May 12, 2021
On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, reports started circulating, initially on Armenian Telegram channels, that Azerbaijani forces had attempted to advance their military positions near the village of Ishkhanasar in Armenia’s southern Syunik region, and that skirmishes had taken place between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces. Armenia’s Ministry of Defense denied these reports, stating that “The information spread in the press ‘about the battles in the direction of Ishkhanasar’ does not correspond to reality. In case of such developments, the Ministry of Defense would be the first to make a statement.” However, the statement also vaguely mentioned that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces “under the pretext of ‘border adjustment,’ tried to carry out certain work in one of the border areas of Syunik.”
On the same day, Armenia’s Security Council held a late night session. In his statements at the meeting, Armenia’s Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan confirmed that Azerbaijani forces had indeed crossed Armenia’s state border near Black Lake (Sev Lich) in the Syunik region, advancing 3.5 kilometers into the territory of the Republic of Armenia. “This is unacceptable… an encroachment on the sovereign territory of Armenia,” Pashinyan said, adding that questions remain as to how and why Azerbaijani forces were able to do this. He went on to say that the situation is critical and noted that, under these circumstances, it is necessary to maintain calm. Pashinyan said that “our primary task is to settle the matter through negotiations, through diplomatic means. This is one of the options.”
May 13, 2021
On the following day, May 13, Armenia’s Defense Ministry reported that Azerbaijani forces, once again, “under the pretext of ‘border adjustment,’” tried to advance their military positions into sovereign Armenian territory near Vardenis (Gegharkunik region) and Sisian (Syunik region). The ministry claimed that “the advance was stopped, the Azerbaijani side was required to leave the territory immediately and return to their starting positions.”
Around the same time, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) issued a statement saying it is closely following the development of the situation in the border regions of Armenia’s Syunik region and, if necessary, actions will be taken under the provisions of the CSTO Charter. [The CSTO is a Russia-led military alliance, created in 2002, of seven former Soviet states. The CSTO’s purpose is to ensure the collective defense of any member that faces external aggression.]
Security Council Session: Situation is “Explosive”
Later on the same day, Armenia’s Security Council held another meeting, during which Pashinyan said that Armenia will invoke the mutual defense clause of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) if Azerbaijani troops do not retreat from Armenian territory and move back to their original positions. Pashinyan noted that the situation around Black Lake in Armenia’s Syunik region is “explosive” and that 250 Azerbaijani soldiers continue to remain inside the borders of Armenia’s Syunik and Gegharkunik regions. This is a provocation by Azerbaijan, which can have wider political-military goals, Pashinyan said, adding that the Azerbaijanis crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border to provoke a military confrontation.
The Acting PM went on to say that representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are using clearly falsified maps to allege that these are Azerbaijani territories and explain their presence inside Armenia’s borders. “As I have already noted, Soviet-era maps clearly show that Azerbaijan’s allegations have no grounds,” Pashinyan said. He went on to say that “the day of the provocation, Azerbaijan announced that they would be holding large scale military exercises with 15,000 soldiers starting on May 16” and that, at the end of April, the President of Azerbaijan made clear threats against the territorial integrity of Armenia, saying that he will resort to the use of force to open the so-called Zangezur Corridor connecting Azerbaijan with its Nakhichevan exclave.
Pashinyan stressed that the current situation is in full compliance with Article 2, Part 2 of the CSTO Charter, according to which in case of threat to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty of a CSTO member state, the remaining member states shall immediately launch the mechanism of joint consultations and assist the member state that is in crisis. Acting Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan, Acting Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan and the Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan were tasked with starting consultations in accordance with Article 2 of the Collective Security Treaty, in particular with the aim of coordinating the positions of CSTO member states and take measures to counter such threats and launch the procedure stipulated by the Regulation of December 10, 2010, on CSTO Response to Crisis Situations.
President Armen Sarkissian: Armenia’s Borders Are Non-Negotiable
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian also issued a statement saying that the situation in the Syunik region is extremely concerning and that Armenia’s security and the inviolability of the country’s borders are non-negotiable. “It must be met with a clear and sharp response, as well as an international response. The Azerbaijani side bears all the responsibility for further aggravation of the situation, and disruption of the already sensitive situation in the region,” the statement read.
Also on May 13, Armen Grigoryan, the Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, in an interview with Public TV said that the state border with Azerbaijan is now considerably longer, and that time was needed to establish proper bases and infrastructure, and that the cold weather conditions had impeded the process.
