Somalilandsun: New escalation of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which started on 27 September 2020, suddenly became one of the main topics in the world agenda due to the possibilities regarding involvement of Russia and Turkey in the conflict, targeting of important energy projects in the region, large-scale humanitarian crisis and other issues. Although there have been several other hot skirmishes between the two countries in recent years, this time the escalation is much more extensive and longer than expected. This immediately brings to our minds ceasefire agreements. The parties to the conflict reached agreement on ceasefire (on 10 October, 17 October and 26 October). However, armed clashes have never stopped and the parties continuously accuse each other of not complying with the ceasefire. In order to fully understand the nature of the ceasefire and the possibility of complete cessation of fire in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, it would be useful to have a look through the history of ceasefire during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
First Ceasefire Initiatives
While the most comprehensive and long-lasting ceasefire agreement was signed in May 1994, there were a number of ceasefire initiatives before and after that. Following the visit of the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the region in September 1991, Armenia and Azerbaijan reached an agreement under the guarantee of B. Yeltsin and N. Nazarbayev in southern Russian city of Zheleznovodsk on 23 September 1991. The Zheleznovodsk Declaration was the first ceasefire agreement in the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Nevertheless, additional steps needed to be taken based on this agreement. As Armenia did not take any such step, Azerbaijan invited observers from Russia and Kazakhstan to visit the region and monitor compliance with the ceasefire. On 20 November 1991, the helicopter carrying the delegation composed of four high-ranking members of the Azerbaijani government (State Secretary Tofig Ismayilov, Deputy Prime Minister Zulfu Hajiyev, Minister of Internal Affairs Mahammad Asadov and Prosecutor General Ismet Gayibov), law-enforcement and security officials, two Russian army generals, Kazakh and Russian observers (Kazakh Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Sanlal Dasumovich Serikov and other officials) as well as prominent journalists was shot down by fire from the Armenian-controlled area. Everybody in the helicopter lost their lives, and on the Azerbaijani side, this attack undermined the belief in Armenia’s sincerity regarding ceasefire.
Next initiatives for ending armed clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan came from Iran. On 24 February 1992, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayeti visited the region for the purpose of mediating ceasefire between the parties. When the activities for reconciling fundamental ceasefire-related issues between the parties were underway, Armenia occupied Azerbaijani city of Khojaly and committed a large-scale massacre in the city.
In the meantime, Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in January 1992 and so the issue was also brought to the agenda of this organization. In the Additional Meeting of the CSCE Council of Foreign Ministers held in Helsinki on 24 March 1992, it was decided to organize a conference in Minsk for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict . Chairman of the Minsk Conference started activities for mediation between the parties on behalf of the CSCE.
On the other hand, Iran’s next similar initiative also failed and resulted in the occupation of more Azerbaijani territories. Following the meeting between Azerbaijan’s Acting President Yagub Mammadov, Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Iranian President Hashimi Rafsanjani held in Tehran on 7 May 1992, an agreement composed of eight articles was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the next day the Armenian army occupied Azerbaijani city of Shusha – a key strategic position in the region, and on 17 May 1992, it occupied Lachin district of Azerbaijan connecting Karabakh region and Armenia.
On 26 August 1992, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev started a new ceasefire initiative. On 27 August 1992, Chairman of the Minsk Group Mario Rafaelli visited Azerbaijan and Armenia, and called for starting the Minsk Conference talks. On 27 August 1992, Alma-Ata Declaration was signed by the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Following the calls of the Minsk Group, the parties also signed a protocol in Ijevan district of Armenia on implementation of this document. However, Armenia announced its withdrawal from the Alma-Ata Declaration shortly and Kazakhstan’s efforts to persuade the Armenian side failed.
Another initiative came from Russia. On 19 September 1992, with the mediation of Russia, defense ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia signed an agreement in Sochi. The agreement included a provision on implementation of ceasefire from 25 September 1992 and a number of other issues. But this agreement also was not complied with, as the parties continuously accused each other of violating the ceasefire and because Armenia insisted that Armenians of former NKAO should officially participate in the talks.
For the same reasons, the efforts of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy Jack Maresca, who intensified his mediation activities from mid-October 1992, also did not yield any result.
On 20 February 1993, Rome talks started with participation of the representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, USA and Chairman of the Minsk Conference M. Rafaelli. As a result of the talks, it was agreed that full ceasefire would be provided by the parties and international observers would be stationed in the region. However, Armenia launched an attack on Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan on 27 March 1993 and occupied it. Following the occupation of Kalbajar, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 822, which condemned the occupation and demanded to stop it immediately. Many other states and international organizations also urged Armenia to stop attacks and occupation.
On 3 May 1993, under the leadership of the late Russian President B. Yeltsin, Russia, Turkey and USA announced starting of a peace initiative within the framework of the CSCE process. They proposed a plan that envisaged withdrawal of the Armenian forces from Kalbajar by 14 May 1993 and starting of peace talks under the auspices of the CSCE from 17 May 1993. Azerbaijan accepted this plan, but Armenia did not.
Representatives of nine CSCE participating states (Belarus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and USA) met in Rome on 3-4 June 1993. They adopted an “Emergency Action Plan” on implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 822 and continuation of peace talks under the auspices of the CSCE, and proposed it to the parties. According to the “Emergency Action Plan”, the Armenian side would have started full withdrawal from Kalbajar as of 15 June 1993, the withdrawal process should have been completed by 20 June 1993, and 50 CSCE observers would have been stationed in the area from 1 July 1993. Then, peace talks within the framework of the Minsk Conference should have been resumed not later than 7 August 1993. Azerbaijan accepted and signed this plan. Although Armenia initially said that it would accept this plan, later it intensified its attacks on the Azerbaijani territories, taking advantage of an internal disorder (military coup attempt) in Azerbaijan. As a result of these attacks, Armenia occupied Aghdere district of Azerbaijan on 26-28 June 1993, and major part of Aghdam district of Azerbaijan on 23-24 July 1993. In its meeting held on 29 July 1993, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 853 concerning this issue.
