By Huseyn Aliyev (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On November 12, an Armenian combat helicopter was shot down by Azerbaijani defense forces after an attempted attack on Azerbaijani positions over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The incident took place just two weeks after the fruitless peace talks between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan, organized on the initiative of French President Francois Hollande in Paris. Although the escalation of violence on the border between the Armenian-controlled breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan has been growing steadily since the early summer, this particular incident appears to be the highest point yet in the confrontation.

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Published in Analytical Articles

By Bakhtiyar Aslanov (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On November 12, 2014, the Press Service of the Ministry of Defense in Azerbaijan made the following statement regarding the shooting down of a helicopter over Nagorno-Karabakh: “the military aviation of the enemy side has been doing provocative flights and maneuvers during the latest military trainings, implemented by the Military Forces of the Republic of Armenia within the last 3 days in the front-line between Azerbaijan and Armenia. After continuous and intensified maneuvers over our positions and posts; two military helicopters tried to attack our positions in the airspace controlled by the military of Azerbaijan. Two MI-24 helicopters owned by the Military Forces of the Republic of Armenia again tried to attack our posts at 13:45 on November 12, 2014. As a response, Air Forces of Azerbaijan shot down one of those armed helicopter, 1,700 meters northeast of Kangarli village in Agdam. The remains of the helicopter fell 500 meters from the front-line.” Armenian officials responded that the helicopter belongs to the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership, not Armenia.

The next day, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense made another statement, claiming that the Mi-24 combat helicopter belonged to the Erebuni military aerodrome close to Erevan. The dead crew members, mayor Sergey Sahakyan, senior lieutenant Sargis Nazaryan and lieutenant Azat Sahakyan are officers of the Armenian Air Force. Although denied by Armenia, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense listed the names and released detailed background information on the officers.

Emphasizing the presidents’ meeting in Paris initiated by the French President Francois Hollande on October 27, 2014, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on November 12 that Armenia embarked on large-scale military exercises in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and had continuously been violating the cease-fire along the line of contact. Hence, Azerbaijan’s MFA claims that Armenia alone carries all responsibility for the re-escalation of the conflict. An MFA spokesperson stated that by shooting down a helicopter that violated Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized airspace, Baku does not violate any liability of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan both reacted quickly to the incident. Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan immediately visited Nagorno-Karabakh and spoke in front of the soldiers on November 13. Although he used very special words targeted to the local audience, Sargsyan underlined that a re-escalation of the conflict into war will not happen. Ilham Aliyev also visited a military camp in Shamkir on November 15, and while seeming very confident and satisfied when congratulating the soldiers, he avoided using overtly inflammatory language.

In Basel, Switzerland, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Désir, expressed their concerns over violations of the cease-fire in 2014 during a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. They emphasized that the violations of the cease-fire in July and August caused several causalities; enhanced the tension and deepened mutual distrust between the parties. On December 4, the aforementioned diplomats signed a joint statement, noting that “there is no military solution to the conflict. We call on both sides to restrain from using violence and work on the concrete peaceful solution of the conflict”.

Hikmat Hajiyev, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s MFA, commented on the statement that the military trainings of Armenian forces with huge numbers of personnel and military equipment and their provocative maneuvers along the line of contact after the meetings of the presidents in Sochi and Paris caused the downing of the helicopter. Regarding the call from the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to speed up negotiations for a peace agreement, Hajiyev reiterated Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov’s statement on Baku’s readiness to work on the Broader Peace Agreement supported by the co-chairs after the meeting in Paris.

Officials in Yerevan have claimed that their military forces were able to claim the bodies of the dead soldiers in the helicopter incident after shooting two Azerbaijani soldiers. According to the PanArmenian news agency, the three officers were buried at St. Sargis Church in Yerevan on November 24. However, Baku has denied this information and states that Azerbaijani soldiers protect the area where the remains of the helicopter are located.

Armenia and Azerbaijan cancelled an expected meeting of the two countries’ Foreign Ministers in Basel after the incident. “We regret that the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia were unable to meet at OSCE … Dialogue is a necessary part of the peace process” the U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, James Warlick wrote on his Twitter page on December 8.

Published in Field Reports

By Erik Davtyan (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On October 26-28, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid a working visit to Paris at French President Francois Hollande’s invitation. At the Paris Marine Palace, the Armenian and French presidents discussed a broad range of issues concerning on the Armenian-French agenda and contemporary regional and international challenges. Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process, Sargsyan stressed that Armenia has always supported a resolution of the conflict exclusively through peaceful negotiations and noted that he highly appreciates the OSCE Minks Group’s efforts targeted at pushing the negotiation process forward and establishing lasting peace and stability in the region. The most important part of the working visit was Sargsyan’s meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. After the Sochi and Newport talks in August and September respectively, this was the third regular meeting organized at the level of heads of states.

On October 27, Sargsyan and Aliyev held talks with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (Igor Popov, James Warlick, and Pierre Andrieu) and the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Anjey Kasperchik, followed by a private conversation between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. The participants attached great importance to continuing dialogue within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship and confidence-building efforts in order to make progress in peaceful negotiations, and stressed that no alternative existed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The parties arranged to proceed with high-level negotiations.

