What's In Blue

Posted Wed 14 Sep 2022

Armenia-Azerbaijan Border Clashes: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

This morning (14 September), following the meeting on Syria, Security Council members will hold a meeting under “any other business” to discuss the clashes that erupted along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on the night between 12 and 13 September. According to media reports, 49 Armenian soldiers and 50 Azerbaijani troops were killed in the fighting, marking the worst outbreak of hostilities between the two countries since 2020.

France requested the meeting, citing a 13 September letter to the Security Council by Armenia that called for the convening of an emergency Council meeting on the matter. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and Americas Miroslav Jenča is the expected briefer.

Background

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a dispute over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has an ethnic Armenian majority and is backed by Armenia. It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh’s effort to secede in 1988 was the catalyst for the war that ended with a ceasefire in 1994. During that war, over one million civilians were displaced and some 30,000 were killed. After the fighting ended in 1994, Armenian forces wholly or partially asserted control over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts.

In the wake of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the early 1990s, the Council was heavily engaged on this issue. In 1993, it adopted four resolutions that called on the sides to halt hostilities and establish a ceasefire. The resolutions also called on both sides to resume negotiations within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia and the US. After the 1994 ceasefire, the OSCE took a prominent role in diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.

Between 1994 and 2020, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was characterised as a “frozen conflict”, with sporadic violent incidents taking place in the area. During that time, the Council had only discussed this issue in the context of its annual briefings by the OSCE Chairperson-in-office and meetings on the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA).

In September 2020, a full-fledged war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory. The fighting, which lasted six weeks, resulted in the deaths of more than 7,000 troops and about 170 civilians. The war ended through a Russia-brokered peace deal, which saw the withdrawal of Armenian forces from substantial parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven adjacent districts—areas which Azerbaijan now controls. Under the terms of the agreement, Russia deployed about 2,000 peacekeeping troops to Nagorno-Karabakh, which remain there to this day.

During the 2020 round of hostilities, Council members met twice to discuss the developments: in closed consultations on 19 October 2020 and under “any other business” on 11 November 2020. (For more information, see our 19 October 2020 What’s in Blue story.) It seems that ahead of the 19 October meeting and for several days thereafter, Council members had negotiated a draft presidential statement on Nagorno-Karabakh which was proposed by France, Russia and the US. However, diverging views on the language in the draft text prevented agreement and the presidential statement was not adopted.

Today’s Meeting

Today’s meeting was called by France to discuss the outbreak of violence on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on the night between 12 and 13 September. The fighting represented the worst outbreak of violence between the countries since 2020. While Armenia and Azerbaijan had clashed in the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh in the past, the recent hostilities were unusual as they took place along the internationally recognised border between the two countries. Yesterday morning (13 September), Russia announced that it had brokered a ceasefire between the sides. At the time of writing, it was unclear whether the ceasefire has been observed fully, but there had been no reports of the resumption of large-scale fighting.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have blamed each other for instigating the clashes. The sides conveyed their respective positions in letters sent to the Security Council on 13 September. In its letter (S/2022/690), Azerbaijan alleged that on 12 September, Armenian forces fired at Azerbaijani army positions in the Dashkasan, Kalbajar and Lachin districts, which are adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh and controlled by Azerbaijan. It also accused Armenia of carrying out military movements over the past month, including the planting of landmines along the border. These actions, claimed Baku, indicated that Armenia “was preparing for a large-scale military provocation”.

In its letter (S/2022/688), Armenia blamed Azerbaijan for launching an unprovoked attack by shelling military positions and civilian infrastructure in several Armenian towns along the border on the night between 12 and 13 September. It also said that Azerbaijan has been disseminating false information since early September about Armenian attacks against Azerbaijani forces—accusations which Yerevan denies—as a pretext to launch an assault. Armenia contended that Azerbaijan’s actions constitute a “real threat to international peace and security” and requested the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on the matter.

Several international interlocutors—including Russia, the US and the UN—have expressed concern about the outbreak of violence and called on the sides to de-escalate tensions. In a 13 September statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve its disputes through diplomatic means.

As details regarding the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of hostilities and the status of the ceasefire brokered yesterday remain unclear, Council members are keen to hear Jenča’s assessment of the situation at today’s meeting. Members are likely to express their concern regarding the recent violence and call on the sides to cease military activity and resume dialogue.

Council members remain united in their support for a negotiated solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and supportive of the efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group. In the past, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh represented a rare instance of cooperation between Russia and the P3 (France, the UK and the US)—members who are often divided on other issues addressed by the Council. However, it appears that these dynamics may have changed because of recent developments, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. In addition, it seems that in recent years, Russia and the EU have increasingly competed to assume the leading mediation role in the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Less than two weeks before the outbreak of the recent fighting, the leaders of the two sides met in Brussels to discuss the possibility of a lasting peace treaty; the talks reportedly did not yield any concrete results.

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