On May 28, 2022, Armenian media reported that around 10:40 am, Azerbaijani Armed Forces opened fire on Armenian positions in the southeastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border using various caliber firearms. Private Davit Vardanyan, a conscript, was wounded in the barrage of gunfire. He died the next day in hospital. Vardanyan was a veteran of the 2020 Artsakh War and had only two months of service left.
The tragedy took place four days after Pashinyan and Aliyev’s meeting in Brussels. It was the third meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan mediated by the European Union. In the statement released after the meeting, President of the European Council, Charles Michel said that “the discussion was frank and productive.” That statement was received with much criticism in Armenia because of the wording used referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. If after the second meeting in Brussels, in the statement issued by Charles Michel, there was not a single word about the conflict, this time the President of the European Council highlighted that “it was necessary that the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh be addressed.” The term Karabakh (as opposed to Nagorno-Karabakh) is the typical wording used by Azerbaijan. This played into the hands of the President of Azerbaijan who stated, “the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved. As for the administrative territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, this name does not exist in the territory of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the word Nagorno-Karabakh is not in the lexicon of international organizations, and the recent meeting in Brussels exemplified this.” Aliyev’s speech made in Zangelan on May 27 after the Brussels meeting and a day before the killing of the Armenian soldier, once again made clear that Azerbaijan maintains its policy of using force and threats to pressure Armenia for further unilateral concessions. Aliyev said, “Today, the power factor is in the foreground. I said this 10 years ago. All my speeches are available in the media. I said that international law does not work. We must not deceive ourselves, we must be stronger, we must gather strength. If necessary, we must drive the enemy out of our lands by force. I said it and I did it.”
Charles Michel’s spokesperson provided an additional explanation stating, “as with any legacy of conflict – terminology is particularly sensitive in this context. President Michel’s statement on outcomes of the leaders meeting on May 22 should not be interpreted as favoring a predetermined outcome of discussions either way. What ultimately matters most is that all issues are comprehensively addressed; this includes rights and security of all populations.” Unfortunately, he did not mention the death of the Armenian soldier as a result of the Azerbaijani attack.
It is worth mentioning that during the Brussels meeting a joint Azerbaijani-Turkish military exercise Heydar Aliyev-2022 was held in Kars. Right after the drills, which took place from May 26 to 29, Azerbaijan hosted TEXNOFEST-2022, attended byTurkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Chief Technology Officer of Turkish company Baykar and the architect of the Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Selcuk Bayraktar was a chief organizer of the event. Bayraktar UAVs were extensively used in the 2020 Artsakh War. During his visit to occupied Shushi, Bayraktar said that Shushi’s takeover is why Bayraktar UAVs were created. This nature of the Azerbaijani-Turkish tandem demonstrates that Armenia has no peace partner.
This tandem’s Turkic ethno-nationalist approach to regional policy remains problematic and challenging for the entire region. In Aliyev’s TEXNOFEST speech, he once again recalled the military parade in December 2020 saying: “I remember that in a military parade dedicated to the liberation of Baku from Armenian occupation, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder on Azadliq Square. We saw a repetition of this in the 2020 Victory Parade. After our historic victory, my dear brother and I hosted a military parade of the Turkish and Azerbaijani armies in Azadliq Square again. It was a celebration of our unity. It was a clear message to the whole world that we are together, that we will be together, and our strength will grow day by day.” Erdogan summed up the 2020 Artsakh War thusly: “The Victory of Karabakh is the latest example of the heroic epics of our nation. My dear brother, thanks to the resolute position of the Victorious Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev, Karabakh has been freed from slavery 30 years later. Brave members of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces have achieved a great victory in Karabakh, which is unparalleled in history. This is a very sensitive point. The 44-day Patriotic War has shown the whole world what can be done when intelligence, technology and courage come together.” This glorification of war creates many obstacles to sustainable regional peace and stability in the South Caucasus.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s statements and behavior post-war make clear that Baku has not changed its policy of state-sponsored xenophobia and hatred against the Armenian people. A recent report issued by several NGOs of Armenia on anti-Armenian xenophobia and racism in Azerbaijan present the rhetoric of Aliyev and other officials, including how Armenians are depicted in school textbooks, how Armenian POWs are treated in front of the Azerbaijani public and other cases which basically make peace impossible to work.
