Three Armenian soldiers killed in heavy border clashes

A barricade protects homes in Yeraskh from gunfire (Photo: Office of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia)

Three Armenian soldiers have been killed and four wounded in heavy fighting along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. 

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) of Armenia reported that on July 28 at 3:40AM local time the Azerbaijani Armed Forces attacked Armenian positions along the northeastern border of the Gegharkunik province in an attempt to “improve [their] positions” and create “favorable conditions for advancement.” The MoD of Azerbaijan, for its part, reported that two Azerbaijani soldiers were wounded in action as a result of “provocations” in the direction of the Kelbajar district, which passed under Azerbaijani control at the end of the 2020 Artsakh War.

At 9:20AM, the Azerbaijani subdivisions were thrown back to their starting positions, according to the Armenian MoD. Armenian military officials say Senior Lieutenant Hayk Hovhannes Gevorgyan, private Koryun Arayik Harutyunyan and private Davit Garnik Kocharyan were killed in the course of the fighting. 

The Office of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia received calls from civilians throughout the morning that shots were fired in the vicinity of the villages of Sotk, Azat, Norabek, Nerkin Shorzha, Verin Shorzha and Kut in Gegharkunik. Verin Shorzha and Kut were directly targeted.

At 10:00AM, the MoD of Azerbaijan declared that it had accepted a ceasefire agreement initiated by Moscow. The MoD of Armenia later announced that an agreement mediated by the command of the Russian Federation peacekeeping troops on the “resumption of the ceasefire regime” had been reached. It reported “no change in the line of contact.” 

The recent hostilities represent the most severe escalation along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border since approximately 1,000 Azerbaijani soldiers invaded the Armenian provinces of Gegharkunik and Syunik on May 12. 

On July 23 one Azerbaijani soldier was killed and three Armenian soldiers injured in a shootout along the border of Gegharkunik and Kelbajar. While the MoD of Azerbaijan reported that soldier Yagubli Farman Telman was killed after Armenian Armed Forces opened fire on Azerbaijani military positions, Armenia’s MoD asserted that the Armenian side “did not take any action until the moment that the Azerbaijani side started to shoot in the direction of the Armenian border guards.” 

On July 25 the MoD of Azerbaijan claimed that Armenian units in Gegharkunik periodically fired on Azerbaijani positions near the Zeylik village of Kelbajar. No casualties were reported.

Armenian and Azerbaijani border guards in Gegharkunik and Kelbajar exchanged fire once again in the early morning hours of July 26. Each side accused the other of instigating the shooting. 

The Human Rights Defender’s Office received reports that at 3:30AM local time Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces fired in the direction of the Sotk village, and at 4:00AM, in the vicinity of Verin Shorzha. The Sotk gold mine, a portion of which came under Azerbaijani control last December as a result of the November 9 ceasefire agreement, was forced to shut down and evacuate 150 employees overnight. 

Throughout the day on July 26, Azerbaijani armed forces resumed firing near the Yeraskh village of the Ararat province. The situation near Yeraskh, which borders the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, has been volatile since July 14, when one Armenian soldier was killed by Azeri fire. 

On July 27, the MoD of Azerbaijan reported further shooting along the Gegharkunik-Kelbajar border. 

The Ombudsman’s office has documented extensive evidence of the violation of the human rights and security of residents of villages impacted by the border skirmishes. In Yeraskh, for example, homes, schools, pastures and facilities, such as a local wine factory, are located less than one kilometer away from the Azerbaijani military positions from which shots are fired, disrupting economic activity and endangering residents’ safety. In the border regions of Syunik and Gegharkunik encroached upon by Azerbaijani forces, soldiers have threatened or attacked villagers and deprived them of access to their pastures. 

The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly called for the creation of a corridor through the Syunik province connecting Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan, asserting that Zangezur (Syunik) is the “native land” of Azerbaijan. While the trilateral ceasefire agreement envisages the unblocking of regional transport and communication channels, including a route between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan overseen by Russian border guards, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan has publicly rejected the logic of a “Zangezur corridor” controlled by Azerbaijan. 

On January 11, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed an agreement to further provide Armenia with railway access to Iran through Nakhichevan and Russia through Azerbaijan. Yet the trilateral working group established to implement the statement suspended its activities in June in response to ongoing hostilities along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. 

According to Pashinyan, Azerbaijan derails negotiations on the establishment of regional economic and transport links through its military advances and provocative rhetoric. “Azerbaijan keeps obstructing this process not only with blatant threats to occupy the sovereign territory of Armenia, but in spite of its standing commitments, it also refuses to provide Armenia with a corridor for the launch of the Armenia-Georgia and Azerbaijan-Russia railways,” Pashinyan said on July 17 following a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel.

European Council President Charles Michel and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Photo RA Prime Minister, July 17)

During a July 23 interview with RFE/RL, French Ambassador to Armenia Jonathon Lacôte urged abandoning the term “corridor,” arguing that the expression was not amenable to the freedom of movement and circulation of goods necessary for a lasting peace. “We are no longer in a world where we create corridors at the expense of the territory of other [countries],” he said. 

