Benyamin Poghosyan, Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies*
On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale attack along the whole line of contact with Nagorno Karabakh Republic. The new war in Karabakh triggered by Azerbaijan did not come as a surprise for anyone who closely followed the recent developments in the region. In recent months Azerbaijani leadership has made several statements regarding its readiness to seek to solve the Karabakh conflict by military means.
The Azerbaijani army conducted large scale drills along the line of contact in mid-May 2020, which involved around 10,000 soldiers, hundreds of tanks and artillery systems, and dozens of warplanes and helicopters. On July 6, 2020, President Aliyev stated that the Karabakh conflict must be resolved within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. He criticized the OSCE Minsk Group for not putting enough pressure on Armenia and for excluding a military solution for the conflict. He argued that the UN Charter provides countries the right to self-defense and thus Azerbaijan might resume hostilities at any moment.1
On July 12, 2020, Azerbaijani forces attempted to take over an Armenian post along the Northern part of the Armenia–Azerbaijan international border. Repelled by the Armenian units, they turned to cannon shelling and the extensive use of UAVs. After two days of active clashes, the situation was calm on July 15, when new, albeit unsuccessful, attempts to seize Armenian positions were made on the early morning of July 16.
There is nothing new in the Azerbaijani leadership beleaguered position. Azerbaijan was constantly rejecting all efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and its co-chairs aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. It was Azerbaijan who rejected to sign the Kazan document during June 2011 Kazan summit, the last time, when two sides were close to the agreement. Kazan document was based on the “basic principles” elaborated by Russia, the US, and France and publicized by Presidents Medvedev, Obama, and Sarkozy in their July 2009 statement.2 Kazan document sought to find a balance between the principles of territorial integrity and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples calling for legally binding expression of will for the future determination of the final legal status of Karabakh. However, Azerbaijani leadership was always put forward maximalist approaches seeking to bring Karabakh under Azerbaijani control. Meanwhile, the large-scale atrocities against Armenians in Sumgayit in 1988, Baku in 1990, in Maragha in 1992, and Talish in April 2016 are clear proofs that under Azerbaijani control Armenians in Karabakh will face ethnic cleansing and annihilation.
The significant growth of the Azerbaijani economy in 2006-2014 due to the oil boom and an impressive increase of the military budget has ushered in a new mindset in Azerbaijan. If Armenia was not ready to accept the Azerbaijani maximalist position – Baku would force Armenia to do that by increasing military pressure. Since August 2014 Azerbaijan has significantly increased military activities along the line of contact, and the growing escalation peaked in April 2016. However, the “four-day war” showed that, despite an existing power gap between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Baku was not able to militarily force Armenia to accept its vision of a settlement.
The new war in Karabakh launched by Azerbaijan in September 2020 has a new unique feature – the active and decisive involvement of Turkey. Turkey has a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan augmented in a bilateral agreement signed in August 2010, is an active member of Turkey – Azerbaijan – Georgia trilateral partnership and perceives the region as an important gateway to reach Central Asian Turkish speaking republics. Azerbaijan and Turkey share ethnic and language similarities which have been emphasized by Azerbaijani late President Heydar Aliyev’s famous slogan “One nation, two states”.3 Ankara – Baku strategic relations have much wider implications. Both states were at the roots of the establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkic speaking states, an intergovernmental organization created in 2009 and uniting Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan as full members and Hungary as observe state. This organization is an embodiment of Turkey’s desire to gain strategic influence in Central Asia and unite Turkic speaking states’ capacities.
Turkey has always supported Azerbaijan in Karabakh conflict and closed its borders with Armenia in April 1993. Turkish leadership issued several tough anti-Armenia statements during and aftermath of the July 2020 escalation along the Armenia – Azerbaijan international border. President Erdogan voiced its support for Azerbaijan, and the Turkish Minister of defense expressed Turkish willingness to assist Azerbaijani armed forces.4 On July 29, 2020, Azerbaijan and Turkey launched joint 15 days military drills involving jets and helicopters in Baku, Nakhijevan, Ganja, Kurdamir, and Yevlakh, while holding ground exercises in Baku and Nakhijevan from August 1 until August 5.5
In the new Karabakh war, Turkey’s role is unprecedented, and includes the supply of modern Turkish “Bayraktar” drones with its operators, deployment of F-16 fighter jets to Azerbaijan, and active transportation of mercenaries from Syria to Azerbaijan, which is well documented by Russian, Iranian and French officials. In his November 3 interview to Russian “Kommersant” newspaper Russian foreign minister Lavrov stated that up to 2000 mercenaries have been deployed in the conflict zone so far. In recent days two Syrian mercenaries were taken captive by Armenian forces and gave explanations on how they had been brought to Turkey from Syria and then to Azerbaijan under the control of Turkish officials to fight against Armenians for the salary of 2000 USD per month. They have been promised additional 100 USD per each decapitated Armenian.
Turkey is actively supporting the continuation of the war. Turkey was the only country which rejected the October 1, 2020 call by the Presidents of Russia, the US, and France to stop the war and come back to the negotiation tables. Azerbaijan has blatantly violated three agreements on ceasefire agreed in Moscow on October 10, then validated on October 18 through the personal efforts of President Macron and on October 25 through the mediation of the US Secretary of State. By violating ceasefire agreements with active Turkey’s support and indiscriminately shelling the civilian infrastructure of Nagorno Karabakh Republic including capital Stepanakert, which is the gross violation of the international humanitarian law, Azerbaijan has proved once more that Nagorno Karabakh cannot and should not be part of Azerbaijan as Armenians will be simply annihilated under Azerbaijani rule. On October 5, 2020 Amnesty International confirmed the use of the cluster bombs by Azerbaijan during shelling of Stepanakert, which is banned under international humanitarian law. Recently the UN human rights chief warned of possible war crimes implemented by Azerbaijan in Nagorno Karabakh, including execution of captured Armenians in uniform.
The only way the international community can stop the death machine of Presidents Erdogan and Aliyev is to put tough and tangible pressure on Azerbaijan and Turkey and demand from these two states to stop the crimes against humanity, to come back to the negotiation table, and to recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh Republic.
* Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is the Chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Yerevan based think tank. Benyamin Poghosyan was director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Ministry of Defense, in 2016 -2019 and previously served as the institute’s deputy director in 2010 – 2016. He is a graduate of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy special program on international security. His areas of expertise are geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East.
1 Azerbaijan President Criticizes OSCE Minsk Group Inaction on Armenia’s Illegal Activities, https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/azerbaijan-president-criticizes-osce-minsk-group-inaction-on-armenias-illegal-activities-2020-7-7-39/.
2 Statement by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries, https://www.osce.org/mg/51152.