Armenia and Azerbaijan were on the brink of war on Sunday, September 27, as deadly clashes erupted between Azerbaijani forces and the Yerevan-backed separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region. The belligerents have reported military and civilian casualties. According to the Armenian side, a woman and a child were killed. Azerbaijan claims to have conquered half a dozen villages under Armenian control.
A major conflict involving Azerbaijan and Armenia could lead to the intervention of competing powers in the Caucasus region, Russia and Turkey. The conflict around Nagorny-Karabakh, populated mainly by Armenians and which seceded from Azerbaijan with Armenian support, has fueled regional tensions for thirty years.
After the announcement of the first fighting on Sunday morning, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian decreed “General mobilization” and the establishment of “Martial law”, just like the Karabakh authorities. “Let us firmly support our State, our army (…) and we will win. Long live the glorious Armenian army! “, he wrote on Facebook.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense for its part announced that it had launched a “Counter-offensive across the front line” of Karabakh, in order to “Put an end to military activities of the Armed Forces of Armenia”. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev also pledged victory. “The Azerbaijani army is fighting today on its territory, defends its territorial integrity, delivers devastating blows to the enemy. Our cause is just and we will win ”, he said in a speech on television.
If victims have been announced by both parties, no quantified assessment has been put forward. The Karabakh Defense Ministry announced that the region’s army destroyed four Azerbaijani helicopters, fifteen drones and ten tanks in the clashes that escalated Sunday morning. Azerbaijan had previously reported that one of its helicopters had been shot down but that its crew was unharmed. He claims to have destroyed twelve anti-aircraft batteries.
Moscow, Paris and the EU call for “an immediate ceasefire”
Moscow called on Sunday morning “To an immediate cease-fire” and talks, as the two sides shy away from responsibility for hostilities. The Kremlin, which positions itself as a regional arbiter, delivers arms to both countries.
France, mediator of the conflict with Russia and the United States within the framework of the Minsk Group, also called for “Immediately cease hostilities”. In a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France said “Deeply concerned by the large-scale clashes underway in Nagorno-Karabakh”, calling on the belligerents to “Resume dialogue”. Paris, “With its Russian and American partners, reiterates its commitment to reach a negotiated and lasting settlement of the conflict” in this region, “In accordance with international law”.
The President of the European Council, institution representing EU member states, Charles Michel, called for the cessation of hostilities and “Immediate return to negotiations”. “The information concerning the hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh is the source of the most serious concerns”, said Charles Michel on Twitter. “The military action must stop, urgently, to prevent any escalation (of the violence). An immediate return to negotiations, without preconditions, is the only possible way ”.
A spokesperson for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a traditional ally of Baku, denounced on Twitter a “Attack on Armenia”. Turkish defense minister said on Sunday that Ankara will support Azerbaijan “With all his means” and called on Armenia to “Stop aggression”.
Deadlocked peace talks
The Nagorno-Karabakh region was the scene of a war in the early 1990s that left 30,000 dead, and since then the Azerbaijani authorities want to regain control, by force if necessary. Peace talks have been deadlocked for many years.
Fights regularly oppose separatists and Azerbaijanis, but also Yerevan and Baku. In 2016, serious clashes had already almost degenerated into war in Karabakh, and deadly fighting also pitted Armenians and Azerbaijanis on their northern border in July 2020.
Both sides are used to blaming each other for these outbreaks of violence. President Aliyev threatened Armenia with reprisals on Friday because of his ” aggressive behaviour “, and accused Yerevan of “To deliberately fail negotiations” of peace on Karabakh. He felt that Armenia was preparing “Tens of thousands of men” to attack Azerbaijan.
Baku took advantage of its immense oil reserves to spend lavishly on armaments. Azerbaijan can also count on the support of the Turkish president, who sees Armenia as a threat to the stability of the Caucasus.
On the other hand, Armenia, much poorer, is closer to Russia, which has a military base there. Yerevan also belongs to a politico-military alliance led by Moscow, the Collective Security Treaty Organization.