The writer works at the Baku-based think-tank Center for International Relations Analysis.
Clashes along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on July 12-14 not only triggered widespread international condemnation but also highlighted Yerevan’s desperation to divert world attention from occupied territories.
According to Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, army officers and soldiers of their country were killed when the Armenian army suddenly attacked their positions with mortars and howitzers. Reacting strongly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar condemned the Armenian attacks and sided with Azerbaijan. The deputies of Turkish political parties in the Grand National Assembly be that ruling AK Party or opposition CHP, MHP, and IYI Party, signed a joint statement, condemning the Armenian attack and said that the issue concerned the national interests of Turkey.
Armenia continues to occupy 20% of the territory of neighboring Azerbaijan for over the past 26 years. Mediation efforts by the Minsk Group, which consists of Russia, the US, and France, to resolve the problem have so far come a cropper. For this reason, there are constant clashes in the occupied areas, manly on the front line. The most violent of these occurred in April 2016, when Azerbaijan took control of the key strategic points. On the other hand, there is a general dissatisfaction in Azerbaijan with the diplomatic parleys conducted by the Minsk Group. Even though Azerbaijan wanted Turkey also to join the Minsk triumvirate, Armenia opposed the move.
Not only the authorities, but also the public, are tired of the Minsk Group’s endless diplomatic negotiations, and the voices that the war is the only solution are becoming louder. Especially after the conflict in Tovuz, dominant voices at a meeting held to commemorate martyrs in Baku said the idea of ‘Karabakh can only be saved through war.
While the attention of the Azerbaijani state and society was focused on the diplomatic and military options to liberate the occupied Azerbaijani territory, the recent attack carried out by Armenia far from the occupied territory is have varied objectives. Analysts are debating why the attack was not carried out from the occupied territory but from the border.
The conflict took place near the energy corridor
The conflict took place in the Tovuz region, an energy route, close to the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey corridor. Instability in this region has the potential to directly affect the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline, the Southern Gas Natural Gas Pipeline, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.
This strip opens up Turkey to Central Asia and it also gives way to the energy and transportation lines that carry Caspian oil and natural gas to Turkey and then to all over the world. On the one hand, these projects that exclude Armenia are the ones that unite Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey and ensures opening up of the South Caucasus to the world. In a way, these routes are the lifeline to the economy of Azerbaijan. For this reason, it is believed that the reasons behind the Armenian attack could have been to hurt the Azerbaijani economy. In short, it can be said that the goal of Armenia was to damage the projects that unite Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Another prominent explanation behind the attack is that Armenia is trying to divert world attention from the occupied territories. The recovery of the occupied territories has been topmost priority for Azerbaijan’s foreign policy.
President Ilham Aliyev, along with his ministers and officials are constantly raising the issue in bilateral and multilateral forums. This situation bothers Armenia because Yerevan wants this issue to be put in cold storage and forgotten in order to continue the occupation.
Further, as of late 2019, Azerbaijan has established dominance over Armenia in the diplomatic front. It succeeded to put significant diplomatic pressure on Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan. Azerbaijan President Aliyev while stating that “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” at the Valdai Forum, highlighted the cooperation of Garegin Njdeh, the person that Armenia regards as a national hero, with Hitler’s Germany during the World War II at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in Ashgabat.
The importance of this pressure could be better understood when we also consider the problems in Russian-Armenian relations during the Pashinyan period.
In the previous years, while the European institutions did not show any sensitivity to Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia on Karabakh, recently their attitude has changed. They have started to support the solution of the Karabakh issue within the framework of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. During March and April, many international organizations and the states, including Turkey, condemned the illegal elections in the occupied territories.
Attempt to divert attention from occupied territories
Also, the illegal activities of Armenia in the occupied territories were condemned in the joint declaration of the representatives of the South Caucasus of the European Parliament. Armenia was held responsible for the occupation. Of course, when these developments exerted pressure on Armenia, it tried to divert attention from the occupied region to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border with its latest action. It also tried to put blame on Azerbaijan for the attacks in Tovuz. But did not succeed.
The latest attack also stems from Armenia’s desire to seek political and military support from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), because the country has been pinched by the political isolation and its military incompetence in recent years. Since the ongoing negotiations within the framework of the Minsk Group have not produced any result, Azerbaijan took great care to increase its military strength during Ilham Aliyev’s period. As a result, Azerbaijan has gained an upper hand over Armenia in terms of armaments. Azerbaijan proved its military superiority in the four-day battle in April 2016.
Also, Armenia’s isolation has increased in recent years due to the increased support of international organizations to Azerbaijan. For instance, Azerbaijan was elected as a provisional member of the UN Security Council in 2011-2012. Then at the summit meeting held in Baku in 2019, Azerbaijan was elected president of the unconnected group of which it was a member in 2011. The unconnected group has adopted all declarations supporting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan against the occupation of Armenia in recent years.
Further, Azerbaijan, a founding member of the Turkic Council, was elected its president in 2019. In all seven summit-level talks, the Turkic Council adopted declarations supporting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. In March and April, the illegal elections were held in the occupied Azerbaijani territories with the support of the new Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan. These elections were condemned by many international organizations and states, notably by Turkey.
In short, despite the attempts of Armenia to introduce Azerbaijan as the “violent and disreputable state”, Azerbaijan has only extended its influence in the international arena. It gained wider support in its favor on the issue of the conflict with Armenia. The isolation has made Yerevan more violent. It tried to use the CSTO, of which Armenia is among the member states to garner support. Since the occupied territories of Azerbaijan are not included in the mandate of the CSTO, the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, that is, the region where the recent attacks took place, is within the mandate of the CSTO.
CSTO also did not support Armenia
On July 12, the foreign minister of Armenia requested an emergency meeting of the CSTO in a telephonic conversation with its secretary-general. Although CSTO first decided to call the meeting but then postponed without mentioning any date. For these reasons, Azerbaijani authorities have described the recent attack by Armenia as a provocation. In other words, since the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is within the jurisdiction of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Azerbaijan does not want to blow the conflict lest it hurts the TRNC.
A few years ago, Azerbaijan withdrew its army from parts of this region and instead deployed border guards. Therefore, Armenia to gain both the military and political support of the CSTO, attacked the border, instead of the front line.
There are two reasons why the CSTO did not support Armenia openly. First of all, the Pashinyan administration opposed the election of the current secretary-general of the CSTO and disrupted the activity of the organization for over a long time.
The second reason is the relationship that Azerbaijan has developed with the members of the CSTO in recent years. Belarus sold the Polonez missile system to Azerbaijan despite protests by Yerevan. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as members of the Turkic Council, have always supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan against the occupation of Armenia.
Following the attack in Tovuz, Turkey, Ukraine, Pakistan, and Moldova issued statements supporting Azerbaijan. The secretary-general of the Turkish Council also condemned the Armenian attacks and supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan against the occupation of Armenia.
There has been no statement of support to Armenia not even from its so-called allies, except for the Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA). Ukrainian support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan led to the attacks on its embassy in Yerevan.
The Armenian administration was also engaged in a diplomatic game to cobble up support from countries against Turkey. However, it did not succeed, because Azerbaijan’s efforts of isolating Armenia had come to fruition here as well.
Armenia also used the CSTO to start confrontation between Turkey and Russia, as it does not want their relations to normalize. Because it cannot benefit from Russia if its relations remain normal with Turkey. It also tried to project Turkey not only against Russia but also against the CSTO.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
* Translated by Merve Dastan in Ankara
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