Against the backdrop of increasingly more tense situation along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ministry of Defense of the former is planning to hold training camps with the participation of more than 2,000 reservists from August 25 to November 25. The three-month trainings are planned to include exercises with motorized rifle, artillery, communications, reconnaissance, engineering, air defense, electronic warfare, etc. and meant to increase combative capabilities of the reservists and ensure their readiness for a potential escalation.
For Armenian military experts, military exercises are an international practice to covertly prepare for an imminent danger and their conduct at this particular time shows the likelihood of a certain rise in the tensions between the two conflicting states.
This immediately reminds the similar militarization of the Armenian society prior to the Second Karabakh War last year. A draft law introduced by the Ministry of Defense in August 2020 sought to create the militia. “The proposed militia would be open to both men and women and would accept people up to age 70. The militia units would be organized under local governments, and members wouldn’t be issued weapons except in case of military operations or the threat of operations. The militia could total up to 100,000 members”, reported the media.
Then even a military training program for young women (aged 18-27) was announced by Anna Hakobyan, the wife of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the initiator of a program called Women for Peace that was supposed to encourage peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
This was accompanied back then by the covert military supplies by the country’s major ally, Russia and reconnaissance and sabotage operations by the Armenian side along the frontline in Karabakh. Armenia’s embrace of militarization instead of constructively participating in the peace negotiations cost thousands of lives on both sides and humiliating defeat of the Armenian army in late 2020.
Alarming to the regional peace and security, a similar process is taking place at the moment. On August 11, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, receiving his Armenian counterpart in Moscow, declared Russia’s readiness to help reequip and modernize Armenia’s armed forces praising Yerevan as “Russia’s ally and a key partner in the Caucasus region”. He presented a dagger to the Armenian Minister and joked that “We can assume that the process of supplying weapons to Armenia has begun.”
This happens against the backdrop of Russia’s failure or reluctance to ensure the implementation of the withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the sovereign territories of Azerbaijan in line with the trilateral ceasefire deal signed by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on November 10, 2020, also known as the November deal. Armenia uses this opportunity to transfer more armed forces to the Karabakh region and to militarily attack the Azerbaijani side.
Moscow’s rearmament of the Armenian army combined with the new wave of militarization of the Armenian society and armed escalations are seen in Azerbaijan as a great threat to the regional security. “We hope that Russia continues to spare no effort for the security of the region and take steps to ensure lasting peace. At the same time, our expectation is that Russia will not arm Armenia”, said President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan in an interview with CNN Türk.
Along with calling upon Armenia’s leaders to negotiated solutions to the conflictual questions on the bilateral agenda, he also warned against the use of force, vowing that Azerbaijan will respond adequately to any military provocation by the Armenian side, no matter how much arms supplied by the country’s external patrons: “Over the past 30 years, Russia provided Armenia with billions of dollars weapons free of charge – some of which are now on display in our Military Trophy Park – but the Armenian army has been completely dismantled”.
Likewise, the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan has recently called upon Russia to put an end to the deployment of the Armenian armed forces in the territories of the Azerbaijan republic in accordance with the provisions of the November deal. On August 12 – a day after this call – Russia, instead of ensuring the rapid implementation of the ceasefire deal, blamed Azerbaijan for violating ceasefire and carrying out strikes against the Armenian armed forces in Karabakh – which raised eyebrows in Baku and begged the question of what the true objectives of Russia in the region are.
Despite these worrying developments between Armenia and Azerbaijan, there is now a greater potential to peacefully settle existing problems between the two countries, compared to last year. The resumption of the trilateral [Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia] working group, which was established during the January 11 trilateral leaders’ summit and tasked with presenting action plans (including implementation schedules) to their governments regarding regional railroad and highway projects, is a good sign for peaceful future of the region. It is expected that the sides would soon also embark negotiations about the demarcation and delimitation of the Armenia – Azerbaijan border that has been a source of bilateral tensions since a few months. Yerevan’s positive response to Azerbaijan’s offer to sign a peace treaty and herein recognize each other’s territorial integrity would be a big step forward towards mutual reconciliation and regional prosperity.
This is however of great importance for the sides to show sincere interest in peace and peaceful settlement of the disputes between them. The imitation of negotiations and abuse of the trust would otherwise dramatically aggravate the situation and lead to serious ramifications for the entire region. In this context, it is unfortunate that Armenia has recently provided inaccurate mine maps to the Azerbaijani side in exchange of the release of the Armenian detainees by Azerbaijan. “The accuracy of the maps provided at the latest stage is only 25 percent. So here, too, they [Armenians] are acting insincerely”, said President Aliyev in his interview with CNN Turk.
The main regional and global actors should support the substantive negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to promote the peace process and avert the recurrence of humanitarian tragedies in the region. A lot depends also on Russia. Moscow must stop arming Armenia, ensure that the November 2020 deal is fully implemented and, accordingly, Armenian armed forces are fully withdrawn from the sovereign territories of Azerbaijan.
*About the author: Dr. Vasif Huseynov is a senior advisor at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) and Adjunct Lecturer at Khazar University in Baku, Azerbaijan.