On July 12, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Azerbaijani soldiers attempted to cross the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border in a UAZ military jeep in the eastern Tavush region, according to Shushan Stepanyan, the spokesperson of the Armenian Ministry of Defense. After warning shots by Armenian forces, the Azerbaijani soldiers abandoned their vehicle and returned to their positions. At 1:45 p.m., Azerbaijani soldiers attempted to attack the border post of the Armenian Armed Forces using artillery fire but were stopped by the Armenian side and forced to retreat, suffering casualties. According to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, three soldiers were killed and another several wounded. The Armenian side did not suffer any casualties. Later, it was confirmed that a fourth Azerbaijani soldier had also died.
At approximately 11 p.m., Shushan Stepanyan wrote in a Facebook post that the Azerbaijani side had resumed shelling, using 82 mm mortar and tank fire near the same military post. The post said that Azerbaijan’s leadership will bear responsibility for the consequences of the escalation of the situation.
At 11:45 p.m., Vahram Poghosyan, head of the Artsakh presidential administration’s information bureau, wrote on Facebook that the situation along the Artsakh-Azerbaijan Line of Contact remains calm and that the Artsakh Defense Army is confidently carrying out its duties, despite the clash in Armenia’s Tavush region.
12:50 a.m.: In a Facebook post, Armenia’s Human Rights Defender/Government Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan wrote that his office has received calls from the residents of the village of Movses and several others in Armenia’s Tavush region where fire by Azerbaijani armed forces could be heard on July 12 at approximately 11:00 p.m. The Ombudsman's office had received similar calls during the day as well.
According to residents of the village of Movses, shelling by the Azerbaijani side was in close proximity to their village and in such intensity that they felt an imminent threat to their health, life and property.
Immediately after receiving these calls, Tatoyan passed on the official statement of Armenia’s Ministry of Defense that the Azerbaijani side is shelling the positions of the Armenian Armed Forces. In addition, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense confirmed that the shelling is being carried out in the immediate vicinity of peaceful settlements in the Tavush region and that there is a real danger to those settlements. Tatoyan said that his office is maintaining direct communication with the residents of the affected border villages and their municipal representatives.
The Ombudsman also wrote that, being an independent human rights institution guided exclusively by human rights principles, his office strongly condemns the shelling that is being carried out in the immediate vicinity of civilian settlements of Armenia and the danger it poses to their inhabitants. He also wrote, “This situation is most reprehensible in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Tatoyan noted that he is informing international human rights organizations of these facts and has initiated targeted monitoring, the results of which will be summarized and sent to international counterparts.
At approximately 1:15 a.m., Armenian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan provided a Facebook update: “Periodic shelling with varying intensity continues. The Armenian side does not have any casualties or wounded. All attempts by the adversary are being targeted and eliminated.”
Shortly thereafter, Stepanyan continued: “The Armenian Armed Forces are not opening fire toward Azerbaijani settlements. Only military infrastructure and technical capabilities of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are being targeted.”
Anna Naghdalyan, the spokesperson for Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued the following statement at 1:40 a.m.: “We condemn in the strongest terms the ceasefire violations by the Azerbaijani armed forces in the direction of the Tavush region of the Republic of Armenia starting in the afternoon of July 12, accompanied by attempts to infiltrate into Armenian positions with the use of artillery. As a result of proportionate actions by Armenia, these provocative actions have been effectively suppressed.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, in coordination with the Prime Minister of Armenia and the Minister of Defense, are in constant contact with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, presenting the situation on the ground and the consequences of further escalation.
“Recently, the Azerbaijani side, in contradiction to the calls of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to strengthen the ceasefire by refraining from provocative actions and warmongering rhetoric, constantly resorts to threats of the use of force and military escalation. The political-military leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the consequences of the provocative action undertaken amid these threats.”
At 2:25 a.m., Stepanyan wrote that Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan is in constant contact with Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office: “During the last conversation, the Minister of Defense informed that the personnel and command of the Armenian Army are instructed to maintain restrained for the time being, and in case of provocations of the enemy on the borders of the Republic of Armenia, react as necessary, up to the capture of new advantageous positions.”