French President Emmanuel Macron held a telephone conversation with Acting PM Pashinyan. Macron reaffirmed France’s commitment to Armenia’s territorial integrity and stressed the need for an immediate withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops. The French President went on to say that he stands in solidarity with the Armenian authorities and the Armenian people for the peaceful settlement of the issue.
May 14, 2021
Armenia Officially Appeals to the CSTO
On May 14, Pashinyan officially applied to the current Chair of the CSTO, President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, to immediately call emergency consultations to coordinate the positions of the CSTO member states and to take measures to counter the emerging threats within the framework of the implementation of the provisions of Article 2 of the Collective Security Treaty of May 15, 1992. Pashinyan also sent letters to the leaders of the other CSTO member states with detailed information about the situation.
Pashinyan and Putin Telephone Conversation
Pashinyan also held a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that further escalation is inadmissible and expressed hope that the situation will stabilize as soon as possible, and necessary conditions would be provided for implementing the agreements specified in the trilateral statements of November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021. Pashinyan informed Putin that he would be formally applying to the CSTO in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty. The two leaders agreed that the situation should be settled by getting Azerbaijani troops back to their initial positions. The Russian side reaffirmed its readiness to continue with its mediation efforts to ensure stability in the region.
National Assembly Adopts a Statement
The Parliament unanimously voted in favor of the statement tabled by the Prosperous Armenia Party regarding the situation on Armenia’s borders. The statement stressed that the National Assembly strongly condemns Azerbaijan’s encroachment on Armenia’s territorial integrity and that the aggressive policy pursued by the Azerbaijani leadership violates the basic norms of international law, including the principles enshrined in Article 2 of the UN Charter, which allows the Armenian side to counter Azerbaijan’s aggression in accordance with international law and domestic legislation. The National Assembly declared that they will take all adequate measures to stop Azerbaijan’s military aggression and protect Armenia’s state border and people. The statement also called on the international community to condemn Azerbaijan’s provocative actions, threats of use of force and the de facto use of force against Armenia’s territorial integrity.
May 15, 2021
Acting Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan, who was in Goris on a working visit, told reporters that negotiations are still ongoing and that the situation will eventually be resolved. He reaffirmed that the Azerbaijani forces have advanced into Armenia’s sovereign territory and said that the Armenian side wants a peaceful resolution to the situation but that, at the same time, they are ready for any adverse developments and ready to protect Armenia’s sovereign territory. In case of a negative development, Armenia expects assistance from its allies, Avinyan said. Avinyan later posted a photo of himself with Melikset Poghosyan, the Regional Governor of Syunik and MPs Armen Khachatryan and Narek Ghahramanyan at Black Lake.
May 17, 2021
On May 17, Acting PM Pashinyan had a telephone conversation with U.S. President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who said that the U.S. considers movements by Azerbaijani troops inside Armenia’s state border unacceptable. Sullivan noted that the U.S. position will be presented to Azerbaijan’s leadership with a demand to withdraw its troops from Armenian territory. Adviser Sullivan praised the restraint shown by the Armenian side in the current situation and the steps aimed at settling issues through diplomatic means.
Acting PM: “Military-Political Situation Has Not Changed”
During another session of the Security Council, acting PM Pashinyan said that several Azerbaijani units withdrew from Armenian territory, and there are indications that more will leave today. “I consider the military-political situation unchanged after the 12th of the month… some groups have left, but the situation has not changed.” Pashinyan said that the government will continue to operationalize the mechanisms of the CSTO and set in action Armenian-Russian treaties. He said that the Republic of Armenia has never discussed and will not consider the issue of establishing a corridor through Syunik. Regarding the issue of state borders, he said that the Azerbaijani side is trying to push for clarification of borders in a bilateral format, which according to Pashinyan is not possible because Armenia and Azerbaijan do not have any relations. “…the opening of communications and border adjustment should take place in a tripartite format,” Pashinyan said, adding that the breach or disruption of those agreements are the reasons behind the provocative actions undertaken by Azerbaijan. He said negotiations went well into the night and will be resumed on May 19, and these discussions have one item on the agenda: “Azerbaijani troops must leave the territory of the Republic of Armenia. Until this happens, we consider the current situation as a crisis that poses a threat to the sovereignty, stability and territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia, a situation stipulated in the CSTO Charter, in the Collective Security Treaty and in the Crisis Response Regulations. All the aforementioned mechanisms, as well as the relevant Armenian-Russian allied mechanisms shall be activated until our legitimate claim is complied with.”
