Roots of War: When Armenia Speaks Hard, Azerbaijan Takes Action

Tartar, Azerbaijan – Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia have agreed to postpone talks for years About the condition of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, to avoid inflammatory passions. But this spring you suddenly had a sudden reversal, when the democratic Prime Minister of Armenia declared the region undisputedly Armenian.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s remarks came as a shock to the Azerbaijanis who lost the bitter, unresolved war with Armenia in the region in the 1990s. Even more provocative, it was delivered to Susha, a city that the Azerbaijanis consider their cultural capital, but located in a region lost during the war.

Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser to the Azerbaijani president, said the final nail in the coffin of the negotiation process came when he said Nagorno-Karabakh was Armenian.

The two countries returned to the war a month ago, deciding to recapture about 13 percent of the land Armenia had occupied 26 years ago by Azerbaijan and displacing 800,000 Azerbaijanis in the process. The fight threatens to draw Turkey, on the side of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which supports Armenia.

Thousands of casualties have been reported in the conflict, but Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, is showing no signs of slowing as his troops advance, and the country is reeling from a war fever.

The ceasefire was broken within an hour of a ceasefire in Washington last weekend as both sides traded artillery fire on Monday morning.

Mr Aliyev is demanding that Armenian forces withdraw internationally recognized borders in light of UN Security Council resolutions and the basic principles agreed upon in previous negotiations. The terms were agreed 10 years ago, but have never been enforced, and analysts say Armenia has become less ambiguous this year about the capture of Nagarno-Karabakh and surrounding districts during the war.

Mr Hajiyev said in an interview that Azerbaijan had hoped for progress when the Armenian leader, Mr Pashinyan, came to power in 2018 after a popular uprising. At their first meeting, Mr. Pashinyan, a former journalist, promised Mr. Aliyev time but a new policy on Nagorno-Karabakh.

That policy never came. Analysts say tensions have risen this year, as Mr Pashinin and his defense minister are announcing plans to make Shusha the regional capital and move parliament there in August. Those measures could eventually prove to be big miscalculations.

As much as an American-Armenian historian, Jirir Liberidian, has suggested. “We became obsessed with our dreams instead of focusing on the possible,” he wrote in September.

Independent analysts often see Azerbaijan as the main driver of the war, saying it made a major offensive, but pushed Mr. Pashinya to the envelope with his populist rhetoric.

“It is logical that Azerbaijan wants to start this, not the Armenians, who just want the status quo,” said Thomas de Wael, Carnegie Europe’s senior ally and author of the book “The Black Garden,” Nagorno-Karabakh. “But the Armenians also played their part with provocative moves.”

The Armenian government has accused Azerbaijan of pursuing a planned invasion and provoking the conflicts that led to the all-out war, and says it is taking full action in self-defense.

Russia has been a decisive supporter of Armenia. He supported Armenia in the original conflict, maintained two military bases in the country and provided support and equipment.

Since the Moribund conflict in 2009, the leaders of the two countries have moved cautiously, believing that it is politically safer to cling to stability than to risk a regional settlement with the demand for a peace agreement.

In 2003, Mr Aliyev, who inherited the presidency from his father, used his country’s oil and gas resources to build a military, purchase advanced weapons and send officers to NATO-standard training in Turkey.

Attempts were made again in the year 201, when in four days of fighting, Azerbaijani forces took control of a village along the ceasefire line. But Russia intervened to prevent this advance, said Farid Shafiyev, a former diplomat and director of the government-funded Center for the Analysis of International Relations in Baku.

The popular despair at the time was evident, he said. The same public reaction was recorded when Russia negotiated a ceasefire on October 10, just two weeks into the recent fighting. “People were very frustrated,” he said.

The immediate spark for the current conflict erupted in July, in a fatal clash near the border town of Toulouse, where Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas pipelines were heading to Georgia and Turkey.

Armenian troops fired on an Azerbaijani military vehicle, touching on a heavy cross-border exploration in which more than a dozen people, including some officers, were killed.

One of those killed was Major General Polad Hashimov, a popular figure whose death had sent shockwaves through the country. Small protests were marching through Baku, the capital of thousands of people, demanding that the country withdraw Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr Hajiyev, a policy adviser, said: “The July incident came as a shock. “And the opinion of the people and the youth sent this message: ‘Enough.'”

Frustration over the coronavirus epidemic and severe water shortages increased the pressure, said Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist. “It was clear to Aliyev that people were ready for the explosion and it was time to do it.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the clashes at Toulouse as a strategic threat to Azerbaijan and immediately dispatched jets and troops for a two-week joint military exercise with the Azerbaijani army.

Turkish analysts saw Mr Erdogan’s move as a way to gain advantage in his dealings with Russia. But it was also crucial to protect its Turkish ally, which recently turned Russia into a major source of natural gas.

“Turkey’s provocation is a clich.,” Said Mr Shafiyev of the Center for the Analysis of International Relations, about Azerbaijan’s war adventure. But he confirmed, as both Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Aliyev have since, that Turkey has promised active support if Azerbaijan is to get into trouble.

In August Gust, Azerbaijani authorities said the army had detained Armenian soldiers crossing another border. “We realized something was coming,” Mr. Hajiyev said.

After years of trade in sporadic artillery fire, both parties were equipped and ready for more by September.

On September 26, the Azerbaijani army urged villagers living along the ceasefire line near the city of Tartar. Some people who had nightmares. Others described the barrage of Armenian rockets the next morning at.

“We hear shelling all the time, but this is very different,” said Gulbeniz Baldova, a 28-year-old Gul who lives in Tartar. “They started firing continuously, and we were all scared.”

Azerbaijan quickly retaliated by saying it was defending its civilian population. “They have started attacking civilians and we will retaliate,” Mr Hajiyev said. But some officials also admitted that they were waiting for an excuse to launch an attack.

Azerbaijani troops have recaptured part of the four southern districts on the border with Iran and it has come within the distance of the Lachin Corridor, a mountain pass that is a complex supply route from Armenia.

But there is little doubt that it was difficult for the Azerbaijani army. Baku did not disclose the number of military casualties, but Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday that each side had already lost more than 2,000 troops fighting in less than a month. According to official figures on both sides, the missile strike killed at least 65 Azerbaijanis and 37 Armenians.

Public support for the invasion is strong behind Mr Aliyev and the military, but the president may face a difficult task in meeting expectations.

Many Azerbaijani families displaced by the shelling in Tartar are originally refugees from Karabakh, and said they would not be satisfied if Mr. Aliyev stopped after taking only a few districts.

“That’s not enough,” said Zarifa Sulemanova, 43, before making a list of all the regions Azerbaijan needs. “We have very brave sons. It won’t take long. ”