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.
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.
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.