Armenia plans to withdraw units of its armed forces currently deployed in Artsakh within the next two months.
“During the war, a number of units from the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia went to help the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the secretary of the Armenian Security Council Armen Grigoryan said in an interview with the state-run Armenpress news agency on July 19. “After the establishment of the ceasefire, they are returning to the Republic of Armenia. This process is nearing completion and will end in September.”
While conscript soldiers from Armenia will no longer be deployed to Artsakh for military service, conscripts from the Artsakh Defense Army will continue to serve in Artsakh.
“After the establishment of the ceasefire and the deployment of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation, the withdrawal of the units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh is logical,” Grigoryan said.
Male citizens in Armenia and Artsakh are mandated to serve in the military for two years upon turning 18. In late June, Armenian authorities indicated that they had decided to shift from conscript to contract service in Artsakh. Deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Sahak Sahakyan said that leadership had developed a package to make the latter more financially attractive. He also said that most contract soldiers deployed in Artsakh would be citizens of Artsakh.
Azerbaijani authorities strongly criticized Sahakyan’s statement as evidence that Armenia planned to send more soldiers to Artsakh. Leyla Abdullayeva, head of the press service of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Sahakyan’s statement “another confession regarding the sending of illegal military units to Azerbaijani territories.”
“This statement by the Armenian official shows that the talks of the Armenian side about peace is nothing but hypocrisy,” Abdullayeva said.
Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have long been in disagreement about the fourth point of the trilateral ceasefire statement ending the 2020 Artsakh War, which states, “The peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is being deployed in parallel with the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces.” Armenian authorities have interpreted the statement to mean the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the regions captured by Azerbaijan during the war. The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly said that Armenian forces must leave Artsakh altogether.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov repeated this demand during a rare meeting with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan on July 16 in Tbilisi.
Bayramov stressed the “necessity of full implementation of all provisions of the trilateral statement signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, in particular the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the territory of Azerbaijan,” according to a readout of the meeting from the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.
Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili, who hosted the meeting, told reporters that it produced no concrete results.
Three days after the meeting, Mirzoyan said that Armenian authorities “continue to encounter the provocative actions of Azerbaijan towards Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, warmongering and expansionist statements.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a speech on July 15 that Armenia delays the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Artsakh in violation of the ceasefire statement.
“This is an intolerable situation, because it is completely unacceptable for Armenian armed forces to remain on the territory of Azerbaijan. We are a victorious country and we have restored our territorial integrity. If Armenia does not intend to withdraw its armed forces from the territory of Azerbaijan, then it should let us know this in clear terms, and we will consider our further actions,” Aliyev said. He did not specify what “further actions” would entail.
According to Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s government raised the issue with a senior official of the Russian Defense Ministry several months ago, who promised that the Armenian armed forces would withdraw from Artsakh by June. While that deadline has passed, Russian peacekeepers “do not force them [to withdraw], so to speak,” Aliyev said.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Azerbaijan’s “persistent claims” that the ceasefire statement stipulates the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Artsakh is part of Azerbaijan’s policy of “Artsakh without Armenians.”
“This is more than an arbitrary comment, because the November 9 declaration clearly states which areas the Armenian units should leave and where they should stay,” Pashinyan said during a speech on March 31. “But we must state that the withdrawal of the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh means the withdrawal of the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, and in fact this is the demand that Azerbaijan is formulating.”
When asked about the attack by the Azerbaijani military on the Armenian village of Parukh in Artsakh in March, Grigoryan said that the incident was a “gross violation” of the ceasefire statement and “applicable international law.”
“The presence of the Russian peacekeeping forces in itself shows Russia’s accepting the fact that there is a real existential threat for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the peacekeeping forces have a key significance in guaranteeing the security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Grigoryan said.
On March 24, Azerbaijani forces crossed the line of contact into territory under the jurisdiction of the Russian peacekeeping forces and seized Parukh. The Azerbaijani military retreated following Russian mediation after two days of intense fighting yet retained control of the strategic nearby Karaglukh height.
Russian peacekeepers have not permitted the residents of Parukh to return. Most residents of the surrounding villages fled during the fighting, yet while many have returned, the front lines separating their homes and farmland from Azerbaijani troops have moved closer, making daily life precarious.
Some opposition voices have criticized the decision to withdraw Armenian conscript soldiers from Artsakh.
Armenia Alliance MP and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) member Gegham Manukyan said that Armenian authorities had “assured” Aliyev that it would not have a military presence in Artsakh.
“Thus the Armenian leadership continues to duly comply with all of the demands and preconditions of Aliyev and the Turkish authorities,” Manukyan wrote.