On May 12, 2021, Azerbaijani Armed Forces 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. On the following day, May 13, Armenia’s Defense Ministry reported that Azerbaijani forces tried to advance their military positions into Armenian territory near Vardenis (Gegharkunik region) and Sisian (Syunik region). On May 14, Armenia’s Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan officially applied to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) 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.
Since then, tensions have remained high as the Azerbaijani military continues to remain on Armenian territory and as the CSTO appears to be dragging its feet. There have been reports of skirmishes leaving several Armenian soldiers wounded. As a result of a shootout on May 25, an Armenian junior sergeant was killed by Azerbaijani gunfire in Upper Shorzha in the Gegharkunik region. According to Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Edvard Asryan, there are approximately 1000 Azerbaijani soldiers on Armenian territory.
Today, tensions escalated dangerously yet again after the capture of six Armenian servicemen.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry Confirms Six Soldiers Captured by Azerbaijan
Armenia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement that six Armenian servicemen were surrounded and captured by Azerbaijani forces in the border area of Gegharkunik region in the early morning hours of May 27. According to the Ministry, the soldiers were carrying out engineering work. The statement went on to say that necessary measures are being taken to return the captured soldiers. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry had claimed earlier that the Armenian servicemen had crossed into Azerbaijan on a special mission, which Armenia’s Ministry denied, stating that the captured servicemen were in Armenian territory.
During the Government session, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan clarified the circumstances under which six Armenian servicemen were surrounded and captured by Azerbaijani forces earlier in the day. Pashinyan said the soldiers were installing landmines on the territory of the Republic of Armenia. According to Pashinyan, the presence of the soldiers in the area could not have been perceived in any way as an incursion attempt; warning signs that the area is being mined were already installed. The details of the capture will be clarified, said Pashinyan, adding that this incident is a case of kidnapping servicemen from the territories of sovereign Armenia and not a capture. The acting PM said similar work on the fortification of Armenia’s borders is underway. Pashinyan also noted that the recent incidents can in no way be justified as “typical occurrences” as Azerbaijan has tried to frame them, but a clear threat to Armenia’s territorial integrity and a gross violation of international law. Armenia will use all its levers, including international ones, to rectify and regulate the situation.
Acting PM Nikol Pashinyan Goes to Gegharkunik
Later during the day, Pashinyan was in the village of Kut in the Gegharkunik region, where he met with the locals to discuss the steps moving forward. The PM stressed that it is imperative for the people to stay united, despite their differences. Although the situation is tense and emotional, Pashinyan noted that people need to stay clear-headed. Otherwise, they will not be able to correctly assess the situation and make the right decisions. Pashinyan’s next message was to not fall victim to the ongoing information war. He assured the people that the government is not engaged in shady dark deals and conspiracies.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry Holds Press Briefing
During a press conference, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Edvard Asryan said that, during the early hours of May 27, the Armenian Armed Forces initiated a tactical operation (to place landmines in a territory between two Azerbaijani positions – both in Armenian territory – in the Gegharkunik region) in an attempt to stop any future attempts by Azerbaijan to try and unify their positions. Asryan said Azerbaijan, through aerial intelligence, discovered the positions of Armenian troops and surrounded them, capturing six Armenian servicemen. Asryan said it has been the decision of Armenia’s military political leadership to resolve similar situations without the use of arms.
In this particular situation, according to Asryan, the adversary approached the four Armenian soldiers on the field at that given moment with pointed guns. Two other Armenian servicemen who were a part of the supervisory group also approached them in an attempt to negotiate.
Asryan said negotiations to return the captives were initiated immediately through the Russian peacekeeping force in Artsakh. Both Armenian and Azerbaijani sides have presented their preconditions for an agreement to be reached for both sides to retreat to their initial positions; however, the Armenian side also insisted on the immediate return of the captured soldiers. Asryan said the military-political leadership will first try to resolve the situation through negotiations, although the Armed Forces, keeping the adversary in the given position in a three sided blockade, stands ready to implement any military task put before them.
Answering questions, Asryan said he believes that, in his own estimation, there are overall around 1,000 Azerbaijani troops on Armenian territories right now, who in their respective positions are outnumbered by Armenian Forces proportionally three to one and are technically unable to carry out any serious military operations on Armenian territory. Asryan said it is not the decision of the political leadership to choose not to employ weaponry, in case of any signs of a military operation by the adversary, the Armenian Armed Forces can choose to use force.