Baku’s anti-Armenian rhetoric is mainly addressed to the domestic Azerbaijani audience. When speaking to international audiences, however, Aliyev totally changes his rhetoric and starts actively promoting a new era in the South Caucasus, an era of peace and cooperation.
In an April 13 speech in parliament, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan relayed that “the international community tells us again ‘Lower your benchmark on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh a little and ensure greater international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh.’” After Pashinyan’s speech noting his government’s readiness to step back on Artsakh issue the parliamentary opposition of Armenia went into the streets demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. While the EU envoy hailed Pashinyan’s speech as “important, forward-looking”, he kept silent about Aliyev’s rhetoric. The EU representatives do not react to Azerbaijan’s xenophobic rhetoric and glorification of war backed by Turkey. They, however, must.
In an exclusive interview to ARMENPRESS, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy emphasized that “the lasting tensions need to be addressed through negotiation and through a comprehensive settlement, according to internationally recognized principles, including territorial integrity, self-determination of peoples, and the non-use of force.” In this way, she signaled that the U.S. recognizes the role of the people of Artsakh in deciding its future. It is also important to note that in the Pashinyan-Putin joint statement dated back on April 19 “the Parties underlined the importance of using the potential and experience of the institute of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs, in accordance with its international mandate.”
If the West wants to become an alternative mediator to Russia in the South Caucasus it should work toward the creation of a just and dignified peace in the region. The EU should demonstrate its commitment to its stated values of democracy, human rights, and the exclusion of hate speech. If it maintains its approach of differentiating between good and bad dictators, it will hardly differ from Russia’s role in the world. Instead of pushing Armenia to lower the benchmark on Artsakh’s status they should instead make Aliyev reduce his expectations on the issue.
It becomes clear that each concession from official Yerevan makes Baku more aggressive and assertive. The so-called peace treaty, which Baku proposed to Yerevan, is based on Azerbaijan’s interests only. Armenia’s current government lacks a clear stance on crucial issues of state interests. While participating in snap parliamentary elections in 2021, the ruling Civic Contract party made it clear in its platform that, “the people of Artsakh cannot live in Artsakh if it will be a part of Azerbaijan.” Thus they are going to fight for the protection of self-determination of the people of Artsakh, as one of the basic principles proposed by OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs throughout the decades-long negotiation process.
“Guarantees of the security of the people of Nagorno Karabakh and the protection of their rights and freedoms are of fundamental importance, as well as the clarification of the final status of Nagorno Karabakh.”
Pashinyan and his team have changed their rhetoric and are saying that final status of Nagorno-Karabakh is not a goal but rather a means to guarantee the security and protection of the rights and freedoms of the people of Artsakh. Simultaneously, Aliyev says “the rights and security of Armenians living in Azerbaijan are as important as the security and rights of other peoples living in Azerbaijan. There are no special privileges here.” In reality, the Azerbaijani leader continues disseminating anti-Armenian hatred making it quite clear that “the main duty was to expel the Armenians from those lands”, “the Azerbaijani people and the Azerbaijani Army have saved our region from a great scourge – Armenian fascism” and that the peace proposal should be based on the fact that “Azerbaijan is a victorious state and Armenia is a defeated state. This reality must be accepted by everyone, and it is. Of course, this factor is in the forefront during Azerbaijani-Armenian contacts.”
Given its history, Europe should know that an unjust peace is the direct path towards another war. Winston Churchill’s address to Neville Chamberlain after the Munich agreement with Hitler reminds us that, “When you are given the choice between war and dishonor, you chose dishonor, and you will have war.” Azerbaijan makes it clear that it will continue to solve regional issues through the force as it faced no consequences for unleashing a 44-day war.
One of the main problems with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs was that while having an international mandate, they lacked sufficient leverage on Baku to prevent the use of force, as one of the third basic principles of the peaceful settlement stipulated. If the EU is really interested in building peace in the South Caucasus and if its interests are not simply based on replacing Russia, then necessary lessons should be drawn and important assumptions made. Azerbaijani state-level and state-sponsored ethnic hatred towards Armenians plays an essential role in this conflict. None of Armenia’s four state leaders have ever made statements that harm or assault the dignity of the Azerbaijani people. Instead of making Yerevan step back every time there is a deadlock in the negotiation process, the mediators should instead develop the tools to pressure Baku. If they do not, we will face another war in the South Caucasus.
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