BY NANORE BARSOUMIAN
STEPANAKERT (Armenian Weekly)—Following a string of attacks along the contact line by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) Prime Minister Ara Harutyunyan spent the nights of August 3 and 4 visiting with soldiers on the front line. The attacks that began on July 28, left five Armenian and 13 Azeri servicemen dead, according to official figures provided by the Defense Ministries of each side. With the escalating tensions, hundreds of volunteers from across NKR reported for duty. However, Artak Beglaryan, spokesperson for the Prime Minister, believes the worst is over, as neither side would wish to see an all-out war.
According to official Artsakh, since July 28, Azeri Armed Forces have staged over half a dozen attacks, targeting the Martakert, Martuni, Askeran, and Gulistan regions, while suffering heavy losses. In response to the surge in violence, Prime Minister Harutyunyan took it upon himself to personally pay a visit to the soldiers embedded on the line of contact—a move that encapsulates the general mood in NKR from gratefulness for the soldiers’ sacrifice to a willingness to (literally) stand by the servicemen, even if only for moral support.
“For two nights, Prime Minister Ara Harutyunyan visited the front lines and encouraged the soldiers and volunteers. Everywhere the mood was high. [Soldiers] are ready to guard the homeland. The Prime Minister’s presence lifted their spirits; they realize that the entire society and the authorities are backing them,” Beglaryan told the Armenian Weekly.
Prime Minister Harutyunyan is not alone in heading to the front lines. Scores of volunteers have come forward as well. Among them are two disabled Artsakh war veterans who wished to stand by their sons serving on the front lines.
“Volunteers have come forward spontaneously, as a natural response to the real threat from Azerbaijan. The government has welcomed them, and deployed some of them on different parts of the front line. There are many volunteers who have not been sent to their positions, because there is no need. The main purpose of the volunteers’ deployment is moral support for the soldiers, rather than providing military support. The volunteers are coming from all the corners of Artsakh—towns and villages,” Beglaryan told the Weekly.
Despite the rapid civilian response, the situation appears to be stable, and Beglaryan believes the worst is now behind them. “The tension is decreasing now, because the wave of diversions has calmed down in the past two days,” he said, adding that the de-escalation was probably due to both the “sharp” Armenian reaction, as well as the international response to the violence.
“I don’t see any significant chance of further escalation, because the military balance is being maintained between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies, and the international and regional environments are not beneficial to large-scale clashes,” added Beglaryan.
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf released a statement on Aug. 1 expressing U.S. “concern about the escalation of violence,” extending “condolences to the families of those killed or injured,” and calling for both sides to “respect the cease-fire.” Harf stressed that there can be no military solution, urged the Armenian and Azeri Presidents to meet as early as possible and “resume dialogue on key issues,” and called on both countries to work with the OSCE towards a peaceful solution.
In response, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian issued a statement also on Aug. 1, criticizing “the OSCE Minsk Group’s unwillingness to clearly condemn Azerbaijani military strikes [which] has fostered a dangerous atmosphere of impunity that has clearly contributed to this recent escalation of violence. It is time for peace negotiators to break their bad habit of answering Aliyev’s every assault with artificial even-handedness and diplomatic double-talk.”
Similarly, the Bureau of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation issued a statement on Aug. 4 calling on “the [OSCE Minsk Group] Co-chairmen to refrain from generalizations, which embolden the actual culprit to escape from responsibility and allow it to become more relentless.” The statement also called for a resumption of negotiations “with the full participation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and the signing of a non-aggression agreement.”
Meanwhile, on Aug. 3, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, which attributes the escalation in violence to preemptive Armenian attacks, urged the international community to apply “substantial sanctions” against Armenia.
Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan, on the other hand, blamed Baku for the violence, but expressed regret for all those killed. “Armenia’s Defense Ministry regrets the human losses on both sides, the responsibility of which solely lies on the conscience of Azerbaijan’s political and military leadership. As always, Azerbaijan’s authorities see no value in the lives of their own soldiers,” read the statement released on Aug. 3.
Later this week, Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev are scheduled to meet in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. How that unfolds remains to be seen.