According to Caucasus scholar Laurence Broers, Azerbaijan is attempting to maximize pressure on Armenia and Russia through its military maneuvers to force a comprehensive post-war agreement favorable to its interests, namely recognition of its sovereignty over the Republic of Artsakh. “Baku is seeking to avoid a repeat of the 1990s—where the militarily victorious side, then Armenia, was not able to consolidate its victory into a favourable peace from a position of strength,” he tweeted

Russia and the European Union have expressed their readiness to support the delimitation and demarcation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova shared that Russia has prepared cartographic documents that will “help move the discussion onto a constructive track” and reach a “sustainable de-escalation.” Michel stated that the EU is prepared to provide expertise as an “honest broker” to assist the OSCE Minsk Group in monitoring the border and encouraging regional stability. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov welcomed EU mediation, noting that negotiations are generally “going well.” 

While Michel has stated that a number of issues critical to a lasting settlement remain unresolved, including the future status of Artsakh, Aliyev lauded the fact that Michel did not use the word “status” during his visit to Baku as evidence of European support for Azerbaijan’s position.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hetq and the Daily Californian. She is pursuing master’s degrees in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies at New York University. A human rights journalist and feminist poet, Lillian's first poetry collection Journey to Tatev was released with Girls on Key Press in spring of 2021.

8 Comments

  1. WE DONT NEED ANY MORE HUMAN RIGHT DEFENDERS. WE NEED A CAPABLE ARMY. No really, what happened to the Armenian army? What happened to the most combat ready and capable army in the Caucasus? Pashinyan, that’s what happened. He is incompetent at best and a traitor at worst. This man is a danger to all Armenians and their future. He brings major loss. He needs to be taken out before its too late.

    “At 9:20AM, the Azerbaijani subdivisions were thrown back to their starting positions, according to the Armenian MoD.” I don’t believe anything they say. Nothing.

    • Hi Joe, I agree with you on the point of not agreeing on the Armenian MoD, during the war I followed the progressions every day, and every day they lied about our losses, our positions at the front, about everything, first of all they need to be honest with people before people start trusting them.

  2. So Pashinyan is responsible for 30 yrs of robbery and incompetence to create an functional army, economy, state??? In comparison…what did the oligarchs in 2016 or what could they do in this current situation? Take all the money and starting a new life in Florida?

  3. Joe is 100% correct…we need Armenias’ army activated…enough of this negotiating BS….Pashinyan cannot handle his job and has to go…no other way!

  4. Pashinyan came of age in the kitchen of “the first saboteur of Armenia’s statehood – LTP” and gives no sign of having changed course since. He talks a good talk, but does not (cannot?) follow up with action (remember vetting? returning the stolen wealth? …), and what action he undertakes is often against Armenia’s interests. He was in “daily phone contact” with Putin during the 44-day war, and then, all on his own, signs a “declaration” that is disastrously against Armenian interests. As though that were not enough, he seems to have tacit agreements with Putin and Aliyev about handing over “exclaves” to Azerbaijan that will put RA’s highways to Iran and Tbilisi under Az. control. We don’t know exactly *what* he promised in all … yet the triple alliance of RA’s enemies know, and that’s why they want him to stay and implement. The less Nikol decides on anything beyond his own family, the better. Russian mediation, like much else having to do with Russia, is a fakery as it will favor AZ-TR interests. RA must apply to the UNSC, take up France’s and US’s offers on different domains of significant cooperation … but a compromised, ill-qualified person like Pashinyan with near-absolute power (horrors!) cannot decide in Armenian interests; to the extent he does, it’ll be despite his record of proven incompetence and under pressure from non-Russia powers who see Armenia’s interests in line with their own.

  5. The Armenian forces have suffered from two decades of under funding and neglect brought about by successive corrupt governments, where national interests were second to personal gain and Russian foreign policy. We need to invest heavily in updating and upgrading our forces. We should concentrate on making our own missiles and anti drone weapins. The technology exists. The diaspora can play a massive role in funding this most essential project and providing modern technology.It is also essential to form strong bond with Iran with whom we have common interests and friendly relations. Iran can play a pivotal role in guarding our common borders. It will be disastrous to lose control of our Iran border. This should not be allowed. Russia can supervise the link to Nakhijevan but respect our ownership of the area. Pashinyan needs to include strong negotiators in his cabinet.

  6. I wonder if it’s possible to dig a tunnel that provides the link between Azerbeeekakan and Nakhitchevan to satisfy the terms of the 2020 ceasefire. The Armenian government should study this option seriously. The tunnel MUST start and end inside Armenia (about a kilometer or two from the Azeri boarders)- for example, it might run from Kapan to the west of Kajaran. Azeri trucks can request to enter Armenia through a border checkpoint, then drive a kilometer to reach the entrance of the tunnel, then cross the tunnel and exit to the west in Armenia, at one kilometer from the border with Nakhichevan, then drive to the checkpoint and exit Armenia to Nakhitchevan. Most importantly, they have to pay a fee for each time they use the tunnel as it remains under Armenian sovereignty. Digging such a tunnel will be costly and difficult, but there are many multinational companies that have the technology and skills to do it (China has done many similar great projects). As for the cost, we should ask the thief Aliev to pay it !!

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