Karabakh Situation – Update as of 06/04/24

The files we follow: Karabakh Situation; Abkhazia and South Ossetia / Georgia Conflict; Georgia – EU/ US/Russia/Ukraine Relations and Georgian Domestic Policy, South Caucasian energy, trade and transport issues, Human Rights in South Caucasus, Various foreign policies Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

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Former “Nagorno-Karabakh” : the humanitarian and security situation on the ground

In the former separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, authorities have completed thedemolition of the building of the former “National Assembly” of Armenians in the breakaway region that began on 26 February. On the occasion of his visit to Khankendi / Stepanakert for the Novruz holiday on 18 March, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev listed several cases of what are considered in Azerbaijan as property misappropriations (building of the regional Party committee, building of the regional executive power built in the 70s, a hotel under restoration, all built by Azerbaijani architects) while announcing the construction of the Khojaly memorial.

Several Azerbaijani families were able to be resettled in the town of Fizouli during the month of March, the latest on 27 March according to the State Committee for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, bringing the total number of families resettled in this town to 631 which represents 2379 people.

The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Azerbaijani State Commission for Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons announced on 16 March the discovery of the remains of 18 people in a mass grave in Khojali discovered during restoration work in the centre town, near the old carpet factory. On 2 April, the Attorney General’s Office reported 3 injuries following two landmine accidents.

More than 100,000 ethnically Armenian refugees have fled the enclave since September 2023, for Armenia which is having difficulty integrating them. According to ICG, the European Union has pledged more than 17 million euros, while the UNHCR has estimated the needs at almost 97 million euros, with 47% of this sum raised by international and local organizations and the Armenian government having taken out a loan from the World Bank. The number of refugees would be 101,848 people according to figures communicated by Sputnik Armenia. Furthermore, only 8,277 families have accommodation in Armenia and 7,825 people have already left Armenia.

An Azerbaijani soldier was released by Armenia whose investigative committee recognized that he had gone astray after a military incident on 28 February.

The Azerbaijani side denounced on 11 March attempts at reconnaissance flights with a quadcopter in the direction of the Asrik settlement in the Tovouz region, then on 2 April the same Ministry of the Interior denounced “a concentration of manpower work, armoured vehicles, artillery installations and other heavy firepower of the Armenian Armed Forces“, which was denied by the Armenian side, but also Armenian fire towards the Heydarabad settlement in the region of Sedarak and the Bichanak settlement in the Shabouz region of Nakhchivan. The Armenian Ministry of Defence denounced Azerbaijani fire on 1st April towards Kut near Gegharkunik and the next day at Regh in the province of Siounik. The European Union mission in Armenia said all its patrols reported the situation was “calm and quiet”.

7th meeting of the border delimitation commission and disputes around the 4 villages in the Tovoush region: what is it about?

Following the meetings of the MAEs of the two countries in Berlin on 28-29 February, an interparliamentary meeting took place, bringing together Alen Simonian and Sahiba Gafarova on 22 March in Geneva as part of the 148th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. But the most important meeting was that of the 7th meeting of the state commissions on the delimitation of the border of 7 March underpinned by Azerbaijan’s claims concerning 4 villages in the Tovoush region without an enclave: Baghanis Ayrim , Ashagi Askipara, Kheyrimli, Gizilhajili). The discussions also concern 4 landlocked villages (Yukhari Askipara, Sofulu, Barkhudarli and Karki) knowing that an Armenian village is also landlocked in Azerbaijani territory. These territories represent 56.5 km2 but we can also add the village of Kiark / Tigranashen near Nakhitchevan.

Demands for which, Nikol Pashinian declared during a press conference on 12 March that “there [could] not be any discussion on the transfer of a village in the Tavouch region to Azerbaijan“, a position reiterated by his Minister of Foreign Affairs on 15 March. A meeting also took place on 18 March between the Prime Minister and the inhabitants of the villages concerned, who were particularly worried about the ongoing negotiations, and which caused controversy given the usual lack of clarity from the Armenian head of state [a controversy fuelled in particular by the opposition deputy Garnik Danielian according to whom the head of state would have argued that “the four villages must be immediately handed over to Azerbaijan, otherwise there would be a war” but also by the former Minister of Defence and leader of the opposition group “Hayastan” Seyran Ohanian calling on the Army to challenge the power, or by Anna Grigorian].

These negotiations caused the hardening of the positions of the local Armenian population established following the Armenian occupation of 1991-1992 but also the impatience of the Azerbaijani authorities whose intentions were clearly expressed by the media Caliber, which was denounced by Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus.

This situation is beginning to pose security problems within the Republic of Armenia. On 24 March, the Interior Ministry reported an attack on a police station in the capital by three men armed with grenades. This is why Nikol Pashinian declared on 28 March: “no other government can exist in Armenia than the government of the Republic of Armenia warning “so that external forces do not use certain circles to threaten security of the Republic of Armenia”. During the day, 49 members of the “Combat Brotherhood” organization, suspected of wanting to go armed to Verin Voskepar for tactical training, were arrested. But this organization denied its involvement.

The deterioration of Armenian-Russian relations and the issue of the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri.

The Antalya Diplomatic Forum, held from 1 to 3 March, [suspended last year due to the earthquake] helped clarify the state of Armenian-Turkish relations. On 7 March, the Armenian MAE, Ararat Mirzoyan, recalled that an agreement had been reached for the partial reopening of the border between the two countries for citizens of third countries visiting the two countries and that it had been extended to holders of diplomatic passports of the two countries and that the restoration of the Ani bridge was also under discussion as well as the construction of infrastructure and roads in the border regions.

But at the same time, this Forum confirmed the relations with Russia, which were, to say the least, distended. A tense situation for which Russian MFA Sergei Lavrov spoke on 29 March of “defamation of [their] servicemen who serve at the 102nd military base, [their] border guards and the entire Collective Security Treaty Organization » from Armenia.

On 6 March , Security Council Secretary Armen Grigorian declared that “problems with the CSTO [would persist] until the organization declares recognition of Armenia’s international borders while Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian MFA invited Armenia on the same day to inter-ministerial discussions “to address concerns”. On 7 March, Ararat Mirzoyan announced that the presence of Russian forces at Zvartnots airport (12km from Yerevan) was no longer necessary since “the Republic of Armenia [was] institutionally able to ensure the border service” [they have been present since the 90s]. On 9 March, the Armenian Central Bank announced, regarding the Russian MIR card payment system, that private banks independently decide which payment systems to cooperate with, just after the announcement by the TASS agency of the ban on this system in Armenia from 29 March due to international sanctions.

But at the heart of the tensions is the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri, whose lease contract expires in 2044, founded in 1941, and which is located 10km from the Turkish border.

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