-Two days after Azerbaijan downed one of the Armenian military helicopters flying over the occupied territories of Aghdam district, some in Azerbaijan say this was a provocation, others planned attack. Whatever the cause and the thinking behind, the incident is a sign of worry. Described as the most violent attack since the time of the ceasefire the incident is also indicative of tensions growing higher between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Possibility of further escalation is imminent.
It comes as no surprise seeing official Baku and Yerevan disagree on the cause of the November 12 incident. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense claims Armenian MI-24 combat helicopter was on the mission to strike along the Azerbaijani positions. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry in its press statement dismissed the claim, adding once the examination is completed, it will be clear the helicopter was not even armed.
In Azerbaijan there are also those who describe the incident as provocation, an attempt to discredit Azerbaijan at the negotiation table. However all have a mutual agreement – there won’t be a war.
International experts disagree
The likelihood of the escalation is imminent despite the calls on behalf of international institutions to refrain from further use of force. It is certainly not in the hands of the Minsk Group co-chairs says Tomas de Wall, Specialist on the South Caucasus region and the Senior Advisor at the Carnegie Endowment. In a phone interview with RFE/RL Azerbaijani service, de Waal said this was more about “saying who is stronger and proving political points and nothing can stop them”.
Laurence Broers, former Caucasus Project Manager at the Conciliation Resources and currently Research Associate at SOAS, said it was likely Armenia will be pressured to respond. “There will be strong pressure on Armenian forces to retaliate or to demonstrate an overpowering show of force during the next Line of Contact exchanges”, commented Broers in an e-mail exchange.
The call by the three OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs on the sides to respect the premises of the ceasefire agreement signed in 1994 proving to be less effective. Azerbaijan was hasty in awarding the solider who is reported to have shot down the helicopter.
Tit for tat
Broers assesses this incident as an obstacle in the on-going negotiations for the peaceful settlement. “This incident will further narrow the space for dialogue, raise the penalties for its advocates and “vindicate” advocates of military options”, wrote Broers. Moreover, it also proves this is no frozen conflict, commented Broers.
Broers, considers the incident “the latest in a long line indicating a frustrated and emboldened Azerbaijan”. It might as well be the case.
What is really disturbing however is how worrying this development is. “It is a sign that the ceasefire line is so much more militarized and that the stakes on the ceasefire land have certainly raised”, said de Waal.