The high-level meeting attained various interpretations in Armenia. Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs emphasized the official viewpoint on the Sargsyan-Aliyev talks. During a briefing with journalists Edward Nalbandian described the meeting as “useful, sincere and constructive.” The foreign minister said that “there was an opportunity to touch upon a number of regional and international issues which showed that the approaches of Armenia and Azerbaijan on some issues can be close to each other,” adding that the two states took “a small step toward bringing the positions of the two sides a little bit closer.” The head of the Armenian National Congress party’s committee on foreign relations, Vladimir Karapetyan, believes that the meeting itself was a positive step. The fact that the co-chairs display activity, he says, proves that the international community pays attention to the region and the conflict, and that Azerbaijan sees no alternative but the talks.

According to Davit Ishkhanyan, representing the “Armenian Revolutionary Federation” party, the deadlock in the negotiation process may have negative impact, therefore “each meeting should be regarded as a guarantee for the preservation of peace.” Taking into account the fact that Sargsyan and Aliyev had tête-à-tête talks (unlike during the Sochi and Newport meetings), Ishkhanyan thinks the Paris meeting was progressive for the format of the negotiation process, rather than for its essence. The Armenian daily Zhoghovurd shared the view that the parties anticipated meeting in Paris in advance, since Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the U.S. Secretary of State had each initiated trilateral meetings with Sargsyan and Aliyev before, so this meeting was to be organized by France, the third member state of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship.

Presenting his opinion to Tert.am, politologist Ruben Mehrabyan believes that the Paris meeting was a good opportunity to reach midterm results in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict regulation process. The most important implication of these meetings, according to Mehrabyan, was the fact that they took place “outside the Russian platform.” Another politologist, Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan, does not have any expectations from the meeting as “the meetings between heads of the two states generally depend on the internal and external problems of other states.” Clarifying his viewpoint, Melik-Shahnazaryan says the activation of high-level meetings is not stipulated by the regulation of the conflict, but by the interests of the states that organize those meetings.

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue remained one of the most debated themes in November due to the Mi-24 helicopter that Armenia claims belonged to the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, which was shot down by the Azerbaijani armed forces during what Armenia alleges was a training flight on November 12. The downing of a helicopter was a unique incident that has not occurred since the cease-fire in 1994. The chair of the Standing Committee on Defense, National Security and Internal Affairs of Armenia’s National Assembly, Koryun Nahapetyan, described the incident as “unprecedented” and the “rudest violation of the cease-fire.” According to the head of the Social Democrat Hnchakyan Party’s central office, Hakob Tigranyan, “the downing of the helicopter was nothing more than an invitation to war,” hence “any negotiations with Aliyev are pointless after this crime.”

In an interview to Armenianow.com, analyst Stepan Safaryan says the incident will have an extremely negative impact on the conflict regulation process and that its consequences may even be unprecedented. Safaryan underlined that “the results of the meetings between presidents are now nullified.” Moreover, Sargis Asatryan, a specialist on Azerbaijani studies, believes that “the downing was a desperate step which may be directly connected to national, social and religious problems that exist in Azerbaijan.” Armenia’s Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan instead emphasized the humanitarian side of the incident. He says the regular violation of the cease-fire has disabled medical aid to the staff of the helicopter for nearly 8 days, which is “completely against the norms of international humanitarian law.”

Published in Field Reports

By Erik Davtyan (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On October 9-10, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid a working visit to Minsk to take part in a session of the Council of Heads of the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). After the CIS summit, Sargsyan participated in a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, during which he signed the agreement on Armenia’s accession to the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Thanking the heads of states for their political support in this process, the Armenian president assured that Armenia “will show a high sense of responsibility towards its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union” and expressed the hope that the heads of the EEU member countries will facilitate the ratification of the agreement in their national parliaments till the end of this year. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin expressed his deep conviction that “Armenia is ready to work equally with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus in the framework of the EEU.”

The process of Armenia’s accession to the EEU started more than a year ago, after it was declared as a foreign policy objective in Sargsyan’s statement on “Armenia’s desire to get accessed to the Customs Union,” made on September 3, 2013. Considering that the statement was made on the threshold of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, where Armenia was expected to initial an Association Agreement with the EU, it represented a turning point of Armenian foreign policy.

The post-soviet direction of Armenian foreign policy and especially Armenian-Russian relations is one of the most debated topics in Armenian politics and Armenia’s accession to the EEU was given highly diverse verdicts from different observers. According to Aram Safarian, president of the NGO Integration and Development, Armenia’s “accession to the EEU will reinforce the security of Armenia and will present Armenia’s stance in the region in a more favorable way.” The same view was shared by economist Ashot Tavadian, a member of the Scientific Council of the Eurasian Bank. In an interview to Armenian daily Hayots Ashkharh, Tavadian said that if it would have remained outside the EEU, Armenia would have faced serious challenges in the spheres of energy, direct investments and export.