May 19, 2021
CSTO Council of Foreign Ministers Session
The session of the CSTO Council of Foreign Ministers kicked off in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The Azerbaijani military’s incursion into the territory of the Republic of Armenia was addressed. Armenia’s MFA issued a statement following the session, providing some details about the discussion. Foreign Affairs Minister Ara Ayvazyan said the incursion of Azerbaijani troops into the territory of Armenia poses a direct threat to the security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of a member state and is a direct challenge to the CSTO. According to the statement, Ayvazyan informed his counterparts that, under the present conditions, the CSTO’s emergency response procedure is becoming urgent. A multilateral mission will be launched to monitor the situation and elaborate proposals for further measures.
Azerbaijan Absent From Negotiations
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) reported that the Azerbaijani side did not take part in pre-arranged negotiations that were set to take place at 14:00 local time. Earlier in the day, the MOD had said that, in the absence of a solution within a reasonable timeframe, Armenia’s Armed Forces reserve the right to solve the issue by another option, including the use of force. The statement also said that, in the last two days, additional military units have been deployed to the area in order to prevent Azerbaijani troops from initiating new operations and leaving retreat to their original positions as the only reasonable solution to the situation.
Lavrov: Russia Ready to Support Demarcation
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia is ready to support Armenia and Azerbaijan in the delimitation and demarcation issue of state borders. He noted that, following the Azerbaijani incursion into Armenian territory, Baku made “statements explaining the occurrence as a misunderstanding, and most importantly, the absence of a border, which should have been delimited and demarcated. No one has ever dealt with this there. We’ve recommended the parties to deal with it. We are ready to support them in both providing cartographic materials and rendering consultative services.”
No Demarcation Until Azerbaijani Forces Withdraw
Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, said Azerbaijani troops must withdraw from Armenian territory before any delimitation and demarcation activities launch.
Armenia’s Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan said that the delimitation and demarcation of borders can take years, and stressed that demarcation is possible only after the creation of a security zone to mitigate further tensions and protect the rights of citizens living in border communities.
President: Strict Measures Against Azerbaijani Encroachments
Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian also issued a statement. “The Azerbaijani Armed Forces have violated the border of the Republic of Armenia in Syunik, [and] Gegharkunik, and have been in our country illegally for several days now,” he said, adding that it is of utmost importance and the responsibility of the state to bring the country out of the crisis, especially in matters of security. “I urge the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia, the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the National Security Service to make every effort within their functions, to take the strictest measures against encroachments threatening the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia, and border violations,” Sarkissian said. The President also noted that the public must be informed in a timely manner about the ongoing process.
Acting PM: Solution Must Be Solved Diplomatically
During a government session, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that a solution to the crisis on Armenia’s borders must be resolved diplomatically. Pashinyan said that the process of CSTO’s response to Armenia’s request is not proceeding at the pace desired by the Armenian side, but that consultations are continuing. He went on to say that Armenia’s position is clear and unequivocal: “The units of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan must leave the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia. Our primary approach and goal is to resolve the situation through diplomacy.” He went on to say that the Republic of Armenia has not discussed, is not discussing and will not discuss the “corridor” issue, referring to a connection between Nakhichevan and the rest of Azerbaijan through Syunik.
Redacted “Secret” Document
On May 19, Mikayel Minasyan, Armenia’s former ambassador to Vatican City and a vocal critique of acting PM Nikol Pashinyan and his administration, published a document claiming that Pashinyan will sign a new agreement with the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although most of the document was redacted, Minasyan presented the four main points of the agreement in a Facebook post:
1. A commission will be set up that will be tasked to determine the rules for the new and final demarcation of the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
2. The demarcation process will be carried out based on three principles, including Soviet maps, expedient geographic considerations and the situation at the time. According to Minasyan, this will have very unfavorable consequences for Armenia, since Azerbaijan will be the one deciding which principle is applied.
3. The handover of five villages of Tavush region and one village of Ararat region was put on discussion by Pashinyan.
4. The document regulating the final demarcation works will be prepared and agreed on by June 30.
Leaked Video of Armenian Soldiers
On May 19, a video started circulating on social media, where Azerbaijani servicemen can be seen forcing Armenian soldiers to leave an area by dragging, hitting and cursing them. The Defense Ministry admitted that it had taken place two days earlier on May 17, “in the eastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border.”