After a few hours of relative calm on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, the Defense Ministry spokesperson wrote at 8:20 a.m. that Azerbaijan forces had resumed shelling in the direction of Armenian positions. “The Armenian armed forces gave an adequate response,” Stepanyan wrote and added that it is “not ruled out” that Azerbaijani forces had suffered additional losses.
Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan Has Phone Conversation with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister
Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan held a telephone conversation with the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Stanislav Zas. Mnatsakanyan provided detailed information on the ceasefire violations by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in the Tavush region starting July 12, the resumption of those operations in the morning of July 13, as well as the consequences of further aggravation of the situation.
Mnatsakanyan “underscored the unacceptability of such actions towards [a] CSTO member state,” adding that there is an open line of communication with the Secretary General and work within the CSTO continues.
Later, Mnatsakanyan held a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The two discussed the escalation of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border and how to de-escalate the situation: “The Ministers also touched upon issues related to regional security and stability. The Foreign Minister of Armenia considered utterly unacceptable the blatant violation of the ceasefire by Azerbaijan, which was accompanied by the attempts to infiltrate into the military position of the Armenian Armed Forces on the territory of the Republic of Armenia.”
At 10:55 a.m., the Armenian Ministry of Defense reported that two police officers on duty at the Tavush border sustained minor injuries from Azerbaijani fire.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Statement During Government Session
During the government session on July 13 at 11:00 a.m., Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan strongly condemned the provocative actions of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces that started on July 12 on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, attacking Armenian military posts near the village of Movses in the Tavush region. After several hours of calm, sporadic fighting resumed in the morning hours of July 13. Pashinyan said that Azerbaijan’s military and political leadership will carry sole responsibility for the unforeseeable repercussions of regional destabilization as a result of its actions.
In the same vein, Pashinyan said that Turkey's tactics of provoking regional destabilization is extremely worrisome, adding that this was best reflected in the official announcement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The announcement [see full text below] declared unconditional support to Azerbaijan in its military actions which Pashinyan said is consistent with Turkey’s consistently anti-Armenian sentiments.
According to Pashinyan, this military incident was not created in a vacuum. Azerbaijan has consistently tried to use the anti-Armenian card to serve its own interests. It is possible that we are dealing with an attempt by Azerbaijan to shift attention away from domestic challenges by escalating the situation at the border, said Pashinyan.
According to the Prime Minister, this attempt is being orchestrated with a blatant disregard for human lives, namely Azerbaijani lives, or else the military leadership of Azerbaijan would not send its own soldiers to carry out operations doomed for failure. The fact that Azerbaijan never joined the call by the UN Secretary-General for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic is evidence of this, said Pashinyan. The more the pandemic spreads in Azerbaijan, with its increasing social and economic pressure within the country, the more acute anti-Armenian and pro-war rhetoric by Azerbaijan’s military-political leadership becomes. Instead of calling on its citizens to follow COVID-19 safety rules, the leadership of Azerbaijan was making calls for military action, as if stirring up hatred against Armenians is the best way to save lives, the Prime Minister noted.
“I assure you that no provocative action will be left unanswered; I also call on all our compatriots to show their unconditional support for Armenia's Armed Forces, its soldiers and commanders, who at this very moment are standing firmly at their posts to protect the country,” Pashinyan said, calling on Armenia’s population not to fall prey to disinformation.
Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan Speaks During Government Session
Davit Tonoyan, Armenia’s Minister of Defense, reported on the developments. He said that, at about 12:30 p.m. on July 12, a UAZ vehicle approached the Armenian military post from the Azerbaijani side. The car stopped and soldiers started moving toward the Armenian posts. Tonoyan said that, taking into consideration that the Azerbaijani soldiers might have been confused and crossed the line accidentally, Armenian soldiers were initially instructed to send them a warning message to retreat. The Azerbaijani soldiers returned to their posts leaving the vehicle behind. After their return, the Azerbaijani side started shelling Armenian posts and movement of military personnel toward the same posts was observed. The Armenian side retaliated with return shelling. According to Tonoyan, the Azerbaijani side sustained losses and retreated. The artillery fire continued with pauses of 20-25 minutes throughout July 13, with relative calm in the morning hours between 3:30 to 5:30 a.m.
