The conflict could escalate even further but the silver lining is that maybe there will be a resolution to the stalemate.
The ceasefire in the South Caucasus broke down on 27 September with a heavy exchange of fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh front. The Azerbaijani army responded immediately to the Armenian provocation and launched a counter-offensive.
Already back in July, Armenia started a dangerous game by targeting areas of Azerbaijani territory that were never contended before. The Armenian forces shelled the Azerbaijani border district of Tovuz, which is notable for not being in Nagorno-Karabakh. Instead, it is located close to the energy streamlines.
Some experts claimed that this move was designed to provoke Azerbaijan to retaliate and attack targets within Armenia so that Yerevan could get the support of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) led by Russia. In any case, the brief confrontation in Tovuz rang alarm bells in Baku as it signalled Yerevan’s intentions for escalation and a direct threat to regional security.
Turkey’s support for Baku was immediate after the Armenian attack on Tovuz. The joint military exercises of Turkey and Azerbaijan in late July and early August tested the capabilities of both land and air forces. In parallel, the Armenian forces conducted a joint exercise with the Russian army.
In the meantime, Yerevan escalated its propaganda war, claiming that Azerbaijan wants a war because of its military drills with Turkey. Of course, Yerevan’s propagandists failed to mention that these exercises were in response to a long list of Armenian provocations.
The situation is further complicated due to Russian involvement. While several reports indicate that the South Caucasus has become a new flashpoint for Russian-Turkish confrontation after Syria and Libya, several historical and geostrategic factors add layers of complexity to this picture.
It is no secret that despite the economic interests of the Western powers in the region, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is taking place within the Russian zone of influence. Therefore, Turkey stands as the only notable ally of Azerbaijan withinNATO, whereas Russia is doubling up its assistance to Armenia economically and militarily.
Russian military aid to Armenia has been making its way for decades. The Russian military base in Gyumri is effectively protecting Armenian borders while Russia sells weapons to Yerevan on more favourable terms than to Baku, because of the CSTO agreements.
After the July clashes, President Aliyev criticised cargo delivered to Armenia by Russia which was allegedly carrying arms – which Moscow denied. However, the deliveries have continued during the current clashes. As Georgia does not let Russia use its airspace to send heavy cargo aircraft to Armenia, Russian planes are once again taking the route via the Caspian Sea and Iran.
However, instead of focusing on their country’s responsibilities in perpetuating the conflict, Armenia’s propagandists like to dwell parallels with the Syrian conflict to tap into the reservoir of anti-Turkey bias. For instance, the fabricated claim that Syrian rebels flew to Karabakh to fight next to the Azerbaijani army is a textbook example of ‘fake news.’ It is unfortunate that even respectable Western media organisations, such as Reuters, conveyed the information without corroboration. It pushed this narrative without sources, adding the shallowly phrased disclosure that the story was ‘not independently verified’.
Many examples of such unprofessional journalism can be outlined, but suffice to say that this is part of an international smear campaign against Turkey, which wants to spread a false narrative that Ankara is allegedly fighting an international proxy war with ‘pro-Jihadist’ sentiment. This false narrative was quickly rebuffed by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who stated that his nation of 10 million does not need ‘imported warriors’ to fight against a country populated by 2 million.
Iran is another protagonist to the conflict. However, Tehran continues its support to Yerevan while denying direct involvement and calling both sides to the peace table. Nevertheless, social media users once again noted the Russian military trucks are using newly built bridges to cross towards the occupied Karabakh from Iran. This development shows that there is duplicity in Tehran’s declared positions.
Even with such regional interference, the Azerbaijani army is continuing its operations in Karabakh with popular support.Almost three decades of fruitless diplomatic negotiations created a climate of despair in Azerbaijan. In the aftermath of the July clashes, Baku witnessed huge pro-war rallies calling for the military liberation of occupied territories.
These are still early days, but international opinion on the recent clashes remain divided. Apart from Greece and GreekCyprus, not a single country openly supported Yerevan, as Azerbaijan’s position is backed by international law. Countries like Ukraine, Pakistan and Turkey openly stated their support to Azerbaijan’s operations in Karabakh. Nevertheless, Armenia’s lobbies are desperately looking for international support.
The US is busy with its presidential elections and is not focused on the region. On the other hand, the United Nations Security Council called for the Karabakh clashes to end ‘immediately,’ which is ironic since the Council still could not implement its four historic resolutions calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied zone.
The main question lies in how determined the Azerbaijani government is to continue its military operations. Despite international calls for a ceasefire, President Ilham Aliyev stated that negotiations with the current position of Armenia are impossible.
As the Azerbaijani army liberated seven villages and continue its advancement towards Fuzuli and Jabrayil, the possibility of a military resolution of the whole conflict seems like a genuine possibility. The capture of Murovdag mountain range allows the planning of strategic operations toward the capital of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. This newly retrieved position also cuts off the highway that connects the separatists to the Republic of Armenia. This push could also open the way toward historic cities of Khankendi and Shusha, which have sentimental value for theAzerbaijani people.
In the meantime, popular support for Azerbaijan’s war effort continues unabated. Thousands of volunteers lined up for conscription and blood donation in the capital Baku and other provinces. The people want to see the resolution of this issue in their lifetime and not to leave the burden to the next generations even it could cost hundreds of lives.
The long-awaited return of thousands of Azerbaijani IDPs could be the next step after the success of the military operations.
Therefore, regardless of Armenian provocations, international manoeuvring, and the propaganda war, the Azerbaijani government must continue its action in a determined spirit to end this conflict once and for all, then proceed to the next phase, which consists of peace talks and reconciliation.