “ you are like other stubborn Armenians“ – why resort to personal attacks ? I’m sure we can discuss this matter in a civil manner. I never made a personal remark about you Hagop, care to return the favour ? Like the Ottoman Empire and Turkey are similar in their foreign policy so are the Soviet Union and Russia. What I’m saying is that Russia is not the great saviour of Armenians and would readily sell us down the river. Just read this article in asbarez to see how Russia asked for a statue of General Andranik Ozanian to be taken down as it might anger Turkey:

    http://asbarez.com/96312/community-ordered-to-take-down-gen-antranig-statue-in-sochi/

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