Statement by Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Following the capture of the six Armenian servicemen, Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued the following statement:
The Azerbaijani military units, which have infiltrated the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia since May 12, continue their provocative actions in a number of directions. As a result of one of them, in the early morning of May 27, in the bordering area of Gegharkunik region of the Republic of Armenia, while carrying out engineering works in the guarding sector of N military unit of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia, six servicemen have been surrounded and captured by the servicemen of armed forces of Azerbaijan.
These provocative actions by the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan are aimed at further aggravating the situation, which could seriously undermine regional peace and stability.
We strongly condemn the use of force by the Azerbaijani side against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Armenia, and emphasize that the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan bears the responsibility for all the actions of the Azerbaijani armed forces and its consequences.
The captured Armenian servicemen must be returned immediately and unconditionally.
Armenia Applies to the European Court
Armenia applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in order to ensure respect for the fundamental human rights of six Armenian POWs. The Office of Armenia’s Representative before the ECtHR requested the Court to apply an interim measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court against Azerbaijan. The goal of the request is to ensure respect of the captives’ rights to life and prohibition of torture, as is envisaged by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Emergency Meeting of the Security Council
Armenia’s Security Council held an emergency meeting where Acting Prime Minister Pashinyan presented the situation after returning from the border village of Kut in Gegharkunik. He said that, following the incursion of Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces into Armenian territory, the situation is tense and the dynamic of the past 15 days suggests that, if not contained, the situation can spiral out of control and lead to full-scale clashes. He said the military units of the two armies are no longer standing face-to-face but are now intermixed.
Pashinyan said that as the situation has reached such a critical stage that he is appealing to the international community and the Azerbaijani government with a solution: the military units of the two armies retreat from the border and move to their original positions, allowing the deployment of international observers from the Co-Chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France and the United States. The Acting PM said that the presence of observers is necessary to ensure each side complies with the agreement and does not amass troops on the border. Once the troops have been pulled back, and with a monitoring mission in place, the process of ascertaining border points can be implemented, Pashinyan said, adding that, if this is Azerbaijan’s goal, then Baku should have no reason to reject this proposal.
Armenia’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Ara Ayvazyan Resigns
In a Facebook post, Anna Naghdalyan, the spokesperson of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said that Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Ara Ayvazyan had tendered his resignation. No additional information was provided.
U.S. State Department on Detention of Armenian Soldiers
Ned Price, U.S. State Department spokesperson, issued the following statement:
The United States is concerned by recent developments along the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the detention of several Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani forces. We call on both sides to urgently and peacefully resolve this incident. We also continue to call on Azerbaijan to release immediately all prisoners of war and other detainees, and we remind Azerbaijan of its obligations under international humanitarian law to treat all detainees humanely.
The United States considers any movements along the non-demarcated areas of the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan to be provocative and unnecessary. We reject the use of force to demarcate the border and call on both sides to return to their previous positions and to cease military fortification of the non-demarcated border and the emplacement of landmines. Specifically, we call on Azerbaijan to relocate its forces to the positions they held on May 11. We also call on Armenia to relocate its forces to the positions they held on May 11, and welcome statements of intent to this effect. These actions will de-escalate tensions and create space for a peaceful negotiation process to demarcate the border on an urgent basis. The United States is prepared to assist these efforts.
The United States urges the sides to return as soon as possible to substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to achieve a long-term political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Acting PM Pashinyan in Parliament
During this week’s Question and Answer session at the National Assembly, Acting PM Pashinyan was asked by Edmon Marukyan, the leader of Bright Armenia Caucus, about the response of the CSTO regarding the situation on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. Although Pashinyan noted that the Armenian side is not satisfied with the speed at which the CSTO is moving forward with regard to its response, he stressed that his administration will continue working with their partners to further clarify the situation. He went on to say that Armenia’s partners should be clearly informed about Azerbaijan’s intentions, which is to provoke a military confrontation, and advance their position. He explicitly stressed that the CSTO still hasn’t expressed its position.
The PM also noted that the Armenian side has not ruled out the possibility of applying to the UN Security Council and will go in that direction if it turns out the tools provided by the CSTO are not sufficient to resolve the situation.
CSTO spokesperson Vladimir Zaynetdinov was quick to respond. In an interview with RIA Novosti, he said that the organization took Pashinyan’s comments into account, while the work that is being carried out for consultations continues. He also reminded that, on May 25, the CSTO Deputy Secretary General Valery Semerikov said that the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border requires urgent measures of a political-diplomatic nature, as well as demarcation and delimitation of the state border.
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