BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
On May 12, 1994, the cease-fire agreement signed between the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Artsakh, and Azerbaijan went into effect and, 17 year later the winds of war are still circling over the people of Karabakh with no end in sight.
On the eve of the cease-fire anniversary, Arayik Balasanyan, a farmer from the Kyratagh village of Hadrut, was operating his tractor on his farm when an Azeri sniper bullet shot and killed him. The 33-year-old farmer became the latest victim of Azeri sniper attacks as the international mediators tasked with finalizing a resolution to the conflict continue to issue tepid warnings and declarations.
“The Azeri side continues violating the ceasefire regime in different directions of the line of contact between the armed forces of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan. More than 400 shots were fired only during the past two days,” reported the Nagorno-Karabakh Army only days after celebrating Armed Forces Day.
“With such steps Azerbaijan not only goes against the logic of the peace process, but also strives to maintain the tension at the line of contact, thus preventing the resolution of the conflict on the basis of the proposals of the international community,” said Tigran Balayan, the spokesperson of Armenia’s Foreign Ministry.
For the past 17 years tensions along the border of Karabakh and Azerbaijan, also known as the “line of contact” in diplomatic parlance, have escalated. This year alone sniper attacks by Azeris, as well as continued threat by official Baku forced the OSCE leadership to call for a removal of snipers from those regions.
Aside from the rampant violations of the cease fire by Azerbaijan, the military threats coming from high ranking officials, including Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, have created a climate whereby the mistrust that already existed has exponentially increased.
A new twist on the Azeri campaign is Aliyev’s claims that Azerbaijan ceded Yerevan to Armenia in 1918, failing to acknowledge that there was no country or entity called Azerbaijan until 1918.
Meanwhile, the international community—the OSCE Minsk Group tasked with the resolution process—has refrained from calling out Azerbaijan for its declarations of war and literal violations of the agreement, for fear of not being seen as siding with Armenia.
“Progress in the negotiations on the Karabakh conflict is possible, if Azerbaijan stops using the peace process as a cover for continuing its anti-Armenian campaign and distorting the essence and reasons of the Karabakh conflict, demonstrates willingness to restart negotiations with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, stops its threats and starts implementing the documents it has signed,” Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan said Thursday.
“No matter how hard Azerbaijan tries to present the Karabakh issue as a territorial dispute with Armenia, it will have to assume responsibility for its policy of ethnic cleaning and launching an aggressive military effort against the Nagorno Karabakh Republic,” added Kocharyan who reiterated that if Azerbaijan continues its current tenor, Armenia will have no other choice but to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The conflict resolution process has become a full-court shuttle diplomacy event, with OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen going from Azerbaijan to Armenia to Karabakh and issuing statements that express confidence in the sides for reaching final resolution.
The failure of the OSCE Minsk Group to include Karabakh as part of the sides to the conflict and bring them to the negotiation table further complicates matters, given that the cease fire agreement signed in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan was between the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan, with Armenia and Russia acting as “witnesses.”
The people of Artsakh have spoken. They overwhelmingly voted for independence and reaffirmed that commitment during the constitutional referendum in 2007. Simply put: they expressed their right to self-determination—one of the fundamental principles of human rights and international law.
As long as this expression the people’s will is being ignored by all sides, the cease fire will remain fragile, Azerbaijan will increase its military threats and the situation will continue to remain tenuous on the border of Artsakh and Azerbaijan.