The agreement, signed on October 10, was closely scrutinized by Armenia’s political parties. According to the deputy of the Prosperous Armenia (PA) party’s faction of the National Assembly, Stepan Margaryan, PA favors any integration process that Armenia can join. In an interview to Zhoghovurd daily, Shirak Torosyan, a member of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations, emphasized that there are currently no beneficial alternatives to the Eurasian market, and believed that especially the customs regulations that will be introduced in the EEU members will be economically beneficial for Armenia.

In contrast, the Heritage party is the only political party that strongly disapproves of the Eurasian vector in Armenia’s foreign policy. Expressing their viewpoint to Tert.am, members of the Heritage Faction in the National Assembly, Tevan Poghosyan and Alexander Arzoumanian said their faction is against Armenia’s participation in Eurasian integration processes and will vote against the ratification of the agreement.

The former head of the Armenia’s National Security Service Davit Shahnazaryan stated in an interview to Aravot that since Armenia has little economic cooperation and actually shares no common borders with the other members of the EEU, Armenia will face economic challenges that could lead to a significant economic decline and a deterioration in living conditions. Moreover, some experts insist that the October 10 agreement was unconstitutional. Artak Zeynalyan and Daniel Ioannisyan, respectively representing the NGOs Rule of Right and Union of Informed Citizens, claim that certain clauses of Armenia’s Constitution do not allow the partial delegation of state sovereignty to other institutions.

Commenting on the possible effects of Armenia’s EEU membership on regional geopolitics, the founding director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC), Richard Giragosian, said that Armenia’s accession to the EEU may have a negative impact on Armenian-Georgian relations, as well as on the prospect for opening the border between Turkey and Armenia. According to political scientist Levon Shirinyan, Armenia should take advantage of its EEU membership and avoid the challenges. The expert believes that “Armenia can become a scientific-industrial unit which will serve the economic, scientific and technical market of the Eurasian Union.”

Published in Field Reports

By Erik Davtyan (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On September 16, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian received James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. The last meeting with co-chairs in Armenia took place on May 16, 2014 in the framework of a regional visit to the South Caucasus. Nalbandian and Warlick exchanged views on issues raised at the September 4 meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Newport, on the initiative of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They also emphasized the importance of the upcoming Paris meeting between Presidents Sargsyan and Aliyev, due to take place in October on the initiative of French President François Hollande.

Presenting the aim of the visit at his press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia, Warlick said it “aims at continuing the discussions which took place during the trilateral meeting in Wales between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.” Characterizing the Wales meeting as “fruitful and sincere,” the U.S. co-chair stated that the actual negotiations should be held at some other level. Instead of organizing random meetings between the presidents or ministers of foreign affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the parties should launch an official negotiating process which will surely be welcomed by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

Warlick’s visit to Armenia was also remarkable for his exclusive interview to Yerkir Media TV on September 16. Presenting his viewpoint on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, the U.S. co-chair said that “the voice of the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh should be heard and that is why the co-chairs travel there on a regular basis and meet with the de facto authorities.” This was in fact a rare statement coming from a co-chair, because it emphasized the role of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities in the resolution process.

Commenting on the current activity of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, Kayts Minasyan, an analyst at the Center of Strategic Studies of France, underlined the fact that Warlick came to the South Caucasus without his French and Russian counterparts, a move stipulated by the tense relations between Russia and the West. During a press conference, the head of the “Modus Vivendi” center Ara Papian said that Warlick’s statement on the upcoming regulation of the Karabakh negotiation process was merely “a diplomatic wish, rather than reality,” because the parties are far from resolving the conflict. The vice-president of the Caucasus Institute, Sergey Minasyan, shared the view that the format of meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan may yield some progress not in the negotiating process per se, but in “setting some mechanisms of influence along the line of contact.” Likewise, Armenian MP Sukias Avetisyan stressed the importance of organizing regular meetings at the presidential level.

According to a public opinion poll organized by the Z-PR poll center, 64 percent of the population in Yerevan believes that the visit of the U.S.co-chair will only contribute to initiating new meetings at the presidential level, while 21 percent think the recent activation of the regulation process is a consequence of the increasing international tension. The remaining 15 percent believes that the U.S. is seeking to keep the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process very active, even causing unexpected developments.

The intense activity of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in September was also a consequence of recent negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, which took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 69th session in New York. The ministers had an extended meeting with Warlick and his Russian and French colleagues, Igor Popov and Pierre Andrieu, along with Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the personal representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office. After discussing the details of the upcoming meeting between Sargsyan and Aliyev, foreign ministers Nalbandian and Mammadyarov held talks in a tête-à-tête format, concerning predominantly the regulation process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Nalbandian-Mammadyarov talks, as the U.S. co-chair emphasized, “were conducted in a constructive atmosphere.” Later, the co-chairs had a meeting with the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office (CiO), Didier Burkhalter, and discussed the latest developments in the peace process, hoping that the presidential meeting in Paris will be productive.

Published in Field Reports

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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