Intensified skirmishes between Azerbaijan’s armed forces and Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army pose a serous risk of spilling into a full-scale armed conflict, as nationalists in Azerbaijan exploit the Karabakh issue for political gains ahead of parliamentary elections.
There have been more breaches of cease-fire and killings of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers in border clashes this year, than ever before. Four Azeri soldiers were killed last week in a skirmish, following an earlier attack which left 4 Armenians and 1 Azeri soldier dead.
Military officials on either side of the border report daily breaches of cease-fire.
Worsening of the situation led Peter Semneby, the EU’s envoy to the South Caucasus, to call for strengthening ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenian-backed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, possibly with the deployment of more international observers.
“I think that both sides are very much aware of the risks and costs of an escalation … but there’s always the risk that something can go out of hand,” Semneby told Reuters late on Tuesday in Tbilisi after a trip to Azerbaijan.
Low intensity skirmishes have killed around 3,000 people, mainly soldiers, since 1994, but observers say clashes have become more frequent and intense since early 2008, and escalated sharply this summer.
“Azeri youth seek military solution”
Baku-based political analyst Ilgar Mammadov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday, that political forces are going to exploit the Karabakh issue for political gain ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in November.
The analyst noted a “serious change” over the past five years, as people have started to pay more attention to the Karabakh issue.
“Besides, a new generation, representatives of youth have come to the political arena. They are a serious factor of political pressure” Mammadov said.
According to the analyst, most of the young people in Azerbaijan are convinced, that the peace talks have led to a standstill.
“They are sure, that the issue can only have a military solution. This tension is growing in the society and will continue to build up,” Ilgar Mammadov warned.
Military bid DISASTROUS
Armenian-backed forces have held Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azeri districts forming a land corridor with Armenia since the ceasefire was declared in 1994. An estimated 30,000 people were killed and more than a million displaced, as ethnic Armenian Christians, backed by Armenia, threw off rule by Muslim Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago.
Years of OSCE mediation led by French, Russian and American envoys have failed to produce a peace deal and Azerbaijan — spending heavily on its military with revenues from oil sales — frequently threatens to take the region back by force.
Military analysts warn that an Azeri military bid to retake the territory could be disastrous, with Nagorno-Karabakh heavily fortified since the war and holding the high ground.