Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev appeared to backtrack on an agreement with Armenia and peace mediating Minsk Group, which operates under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to investigate ceasefire violations along the line of contact with the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The OSCE has limited monitoring capabilities of the conflict area, consisting of missions of six monitors sent every few months with prior notice and approval from Azerbaijan and Armenia. The conflict between the two countries over the breakaway region and seven surrounding territories is nearing its third decade. A ceasefire agreement ended a bloody war in 1994, but brought no peace settlement. As such, the agreement is frequently violated, most notably in April, when a four-day war is believed to have resulted in 200 casualties on both sides.
The Minsk Group co-chairs - the US, France and Russia- have been pressing for a larger number of monitors at the frontline. However, in a speech on June 25 Aliyev said that there was no need for a “mechanism to investigate incidents at this stage” and that the number of monitors would increase to a maximum of 16, from the current six.
According to APA news agency, the head of state questioned the efficiency of such measures and their effect on the conflict. “If this means freezing the conflict and the adoption of any other measures at the line of contact, Azerbaijan will of course not agree”. Baku lost some 13% of its internationally recognised territory during the war in the 1990s, and has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with the pace of peace negotiations.
In an emailed comment to bne IntelliNews on June 23, Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Centre, noted that Azerbaijan's fulfillment of its promises to allow increased OSCE monitoring will be the “real test” to ongoing peace negotiations.
“Nevertheless, the real test will be in the coming months, when Azerbaijan will be expected to fulfill its promises to allow an increased OSCE monitoring mission, which it has previously opposed. Yet even this step, if implemented, does little to inspire confidence in diplomacy, especially as the lack of political will remains bolstered by Baku's domestic dividends from using force over diplomacy. In this context, we can only expect more fighting into the summer, especially as Azerbaijan's new military objective of seizing and securing territory has, at least to a limited degree, succeeded in altering the deadlock of a deadly status quo,” he noted.
Aliyev has met with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan twice since the April escalation in violence- once in Vienna in May and, more recently in St. Petersburg on June 20. Statements that the parts had reached an agreement in St. Petersburg were later disputed. The outcome of the latest negotiations efforts was the maintain of a trilateral format Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia, in addition to the Minsk Group, for peace negotiations looking ahead.
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