The Azerbaijani army has made substantial territorial gains in the enclave of Nakhchivan, taking 11,000 hectares of land from Armenia, the defence ministry in Baku announced in a video posted on its website on June 20.
Nakhchivan is part of Azerbaijan but is separated from the rest of the country by the Armenian region of Zengezur, and part of its territory, the Karki exclave, has been under Armenian occupation since the Nagorno Karabakh war of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Until recently, the Nakhchivan area was a relatively peaceful segment of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it appears that with the recent political chaos in Armenia, -- mass demonstrations erupted in the velvet revolution of late April and early May -- Baku has sought to capitalise on its rival’s weakness to mount an offensive in the area.
Listing the territory acquired by the country forces at a press conference on June 20, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said the village of Gunnut in Sharur region, the surrounding strategic heights of Khunut, Gizilgaya and Mehridag had all come under the control of Azerbaijani units, Azernews reported.
“Now the Azerbaijani Army also controls the road leading to Lachin. This is another our success,” Hasanov commented, naming a town currently controlled by the separatist republic of Nagorno Karabakh.
Hasanov also indicated that Baku may become more aggressive going forward, raising fears of a reactivation of the largely frozen conflict with neighbouring Armenia over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region, which is recognised as part of Azerbaijan by the international community and by international law, but has been de facto independent from Baku since the late 1980s.
“Today, the Azerbaijani Army is able to liberate the occupied territories,” the minister said, according to Azernews.
Like those of Nagorno Karabakh, the main point of contention between the neighbouring archenemies, Nakhchivan’s borders were drawn by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, with the aim of denying Turkey a border with Azerbaijan, with which it has close cultural ties.
The situation at Nakhchivan "has always been a sore spot for Ankara, Baku and Yerevan,” wrote the Jamestown Foundation in a recent comment. “And recent moves have seriously exacerbated tensions about it.”
Specifically, Turkey’s Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications announced earlier this month plans to build the Kars-Igdir-Nakhchivan Railroad jointly with Iran and Azerbaijan.
“Commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) Railroad, the opening of a logistics centre in Kars, construction of Kars-Igdir-Nakhchivan Railway, possibility of implementing cross-border trade between Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Turkey’s Kars and Igdir provinces will further strengthen relations between Baku and Ankara,” Turkish Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Ahmet Arslan commented at the time.
“Armenia has long worried about the projection of Turkish power into the region by the establishment of a rail connection; it fears that if Turkey moved that far, it might help Azerbaijan to seize Zengezur, giving it a direct and unimpeded route to Baku and Central Asia beyond,” commented Jamestown analyst Paul Goble on June 12.
Moreover, with Azerbaijan emboldened during the recent upheavals in Armenia, a military build-up on the Azeri side of the line of contact in Nagorno Karabakh was reported in late April.
“None of this means that a military conflict is imminent. But it is likely that Moscow will use the Turkish and Azerbaijani moves to push Armenia to accept a still larger Russian military presence. It is also likely that Ankara and Baku will move cautiously in response. And it is almost certain that Iran will enjoy being in a position where Russia will support it being an east-west transit link for Turkey and Azerbaijan lest the two Turkic countries make any moves against Zengezur,” Goble commented.