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War Is In The Air: A Troubled Caucasus

Vahan Dilanyan - 6/10/2012

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her way to South Caucasus perhaps troubled by growing intensity around Iran, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has proven to be more explosive and hazardous.

Hours before Clinton’s arrival to Yerevan, on the night of June 4th Azerbaijani armed forces (violating the ceasefire signed in 1994) crossed the borderline nearby the villages Chinari and Berdavan of Tavush region of Republic of Armenia and killed 3 Armenian soldiers. On the next day the second wave of the Azeri sabotage was repelled by the Armenian side, and 5 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed.

“While I had only just learned of these incidents, I am very concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians,” said Clinton, according to a State Department transcript.

Azerbaijan continues firing into direction of Armenian positions. On June 5th, Azerbaijani side continuously fired from DShK heavy machine guns several Tavush Region villages (Movses, Nerqin Karmir Aghbyur and Aygepar). Azerbaijan continues threatening the peaceful lives of the peasants of Tavush region.

Often the kindergartens are targeted by Azerbaijani fire. In the kindergarten of Chinari village defilade was set for the children, and the music plays loud when there is shootings from Azerbaijani side in order the children not to be frightened.

The firing hasn’t stopped for the past three months. Azerbaijani troops have also opened fire at the medical personnel vehicles which were carrying the symbol of International Red Cross.

The abovementioned indicates that Azerbaijan cynically violates the humanitarian principles, affirmed in the Geneva Conventions while blatantly breaking the ceasefire regime.

By doing so Azerbaijan hurts the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to settle the conflict via peaceful negotiations, and contradicts the principles established in the documents of L’Aquila in 2009, Muskoka in 2010, Deauville in 2011 and Sochi in 2012, which outlined elements of a framework for a comprehensive peace settlement based on the Helsinki Final Act principle of refraining from the threat or use of force.

However, the Co-chairmanship is very selective in condemning such actions of Azerbaijan or refrains from doing so. For example, on April 27th they “urged all sides to respect the 1994 ceasefire and to abstain from retaliatory measures that would lead to further escalation."

Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan has repeatedly called upon the international community to prevent the further bloodshed including the casualties within the peaceful population. However, the international community was generally silent on these matters, which in its turn, has made the Azerbaijani leadership more “obscene”.

Instead, the leaders of some countries continue to highlight the importance of the Azerbaijani oil resources. During the “Oil and Gas of Caspian” conference which is being held in Baku nowadays, Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner on energy, emphasized that “EU sees Azerbaijan as a key partner in South Caucasus”.
Meanwhile, in an address, David Cameron, the British prime minister, has indicated that Azerbaijan is in the heart of the region, the energy resources of which will play a crucial role in the world economy in the near future. According to him, “Azerbaijan plays a significant role in using its resources for the common good”.

However, the real picture is different, apart from the fact that Azerbaijani energy resources are non-renewable. Following the launch of BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline, Azerbaijan has dramatically increased its military expenditure.
According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Azerbaijan made the largest increase in military spending worldwide in 2011, 88% in real terms, amidst increasing fears of renewed conflict in the region.

The international community seems to have turned a “blind eye” on the fact that Azerbaijan has exceeded all the possible caps on conventional arms. As a proof, Azerbaijan has declared the possession of 250 military aircrafts, while the convention allows only for 100 units.

The reality is, Azerbaijan spends its energy resources not for the “common good” but for “common evil” and the illusory self-confidence of Azerbaijan, strengthened by increased military expenditure, may in fact turn Azerbaijan into another “Georgia” in the region.

In this case, Azerbaijan falls short of becoming “a key partner for Europe”, not only because of its incompatibility of values to that European democratic values system (the EU has qualified all elections of Azerbaijan as authoritarian while the NKR elections were reported as democratic and the recent parliamentary elections of Armenia as a significant step towards democratic development) but also it may turn into a danger for the security system of Europe by its war rhetoric and militant posture.

It is no secret that in nowadays intertwined world, any war in any part of the globe may overshadow the security systems of many countries. The possible war in South Caucasus will shatter the Euro-Atlantic strategy of energy diversification.

It is worthwhile mentioning that Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa pipelines were blocked during the Russian-Georgian August war.

From this perspective, the Martakert region of Nagorno-Karabakh is aroud 50 km away from the BTC pipeline, and in the case of a possible confrontation, this line could become vulnerable as well.

The international community should act decisively: remaining idle will not prevent the conflict from escalation and adequate measures are to be taken in order to hamper the aggressive stance of Baku.
To this end, Azerbaijan should be forced to sign an agreement on non-use of force.

Now that the elections are over in Armenia, public attention has turned largely from inner problems to external issues. The recent Azerbaijani sabotage attacks have put the society on high alert which could explode any minute.

Vahan Dilanyan is an analyst of political and security issues. He is serving as the Chairman of the Political Developments Research Center NGO, Yerevan, Armenia.

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