May 20, 2021
Acting PM: 500-600 Azerbaijani Soldiers in Armenian Territory
During a cabinet meeting, Acting PM Pashinyan announced that the situation on the Armenia-Azerbaijani state border near Syunik and Gegharkunik regions, remains critical, and between 500 to 600 Azerbaijani servicemen still remain within the sovereign territory of Armenia. Pashinyan stressed that, politically, his two goals are the following: 1) to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control and escalate into a military confrontation, and 2) ensure that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces leave the territory of the Republic of Armenia. The PM also noted that the Foreign and Defense Ministries, as well as the Deputy PM, are working in order to achieve a diplomatic solution to the problem.
In his opening remarks, Pashinyan also confirmed that discussions are underway for signing a new agreement with Azerbaijan. However, the PM stressed that the discussed solutions are “100% in line with Armenia’s national interests.” Although Pashinyan did not disclose the details of the working document, he noted that, if Azerbaijan stays committed to the agreements that were reached, he is going to sign that document.
Speaking about the video circulating on social media, Pashinyan explained that it is only one part of a two-hour long video that was spread by Azerbaijani sources.
Ambassadors in Syunik
A group of 11 ambassadors of European countries and three representatives of the European Union serving in Armenia visited Syunik and were briefed about the situation around Black Lake by the commander of Armenian Armed Forces Samvel Minasyan. Ambassadors of Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the Netherlands and the EU were part of the group. Following the briefing, the ambassadors also visited only areas in close proximity to Black Lake, for security reasons.
While speaking with journalists, EU Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin said that they visited Syunik as a ”fact finding mission” in order to get acquainted with the situation on the ground. She stressed that the European Union believes that, in any situation, principles of territorial integrity need to be respected, and expressed hope that the conflict between the parties will eventually be solved.
Ombudsman: “Publish Document”
Armenia’s Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan issued a statement on May 20, noting that the government must publish the draft document on the demarcation of the borders, “which was partially published on the Internet yesterday and which was confirmed at today’s Government session. At a minimum, all provisions of the document which give understanding of what it is really about should be published.” Tatoyan said the demarcation process concerns the vital interests of every person living in Armenia. “Border demarcation itself is a guarantee of human rights, the wrong implementation of which can lead to new human rights violations and tension.” Tatoyan said publishing the documents is in the interests of the authorities and will prevent the “outflow of information of such exclusive importance from unofficial sources, and will not allow for an irreversible loss of public trust in state bodies.”
NGOs Call on the Government to Publish the Document
Nineteen NGOs published a statement regarding the border incursion and the Armenian government’s response and actions. Below is the translation of that statement:
During the Government session of May 20, 2021, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that trilateral negotiations are ongoing between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. He went on to say that several preliminary points of agreement have been reached, and that they “100% correspond to Armenia’s interests.”
Since the 2020 Artsakh War, and especially after November 9, Nikol Pashinyan and his My Step parliamentary faction have eroded the public confidence that was reflected in the results of the 2018 parliamentary election. The fact that early parliamentary elections have been called amidst political turmoil a mere 2.5 years into the term is evidence of that.
In the post-war period, details about the situation on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and the resolution of security issues have not been provided by the Armenian Government or other state bodies to the public. This situation breeds fertile ground for disinformation and the dissemination of fake news, leaving the public even more vulnerable and justifiably deepening a lack of confidence in state institutions and the ruling political party.
Under these circumstances, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan does not have the legitimacy to conduct negotiations with foreign entities without political consultations, a mere month before the early election. Under a caretaker government, while the National Assembly is formally dissolved, Pashinyan cannot make momentous decisions on behalf of the Republic of Armenia and unilaterally declare them to be in accord with Armenia’s interests, referring to them as an “announcement” and failing to follow the necessary legal processes for international agreements.
In light of these events, we find it necessary to remind Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan that, under Article 205 of the Armenian Constitution, alterations to the territory of the Republic of Armenia must be decided through a referendum. If territorial concessions or any other commitments are being extracted through coercion, we also point out that Articles 51 and 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which has been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, renders null and void any agreements obtained through coercion or threats against a state representative.
Therefore, we the undersigned demand that Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan immediately:
Make public the full contents of the draft document under negotiation.
What results have come out of raising the issue of Azerbaijan’s armed incursions into Armenia at the CSTO, and what steps are being taken by the latter.
What steps have been taken in general after the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, including taking the issue of freeing prisoners of war to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations and the United Nations Security Council.
