By Dr Shahid Qureshi : –
A longstanding conflict in the Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan suddenly hit the headlines after the bloody exchange of heavy artillery fire. Despite attempts by Armenia and by some in the West to portray the conflict as a religious and cultural conflict, in fact it is merely about Armenian territorial claims towards Azerbaijan with humanitarian dimensions.
So why the flare up of the so-called frozen conflict and why now? Over the last two decades, the OSCE’s Minsk Group has been tasked with mediating a negotiated peaceful solution to the conflict. Instead, this mediation format has turned into an ineffective mechanism and co-chair countries have pursued their own security and economic interests in the region rather than focusing on the peace process to find a solution. It is regretful that peace talks since 1994 have failed to achieve any significant progress making the status quo no longer sustainable.
Armenia has continued to ignore numerous resolutions and decisions of international organisations, including the UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884, which have called for the unconditional withdrawal of occupying armed forces from the territories of Azerbaijan. In order to avoid further escalation and casualties, international community, in particular Minsk Group co-chairs have to mount pressure on Armenia to achieve a long overdue peaceful solution.
The Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan has led to around one million ethnic Azerbaijanis being been forced to flee their homes in Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding seven districts and have been resettled in other parts of Azerbaijan. Clearly there is a visible frustration among the IDP and refugee population of Azerbaijan who demand return to their homes.
Another factor is Armenia’s on-going affinity with Russia. Armenia has become an extension of Russian military designs in the region and therefore an international response and condemnation is urgently required after deadly incident of 1st and 2nd April 2016. The appeasement of Armenia by the international players who are more interested in keeping the status quo and ignoring the humanitarian dimension of the conflict delays the peaceful solution.
The Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in London commented on the issue as follows:
“Azerbaijan’s military actions are in response to Armenian provocations in the conflict zone aimed at Azerbaijani civilians and civilian settlements.
Azerbaijan has always been and remains committed to the peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict. The fact that Azerbaijan has been at the negotiating table and been part of the peace talks under the auspices of OSCE Minsk Group manifests our goodwill to resolve the conflict peacefully.
However, international community in particular the co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group have failed to deliver peaceful solution in accordance with their mandate. It has turned into an ineffective negotiations process with no desired long overdue solution to the conflict. It is regretful that co-chair countries have preferred to pursue their own strategic military and economic interests in the region rather than uniting around the noble cause, which is coming up with a fair and just peace plan to end the conflict. The Minsk Group has effectively monopolized the peace process unwilling to engage constructively with other institutions or interested countries which can potentially contribute to the peace talks.
We have maintained that the conflict can only be resolved through the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 as well as other resolutions and decisions by other international organisations. These resolutions have all reaffirmed sovereignty of Azerbaijan over the occupied territories, including Nagorno-Karabakh and called for the withdrawal of occupying armed forces of Armenia from those territories.
No country in the world can tolerate the violation of its internationally recognised territories and military occupation. Armenia continues occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised territories to this day. As a result of Armenian military occupation, around one million Azerbaijanis have been forced to flee their homes and have turned into internally displaced people and refugees. In fact, Azerbaijan has the largest number of IDPs and refugees in per capita terms in the world, one in nine people in Azerbaijan are an IDP or refugee.
We call on the international community to help end military occupation of Azerbaijani territories and put further pressure on Armenia. Only sustained international pressure coupled with the implementation of the said UN Security Council Resolutions can bring an overdue peace and stability to the region”
According to the Azerbaijani Military sources based at the Line of Contact: “On 1st & 2nd April 2016, the Azerbaijani positions and residential areas along with the entire front line were subjected to intensive artillery fires from the Armenian positions. As a result, there were casualties and injuries among the Azerbaijani civilians.
To counter the provocation and to ensure security of civilian population, the Armed Forces Command of the Republic of Azerbaijan had decided to take response measures in directions of Aghdere-Terter-Aghdam and Khojavand-Fuzuli.
In result of these rapid-few hours counter-measures, the first front line, reinforced through fortifications over many years by Armenia, had been breached in many directions, several heights of strategic and operational importance and residential areas have been fully liberated from the occupying forces.
Heights around the Talish village posing threat to the district of Goranboy and the city of Naftalan as well as the village of Seysulan had been completely cleared from the Armenian forces.
In order to protect the town of Horadiz against ceasefire violations by the occupying forces, the Azerbaijani armed units have re-taken the operationally important Lele Tepe height, located in direction of the district of Fizuli, which allows keeping under control a vast surrounding area.
During the battles 6 tanks, up to 15 artillery pieces and reinforced engineering fortifications of the armed forces of Armenia were neutralized, as well as more than hundred Armenian military personnel were killed.
Taking into consideration the international concerns, Azerbaijani Armed Forces is currently holding operations. New reinforcements are being carried out, new trenches and fortifications are being installed along the new defence line. It is obvious that if Armenia continues to violate the ceasefire, response to the occupying forces will not be less severe.”
At a time when Europe already facing many challenges and threats ranging from the migrant crisis to the upcoming Brexit referendum, Europe cannot afford another flash point involving Armenia and Azerbaijan with a real potential of drawing in other regional players such as Russia and Turkey. The on-going tensions should be perceived as a wake-up call by the international community to revitalize efforts and refocus on this conflict with a view to bringing about a swift solution. The ineffective Minsk Group should not be allowed to monopolize the peace process and efforts should be made to engage other institutions or countries with a potential to contribute to the peace.
(Dr Shahid Qureshi is senior analyst with BBC and editor of The London Post. He writes on security, terrorism and foreign policy. He also appears as analyst on Al-Jazeera, Press TV, MBC, Kazak TV (Kazakhstan), LBC Radio London. He was also international election observer for Kazakhstan 2015, 2016 and Pakistan 2002. He has written a famous book “War on Terror and Siege of Pakistan” published in 2009. He is PhD in ‘Political Psychology’ and also studied Law at a British University)