Tonoyan said all Azerbaijani fire was answered with targeted shelling and sniper fire, which resulted in considerable losses for Azerbaijan. The Minister said that Armenia’s Armed Forces continue to safeguard Armenia’s state border and that the situation is under control.
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Sends Interim Report to UN Human Rights Council
At 1:00 p.m., the Ombudsman’s office of Armenia said they have sent the first interim report to the UN Human Rights Council and international organizations regarding the July 12-13 shelling of the Tavush region on Armenia's state border by Azerbaijani Armed Forces.
The Ombudsman's office said that the interim report was based on data collected by their office and put together overnight, adding that submitting a similar report to the UN Human Rights Council was only possible because Armenia’s Ombudsman's office has been accredited with the highest “A” status. [The A-status grants the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) the right to participate in the work and decision-making of international institutions, including the UN Human Rights Council, to take the floor under any agenda item during the sessions, etc. The Armenian Government Ombudsman has been granted an “A” status since 2006, which is reviewed every 5 years.]
The Ombudsman's office communique said that they will continue to be in direct contact with the residents of Movses village and a number of other villages in the Tavush region, their municipal representatives and the Ministry of Defense.
The Ombudsman’s office said reports from this morning confirmed that Movses and other peaceful settlements in the region continuously came under Azerbaijani shelling, subjecting the life, health and property of these civilian communities to danger.
Russian Foreign Ministry Statement
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing serious concern about the escalation of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on July 12. The statement said that the escalation of the situation threatens the security of the region and is unacceptable. The statement noted that, according to the incoming information, hostilities continue, artillery is being used and casualties have been reported. The Ministry urged parties to the conflict to show restraint and adhere strictly to the ceasefire regime. The Ministry also expressed readiness to provide the necessary assistance to stabilize the situation.
At 3:30 p.m., Shushan Stepanyan wrote: “The Azerbaijani side regularly intensifies the situation on the border. At this moment the shelling and the frequency of use [of] UAV strikes have decreased. The [Armenian] Armed Forces are fully controlling the situation. The Armenian side has no losses.”
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Statement
Although Stanislav Zas, the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) had called an emergency meeting of the CSTO Permanent Council for July 13 to discuss developments on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, the press service of the organization later said it had been postponed. The CSTO press service cited "the need for additional consultations with the CSTO member states" as the reason for the postponement.
Chinar Village Comes Under Fire
At 4:30 p.m., Shushan Stepanyan wrote, “The Azerbaijani armed forces fired seven times from 82 mm mortars in the direction of Chinari village [also in Tavush region, southeast of Movses]. There are no injured, only the roof of one of the houses was damaged.” She later updated the status to add that the Azerbaijani armed forces had again fired on Chinari using 120 mm caliber mortars, one of which fell on a home and two in a garden. Again, there were no casualties.
Speaker of Parliament Sends Letters to European Bodies
Speaker of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan wrote on his Facebook Page: “I have sent letters to President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Rik Daems and President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE George Tsereteli regarding the provocative hostilities undertaken by Azerbaijan in the northeastern border of the Republic of Armenia.
“I have noted that these actions are a continuation of Azerbaijan's unacceptable belligerent rhetoric and seriously violate the basic principles of international law, as well as directly contradict the calls of the UN Secretary-General to refrain from hostilities during the pandemic in all corners of the world.”
Armenian Forces Shoot Down Several Azerbaijani Drones
Armenia’s Armed Forces have shot down several Azerbaijani drones during the border skirmishes. Andranik Kocharyan, Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense and Security said, “As of this moment, we have downed not one but several unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), one of them a kamikaze drone.”
Turkish Foreign Ministry Statement
Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement regarding the situation on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border:
“We strongly condemn the attack of the Armenian armed forces on Tovuz region of Azerbaijan. We convey our condolences to the friendly and brotherly Azerbaijani people and Government for the Azerbaijani martyrs who lost their lives, and wish speedy recovery to the wounded.
