After fatal shootings on the front line, Yerevan and Baku exchange diplomatic fire
02 June 2019

The foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged sharp diplomatic words over the weekend, following reports of fatal shootings in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone on Thursday and Saturday, which are said to have left one casualty on each side.

On Saturday, Armenia's foreign ministry issued a toughly worded statement which said that "Armenia resolutely deplores deliberate steps by Azerbaijan in the past three days to increase tension, which manifest in dissemination of false information about its own casualties, direct calls for physical threats to the leadership of Armenia, publicly voiced by representatives of the ruling party in Azerbaijan's parliament, and significant increase in ceasefire violations, which resulted today in a killing of private Sipan Melkonyan of the Defence Army of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan's recent actions take place against the background of the appeal of 30 May from the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to exercise maximum restraint to avoid escalation."

The Armenian statement continued:

"These latest developments defy the efforts of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to take constructive efforts towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict, to establish a conducive environment to this end, and represent a serious setback for all the efforts taken over the past months. Azerbaijan violates its own commitments undertaken in the latest Joint Statements in Milano (December, 2018), in Vienna (March, 2019) and in Moscow (April, 2019).

The deplorable actions of Azerbaijan, if not urgently addressed, may represent a serious obstacle to next steps in the settlement process. They also question the credibility of Azerbaijan and their capacity to remain faithful to commitments, as agreed in Dushanbe in September 2018 and reaffirmed in Vienna in March 2019, to observe and strengthen the ceasefire. Armenia strongly urges Azerbaijan to demonstrate genuine political will expressed in concrete and effective measures to observe the ceasefire. Azerbaijan will bear full responsibility for the risks of further escalation.

Azerbaijan's latest confrontational and dangerous actions prompt their past violence, atrocities and attempts to aggression and stand proof of the existential physical security risks to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia reiterates that there is no alternative to the peaceful resolution of the conflict, for which strict observance of the ceasefire is an essential condition. Under no circumstances the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and its people will be compromised.

The latest incident underlines the urgency to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism of ceasefire violations and to expand the Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office, in accordance with the commitment taken by Azerbaijan in Vienna and St. Petersburg in 2016.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia expresses its profound and most sincere condolences to the family and friends of private Sipan Melkonyan of the Defence Army of Nagorno-Karabakh."

On Sunday monring, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry issued a somehwat shorter counter statement in the form of a "commentary of the Press Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan", in which it describes the Armenian statement as "emotional" and controversial", blaming this on the current domestic political situation in Armenia. The statement added:

"However, we are reminding that Armenia gave consent to the next meeting at the level of the ministers of foreign affairs. At the same time, the realities on the ground are still the same; the armed forces of Armenia must be withdrawn from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. There is no other option for the further development of the region never mind who will lead Armenia in the upcoming future.

Armenia should acknowledge that the only cause of human losses, disasters and mutual discord is Armenia's aggressive policy, the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories and the policy of ethnic cleansing of local Azerbaijanis living in these territories. Armenia should not waste time searching for any other fraudulent reasons and should take results-oriented steps in the settlement of the conflict in line with the demands of the international community." political editor said in a comment that the latest diplomatic exchanges between Baku and Yerevan appear to be different from the usual tick-tock, tit-for-tat exchanges that have characterised the public exchanges between the two countries for nearly two decades. Armenia continues to deny that it was responsible for the killing of an Azerbaijani officer on Thursday. The Armenian foreign ministry was criticised by hardliners in the former ruling Republican Party, who described as weak and late an earlier Foreign Ministry statement. The Azerbaijani statement appears more interested in focusing on political divisions in Armenia

In the context of the Karabakh conflict it is never good news when the military situation on the ground, and the politics in Baku and Yerevan, and indeed Stepanakert, get enmashed together. Last week's reported deadly incidents, coming when the OSCE Minsk Group co-Chair mediators were still in the region trying to kick start a fresh round of talks, seems to suggest that someone is trying to derail their efforts. The question remains, who and why?"

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photo: The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan and OSCE mediators at a recent meeting (archive picture)