A tragic pattern of bloody engagements continues to recur along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border at great human cost. Whenever high-level visits or international meetings are scheduled on the Artsakh (Karabagh) conflict, Azerbaijan unfailingly initiates attacks on Armenian border guards causing many casualties.
Azerbaijan’s leaders hope that such hostile action will impress upon the mediating countries the urgency of resolving the conflict by pressuring Armenia’s leadership to make territorial concessions on Artsakh.
Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Caucasus republics. On the day of her arrival in Yerevan, Azeri forces attacked two Armenian border posts, killing three soldiers and wounding many others. In the ensuing days, more Azeri attacks took place, drawing Armenian return fire, resulting in scores of casualties, mostly on the Azeri side.
Armenians expected Clinton to strongly condemn Azerbaijan after its initial attack. Clearly, the Azeri military action was timed to coincide with her visit to Armenia. Yet, regrettably, Clinton merely urged both countries to refrain from “the use of force,” stressing that the Artsakh conflict “can be resolved exclusively by peaceful means.” Clinton’s totally unacceptable statement equated the aggressors with the victims. Moreover, by not condemning the Azeri attacks, she actually emboldened Azerbaijan to commit further acts of aggression against Armenia.
Since it is common knowledge that Azerbaijan orchestrates such attacks to coincide with visits of high-ranking officials to the region, Clinton should have warned Azerbaijan, before embarking on her trip, not to initiate any hostile action while she was in the area. The State Department should have advised the Azeri government that any breach of the ceasefire during the Clinton visit would be personally embarrassing for the secretary of state, leaving her no choice but to cancel her trip to Baku. Even if such a warning was not issued in advance, Clinton should have refused to go to Baku after the Azeri attacks. Unfortunately, she placed a higher value on Azeri oil than on Armenian blood. By her actions, she also undermined the international prestige and moral standing of the United States.
As this could be Clinton’s farewell visit to the region (she is retiring from public service later this year), it is regrettable that she will leave behind a legacy of violence and conflict rather than peace and reconciliation. She may have come to Yerevan and Baku to encourage a negotiated settlement to the Artsakh conflict, but she left the region more destabilized than before.
Another factor that has encouraged Azerbaijan to continue its attacks is the inadequate Armenian response to the countless ceasefire violations since 1994. Armenians will be unable to stop Azeri aggression simply by firing back. The Aliyev regime should be made to understand that it would pay a heavy price for breaching the ceasefire. Rather than simply returning fire, the Armenian response should be to neutralize the Azeri military positions responsible for initiating the attacks.
Although some may fear that a more robust Armenian response would lead to all-out conflict, such concerns are misplaced because Azerbaijan is not ready to wage war, according to most military experts. By starting a premature war, the Azeris risk losing even more territories, not to mention the enormous economic losses.
To deter further Azeri aggression and reduce Armenian casualties, here are seven actions that Armenia may consider taking should Azerbaijan continue to violate the ceasefire:
- Respond by targeting Azerbaijan’s petroleum industry, disrupting its oil and gas pipelines. The best defense is a good offense.
- Take preemptive action to neutralize Azeri snipers who regularly target Armenian border guards and civilians in nearby villages.
- After each attack suspend peace talks with Azerbaijan for an indefinite period. One cannot talk peace and fight at the same.
- Demand that all countries refrain from the sale of weapons to Azerbaijan.
- Urge CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), a defense alliance that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, to warn Azerbaijan that any further attacks on Armenia would trigger a collective military response from all CSTO members.
- Declare that Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan in the Artsakh conflict constitutes a hostile act, and hence withdraw Armenia’s signature from the Armenia-Turkey protocols.
- Recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state and invite other countries to do likewise.