“The fact that this attack, which is yet another manifestation of Armenia's aggressive nationalism, has been repelled by Azerbaijan, is a concrete indication that aggression will not be left unanswered.
“These attempts, which Armenia has made to distract the attention of the international community from its continued illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territory Nagorno Karabakh and its surrounding regions for many years and to add new dimensions to the conflict for blocking the political settlement, are bound to fail.
“The Armenian side should give up on such dangerous tactics and choose the path of reason and law. Embarking on adventurism for aspirations beyond its own capacity reveals Armenia’s failure of judgement and constitutes the biggest obstacle to peace and stability in our region.
“We hope that Armenia’s effort to cover up its own aggression will not be accepted by the international community in any way.
“Turkey will continue, with all its capacity, to stand by Azerbaijan in its struggle to protect its territorial integrity.”
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry Responds to the Statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry
In a statement, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry noted:
“On July 12, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey issued a statement, in which the Turkish side not only expressed its unconditional support to Azerbaijan, in fact justifying the use of force by Azerbaijan on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, but also disseminated utterly false and misleading information.
“This provocative attitude by Turkey and its groundless accusations against Armenia attest to the fact that this country has not been acting as a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, but as a party, involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This fact makes it even more impossible for Turkey to play any role in the issues related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, within international, and particularly the OSCE framework.
“Turkey's attempts to intervene in the conflicts in its neighboring regions has already undermined the security and stability thereon.
“We strongly condemn Turkey's attempts to instigate instability in our region, and affirm that Armenia will continue to consistently work towards maintaining and strengthening the international and regional security, while closely cooperating with international partners to this end.”
Press Statement by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group
The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, Stéphane Visconti of France and Andrew Schofer of the United States of America) released the following statement regarding the hostilities:
“According to reports from the Ministries of Defence of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as other sources, on 12-13 July there was a serious breach of the ceasefire on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, resulting in casualties. Artillery of various calibers reportedly was used by both forces.
“The Co-Chairs and Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-office (PRCIO) Andrzej Kasprzyk regret the loss of life and offer their condolences to the families of those who were killed and injured. The Co-Chairs and PRCIO have been in direct contact with Armenian and Azerbaijani officials since the beginning of the incident.
“The sides have accused each other of initiating the fighting. The Minsk Group Co‑Chairs condemn the recent ceasefire violations and call upon the sides to take all necessary measures to prevent any further escalation, including by use of the existing direct communication channels between them.
“The Minsk Group Co-Chairs also call on the sides to resume substantive negotiations as soon as possible and emphasize the importance of returning OSCE monitors to the region as soon as circumstances allow.”
Azerbaijan’s Weakening Commitment to the Minsk Group Format
For context, last week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had expressed his dissatisfaction with the OSCE’s Minsk Group format for peace negotiations, calling video conferences between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders “of no significance/meaningless.” He is particularly opposed to the return of representatives of the Republic of Artsakh as a direct party at the negotiating table, which Armenia’s Pashinyan administration has been pushing for. When he was President of Armenia in the early 2000s, Robert Kocharyan had agreed to exclude them as a distinct party from the international mediation process.
Aliyev opined that the Minsk Group process was at a standstill and only “allegedly active.” However, his administration had been blocking progress such as the Royce-Engel peace plan, promoted by the U.S. after the 2016 Four Day April War, which recommends installing gunfire locators to objectively determine the instigator of ceasefire violations. Former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan and energy policy expert Richard Kauzlarich described the tirade as a “very ominous statement” that “hints at [a] military option.” Eurasianet reporter Joshua Kucera wrote that the last time Aliyev directly criticized the Minsk Group was immediately before the 2016 Four Day April War.
Virtually all statements by Western governments regarding the conflict stress that “there can be no military solution.” To date, however, they have failed to pointedly denounce rhetoric that contradicts that principle, which the Armenian side argues allows Aliyev to assume that he will be permitted to act with impunity.
For even deeper context into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, read EVN Report’s Spotlight Karabakh report.