The President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan on Thursday evening (3 September), chaired a meeting of Armenia's National Security Council. It was part of an ongoing training exercise called "Shant 2015" that is meant to test the readiness of Armenia's command and control system in the face of agression from an unnamed adversary. The exercise involves also evacuating large numbers of civilians from areas where this fictitious conflict is supposed to be taking place. That is where fiction ends. On Thursday however, apart from reviewing and participating in the exercise, the Armenian President and his entourage also had to deal with the facts: a hightened state of tension on the front line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and across other parts of the border. It was reported that the President heard reports of the situation and gave instructions to his commanders.
Armenia continues to report incidents and casualties, especially in the northern sector of its border with Azerbaijan. It claims that Azerbaijani forces fired more than 1800 shots towards its positions in the last twenty four hours and that one soldier and three civilians were injured. It had already reported one military dead and several civilians injured the night before. Fact and fiction blended together especially in areas in Tavoush district where people were reportedly confused as to what was happening as part of an exercise and what was happening in fact. The spokesperson for the Armenian Ministry of Defence called for calm, and said there was no need to panic because whilst there was tension on the border, a lot of what was going on was simply a training exercise.
Azerbaijan is currently also holding its own training exercises, involving a large number of aircraft from Azerbaijan and Turkey. These are due to continue until next week. It also accuses Armenia of violating the cease fire, and claims that last night the rooftops of 150 houses were riddled with bullets in the village of Alibeyli in the Tovuz District and that two elderly persons were hit by schrapnel and hospitalised.
There is no doubt that this is a very dangerous moment in the Karabakh conflict. The military exercises being held by both sides add drama to the real fighting that is ongoing and close the gap between fact and fiction. It is not going to require much for fiction to become fact.
photo: Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan at a meeting of the Armenian National Security Council held on 3 September 2015 as part of a large scale military exercise called Shant 2015. In the course of the meeting the President however also had to deal with a number of real incidents happening on the front line (picture courtesy of the Press Service of the Republic of Armenia).
The meeting in Krakow between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan did not lead to a breakthrough, and none was expected. But there appears to be a change of gear in the negotiations, says Dennis Sammut in this week's Monday Commentary