While violence escalates in Artsakh, Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have exchanged statements on initiating peace talks.
Human Rights Defender of Artsakh Gegham Stepanyan has appealed to the international community to take action against Azerbaijan’s escalated aggression targeting the civilian Armenian population of Artsakh. He said that while Azerbaijan’s authorities have pursued tactics to intimidate the Armenian population of Artsakh since the end of the 2020 war, their actions have intensified in recent days, as Azerbaijan’s military is now targeting civilian communities using large caliber grenade launchers and mortars, weapons that have not been deployed since the war.
“The deliberate and coordinated actions of the Azerbaijani authorities are aimed at evicting Armenians from Artsakh and pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing,” Stepanyan said in the March 15 video broadcast.
Azerbaijan’s military fired on the villages of Khramort and Nakhichanik of the Askeran region and the villages of Khnushinak and Karmir Shuka of the Martuni region in Artsakh on March 9, according to Artsakh officials. Last month, videos spread on social media depicting Azerbaijani forces ordering Armenian civilians to evacuate border villages in Artsakh by loudspeaker. Later videos depict broadcasts of calls to prayer, the Azerbaijani national anthem and selections from an Azerbaijani opera.
Meanwhile, Stepanyan says that restoration work began on Wednesday on the primary pipeline supplying gas to Artsakh from Armenia. The entire population of Artsakh was left without gas in sub-zero temperatures, compromising access to heating and hot water and forcing schools and medical centers to close, after Azerbaijan’s authorities prohibited Armenian crews from accessing the damaged section of the pipeline for over a week. The pipeline runs through an area under the control of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces near Shushi.
Tensions along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border have also intensified in the past week, with reports of renewed gunfire. Armenian soldier Hrach Arami Manasaryan died from a gunshot wound on March 7 after the Azerbaijani Armed Forces opened fire on Armenian military posts along the western part of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The United States mission to the OSCE released a statement mourning Manasaryan’s death and calling for “greater restraint, for forces to distance themselves from each other in the contested border areas, and for intensified diplomatic engagement to find comprehensive solutions to all outstanding issues.”
Yerevan-based analyst Tigran Grigoryan said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine triggered this latest round of violence. “Azerbaijan is using the small window of opportunity created by the war in Ukraine to reach some tactical goals on the ground. Baku is also testing Russia’s red lines and limitations in Nagorno-Karabakh in this new geopolitical reality. Azerbaijan will surely keep on trying to further exploit Moscow’s weaknesses if the Russian war effort in Ukraine lasts for too long,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have said in recent days that they are preparing to launch a negotiation process on signing a peace agreement.
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vahan Hunanyan told Armenpress news agency on March 11 that Armenia will “probably soon apply” to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to initiate peace talks with Azerbaijan.
Later that day, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that Baku had sent a proposal to Yerevan listing five principles that must precede the normalization of relations between the two countries. “If Armenia sincerely wants to normalize relations, then this is a very good opportunity for them,” Bayramov told Anadolu Agency.
On March 14, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry publicized the five principles, which include mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual affirmation of the absence of territorial claims to each other and a legally binding obligation not to make such claims in the future, refraining from threatening each other’s security, delimitation and demarcation of the border and unblocking of communication and transport links.
That day, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced that it had responded to the proposals from Azerbaijan and applied to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to “organize negotiations on the signing of a peace agreement” between the two countries “on the basis of the UN Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Helsinki Final Act.”
In an interview with Armenpress on March 15, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said that “every negotiation on a peace treaty must be held without preconditions.”
He also said that the principles set forth in the proposal do not address all of the existing problems in the region, namely the status of Artsakh and the rights and freedoms of the Armenians who reside there. “The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a territorial issue, but a matter of rights,” he said.
Olesya Vartanyan, senior South Caucasus analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that the exchange of official statements between Armenia and Azerbaijan “indicates that no resumption of the official talks is in sight.” “This is because they publicly revealed the details of weeks and months of discussions on how to return to negotiations,” she tweeted.
Anar Mammadli, a human rights activist from Azerbaijan, criticized the five-point proposal and called for a “comprehensive roadmap for peacebuilding” from the Azerbaijani government. “This should include the terms of peace with Armenia, the investigation of war crimes, demining of the region, joint study and protection of historical and cultural monuments, ensuring the security of the Armenians of Karabakh and other issues,” he wrote on Facebook.
Amid accusations of ceasefire violations by the Azerbaijani military, rumors have also been spreading in the Azerbaijani media criticizing the efficacy of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh.
An article published in the pro-government Report.az on March 7 blamed the Russian peacekeepers for failing to prevent ceasefire violations in Artsakh, which it attributes to the Armenian side.
“Considering that only Russian peacekeepers are deployed on the territory of Azerbaijan, it means that the responsibility for monitoring compliance with the ceasefire regime lies entirely with them. That is, the peacekeepers either do not cope with the functions assigned to them, or simply connive with the Armenians,” the article reads.
The article further accuses the Russian peacekeepers of “abusing Russia’s military operation in Ukraine” to arm Armenians in Artsakh.
An article published on the same day in military news website Caliber.az accused head of the Russian peacekeeping contingent Andrei Volkov of abusing his position and engaging in corrupt business practices in Artsakh, for which the article provides no evidence.
Rumors have also spread that Russian peacekeepers are leaving Artsakh for Ukraine. Videos disseminated on social media in Azerbaijan show a column of Russian military vehicles traveling along the Lachin corridor. Another article from Caliber.az, published on March 9, speculated that the Russian peacekeepers are “being redeployed to Ukraine,” once again without providing any evidence.
“According to another version, part of the Russian peacekeeping forces will be redeployed to the 102nd military base at Gyumri, and soldiers at that base will in turn be sent to help the Russian army in Ukraine,” the article reads.
The Artsakh Security Council denied these rumors, stating that the Russian peacekeeping force “continues conducting its mission based on the provisions of the 2020 November 9 trilateral statement.”
The Russian mission in Artsakh, which has not issued a single press release since January 26, has not commented on the accusations.