Two Armenian soldiers were killed on Wednesday in renewed fighting in Artsakh, following a week of escalated military hostilities.
On the morning of August 3, Azeri forces fired grenade launchers, drones and mortars in the direction of the northwestern section of the Artsakh border and deployed firearms, according to the Artsakh Defense Army. Gurgen Galeri Gabrielyan and Artur Yuri Khachatryan were killed in the attack. More than a dozen Armenian soldiers were wounded.
“Measures are being taken with the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh to stabilize the situation,” the Artsakh Defense Army wrote.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan has declared a partial military mobilization.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry reported that one Azerbaijani soldier, Kazimov Anar Rustam, was killed when Armenian forces subjected Azerbaijani positions in the Lachin district to “intensive fire.”
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry placed “all responsibility for the incident that took place on the territory of Azerbaijan” on Armenia, which it says “has not yet withdrawn illegal armed detachments from the territories of the neighboring state.” The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly insisted that all Armenian forces must leave Artsakh, according to the ceasefire agreement ending the 2020 Artsakh War. Armenian authorities say that the ceasefire stipulates the withdrawal of Armenian forces from regions captured by Azerbaijan during the war.
During a meeting with the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kaspryzk on August 3, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan “condemned the arbitrary interpretation of trilateral statements and attempts to destabilize the situation by Azerbaijan.”
Wednesday’s attack followed three days of sustained tensions along the Artsakh border. On the morning of August 1, subdivisions of the Azerbaijani armed forces attempted to cross the line of contact in the southern and southwestern parts of Artsakh, according to the Artsakh Defense Army. One Armenian soldier, Albert Vladiki Bakhshiyan, was wounded.
The Russian peacekeeping contingent in Artsakh verified the report, stating that the Azerbaijani armed forces had committed three violations of the ceasefire.
“The command of the Russian peacekeepers, in cooperation with representatives of the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides, has resolved the situation,” the Russian peacekeeping force wrote of the August 1 advance.
The latest attacks follow several accusations of ceasefire violations in Artsakh and Armenia over the previous week. From July 27-28, Azeri forces fired on positions of the Artsakh Defense Army near the Tonashen, Karmir Shuka and Taghavard villages in the Martuni region for 20 minutes, according to the Artsakh Defense Army. The window of a residential home in Karmir Shuka was broken, and eight bullets were found lying nearby in the yard, according to images shared by Artsakh Human Rights Defender Gegham Stepanyan.
The Armenian Defense Ministry also accused the Azerbaijani military of firing on Armenian positions on the eastern section of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on July 28.
Amid Azerbaijani incursions into Artsakh this week, Azerbaijani authorities have demanded that Armenians halt use of the Lachin corridor.
“The Azerbaijani side made a claim through the peacekeeping contingent deployed in Artsakh to organize traffic via the new route in the near future,” a readout of an Artsakh Security Council meeting on August 2 by the office of Artsakh’s President Arayik Harutyunyan states.
The statement adds that the Security Council discussed “ensuring safe traffic with the assistance of the Russian peacekeeping troops.”
The Berdzor/Lachin corridor is currently the only route connecting Armenia and Artsakh and passes through the Berdzor district, which was ceded to Azerbaijan after the 2020 Artsakh War. Under the terms of the November 9, 2020 ceasefire agreement, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to construct an alternate route to the Berdzor/Lachin corridor within the following three years, to which Russian soldiers would be deployed.
Construction of the portion of the road passing through Azerbaijani-controlled territory is nearly complete. Meanwhile, the Armenian Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure announced just this week that construction of the Armenian section of the road will start this month.
Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council Armen Grigoryan said that Azerbaijan’s demand to organize traffic connecting Armenia and Artsakh via the new route is “not legitimate.”
“The trilateral statement mentions the plan for the construction of a new route. No such agreed upon plan exists. The Republic of Armenia has already proposed to agree over and sign the plan in a trilateral format and move forward with an agreed schedule and roadmap,” Grigoryan told state-run news agency Armenpress.
Several critical pieces of infrastructure are located on the Berdzor corridor, including the natural gas pipeline that supplies Artsakh with its entire energy supply. Artsakh residents were deprived of heating and hot water for three weeks amid freezing temperatures in March after the Azerbaijani military prevented Armenian sapper groups from accessing a damaged section of the pipeline.
Pashinyan confirmed in late June that several communities currently inhabited by Armenians in the Berdzor district, including the town of Berdzor and the villages of Aghavno, Nerkin Sus and Sus, will pass to Azerbaijani control after the construction of the new route.
Political analyst Benyamin Poghosyan attributed this latest escalation by Azerbaijan to “some frustration in the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations.”
“Probably Armenia did not accept or did reject some demand of Azerbaijan. Definitely now the Azerbaijani government is frustrated,” Poghosyan told CivilNet.
The Azerbaijani government escalates military hostilities to “create nervousness” in Armenia and Artsakh and “convince or force the Armenian government to accept all its demands during the negotiations.”
The renewed military hostilities has prompted conversations between high-ranking leaders.
On August 2, Pashinyan had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The readout of the meeting from the PM’s office was brief, stating that the leaders discussed the implementation of the various trilateral agreements reached between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia after the 2020 Artsakh War.
That same day, Mirzoyan spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to discuss the “security situation in the region.” Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov also spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu on August 2 to discuss “regional security.”
The previous day, Mirzoyan held a phone conversation with the US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried to discuss the “current security environment in the region” and “normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”