Another agreement on ceasefire was reached with mediation of Russia on 18 August 1993, but that process also resulted in the occupation of Azerbaijani territories – Fuzuli and Jabrayil districts of Azerbaijan – on 23 August 1993.
In general, Armenia continued to occupy Azerbaijani territories, the UN Security Council continued to adopt resolutions and the CSCE continued to propose new “emergency action plans” until the end of 1993. In all of these resolutions and “emergency action plans”, territorial integrity of Azerbaijan was emphasized, as well as immediate and unconditional withdrawal from all occupied territories was demanded. However, neither the UN Security Council resolutions, nor “emergency action plans” were implemented.
1994-2020 Ceasefire Period
From January to March 1994, there were small-scale battles and mediation attempts of the OSCE and Russia. Chairman of the Kyrgyz parliament, representing the Inter-parliamentary Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and Special Representative of the Russian President visited Baku and Yerevan from 31 March to 4 April 1994. During the Moscow Summit of the CIS Heads of State held on 15 April 1994, Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia met and talked about the conflict.
The OSCE delegation visited the region from 26 April to 2 May 1994. During the meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Council held in Bishkek on 4-5 May 1994, representatives of the Kyrgyz parliament and Russian Foreign Ministry organized a meeting between the Speakers of Parliament of Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result of all these intensified of meetings, Bishkek Protocol was signed. Based on this protocol, Defense Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan concluded a ceasefire agreement, and the ceasefire regime started to be implemented from 12 May 1994.
Although this ceasefire agreement remained in force from May 1994 to September 2020, the situation was different in practice. The parties frequently accused each other of breaching the ceasefire, and since the ceasefire was violated every day, its usefulness was questioned all the time.
As a result of ceasefire violations, many soldiers as well as civilians from both sides were killed. Mutual taking of captives also was the case. In some periods, the intensification of ceasefire violations even led to cautions that the war would be resumed.
After the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, the mediators stated that the frozen conflicts have created a very risky situation in the region, and that the status quo should be changed. However, no serious steps have been taken towards settlement of the conflicts in practice. In the meantime, ceasefire violations led to some small-scale battles in September 2009, spring 2010, February 2017, and even to a four-day war in April 2016. Especially the battles of April 2016 were seen as a sign of a new war. It was emphasized that strengthening the ceasefire regime would be useless and a permanent settlement should be achieved. Nevertheless, when the traces of hot battles started to disappear, the efforts for a lasting peace also decreased.
The Ceasefire that Ended as of 2020
In fact, the April 2016 war clearly indicated that the ceasefire would not last long, because the main basis of the ceasefire up to that day was the advantage of Armenia, which received foreign military and political support in the first phase of the war, compared to Azerbaijan. Based on this support, Armenia has not been implementing the resolutions of the UN Security Council and did not accept the mediators’ proposals on settlement of the conflict. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, had to live with this deadlock situation. Despite this, especially in 2000s, Azerbaijan started to receive the benefits of its strategic energy projects (increasing revenues, growing military capacity, strong diplomatic relations) and declared that it would never accept Armenian occupation of its territories.
The April 2016 war indeed showed that now the balances were different from the period of 1991-1994. To recall the fact, in the battles of April 2016, Azerbaijan for the first time liberated a small part of its territories occupied by Armenia, and the assumptions about superiority of the Armenian army were swept away. It was due to the pressure from Russia that Azerbaijan stopped actions and, according to some arguments, even withdrew from of a part of the liberated territories.
The next serious violation of ceasefire happened in July 2020 when Armenia attacked Azerbaijani districts through which important pipelines for European energy security pass. This attack brought about the end of Azerbaijan’s patience. Azerbaijan lost one civilian and eleven military servicemen, including one general and one colonel, in this attack. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev declared that from now on Armenian attacks would not be left unanswered and Azerbaijan would fully use its right of response. Most recently, in his speech at UN General Assembly on 24 September, President Aliyev said that Armenia was preparing for a big provocation and called on the UN and other international organizations to take action for preventing this. However, as it has been the case throughout all these processes, the OSCE Minsk Group in the first place, as well as the UN Security Council did not take any necessary step for a lasting settlement of the conflict and implementation of four Security Council resolutions on this issue. Thus, the following calls for ceasefire became meaningless.
The Armenian provocation of 27 September made starting of a great war inevitable. One of the main reasons of failure of ceasefire efforts in the aftermath of this provocation is that the previous ceasefire processes have not been utilized in a meaningful way. The previous ceasefire was seen as tool for “legitimizing the occupation” by Armenia, while for waiting the suitable time for liberating its territories by Azerbaijan.
Resolutions of the UN Security Council and other international organizations demanding immediate and unconditional removal of the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories have not been complied with. Armenia has continued to keep the Azerbaijani lands under its occupation and undertaken provocations from time to time.
As the conditions are so clear, continuing with the old framework for new mediation and ceasefire efforts will be meaningless and unsuccessful. From now on, probably only a ceasefire with Russia’s and Turkey’s active role, and in compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions emphasizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity can be realistic.
The author Araz Aslanli is Director of the Caucasian Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (QAFSAM)
Ljubljana/Baku, 5 November 2020