What steps have been taken to date on diversifying political and strategic partners, and what responses were given to offers of political and strategic assistance by several countries to support Armenia’s interests.
What steps are being taken to first of all guarantee the security and rights of the residents of Armenia’s border regions, as well as the security of the Republic of Armenia and its citizens.
The secrecy surrounding foreign policy processes has often created challenges for the Republic of Armenia and its statehood. This vicious practice must be put to an end; henceforth, any Government or political party must not bypass the people and accept momentous and irreversible decisions based on narrow personal or group interests.
Regarding the delimitation and demarcation of borders, these can only be considered legal through the inclusion of United Nations and [HM1] OSCE representatives, in accordance with legal processes enshrined in international legal norms[HM2].
Ministry of Defense Reports Incident in Gegharkunik
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) issued a statement regarding an incident on the borders of the Gegharkunik region involving Azerbaijani soldiers who had crossed into Armenian territory. At approximately 3 p.m. local time, several dozen shots were heard, “presumably in the air, after which Armenian units fired warning shots.” According to the MOD statement, the commander of the Azerbaijani military contacted his Armenian counterpart, asking him to stop the fire, apologized and that the shooting was accidental. “The Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia warns that the repetition of such an incident will be considered as a deliberate attempt to instigate a confrontation, and will lead to the Armenian side reacting accordingly.”
Ministry of Defense: Avoid Travel to Gegharkunik and Syunik Border Regions
In another statement, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense said that in recent days, citizens, various officials and journalists have tried to enter the border areas of Syunik and Gegharkunik, where Azerbaijani forces have crossed into. “For security reasons, we strongly urge you to refrain from traveling to the above-mentioned areas, where the Armenian Armed Forces are on 24-hour combat duty,” the statement read. The MOD also reiterated that, in the absence of a peaceful solution to the situation, the Armenian Armed Forces “reserve the right to resolve the issue by any means, including force.” Noting that the presence of civilians can hinder military units in fulfilling their tasks, Armenia’s Police and the Military Defense Forces of the Ministry of Defense have been instructed to prevent the entry of civilians to these areas.
Armenian President Unaware of Document
In response to questions by the media, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian’s office stated that the President of the Republic has not been involved in the processes and discussions related to the alleged document and, as such, he is not informed about that document at all, especially about its details. The President of the Republic is convinced that such processes should be as public as possible, with the involvement of all stakeholders.
EU Resolution on POWs and Armenia’s Territorial Integrity
On May 20, the European Parliament passed a resolution regarding the POWs in the aftermath of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The resolution also made a reference to Azerbaijan’s incursion into the sovereign territory of Armenia and how it constitutes a violation of Armenia’s territorial integrity. The resolution read: “On 12 May 2021, troops from Azerbaijan temporarily entered the territory of Armenia, which amounts to a violation of the territorial integrity of Armenia and of international law; whereas this violation of Armenian sovereign territory follows worrying statements by Azerbaijani representatives, including the president, which appeared to raise territorial claims and threaten the use of force and thereby undermine the efforts towards security and stability in the region.”
Parliament Convenes Special Session
During a special session of the National Assembly called by the Bright Armenia Party, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that there is a document about setting up a tripartite commission for the delimitation and demarcation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. Pashinyan noted that the document has been in their possession for the past two days. There have been no negotiations regarding that document, Pashinyan said, adding that its leak with redactions has caused unnecessary controversy in the country. The document is still a working one and it would have harmed the process to publish it. He noted that, since Armenia and Azerbaijan have not demarcated their borders, there was a suggestion to form a three-party commission responsible for the process of demarcation. He noted that, in November 2020, an inter-ministry commission for demarcation was set up in Armenia led by the deputy Foreign Affairs Minister. He said there’s a chance that we might not even sign it, adding nothing will be signed until Azerbaijani forces pull out of Armenian territory. Speaking of demarcation, Pashinyan brought up the issue of the Armenian enclave of Artsvashen in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani enclaves in Armenia that have by default been considered part of Armenia since the First Karabakh War, insinuating that these might come up in the delimitation and demarcation process.
Regarding the video, Pashinyan said that there was mass fighting among Armenian and Azerbaijani troops along the border in Gegharkunik, but only several minutes were cut (showing Armenian soldiers being cursed at and pushed around by Azerbaijani soldiers) from a much longer video, and disseminated by Azerbaijan.