On the night of 1 to 2 April, in flagrant violation of the ceasefire agreement of 12 May 1994 and the agreement of 6 February 1995 on strengthening the ceasefire, the Azerbaijani side undertook a large-scale offensive along the entire Line of Contact between the armed forces of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan, using heavy equipment, artillery and combat aviation.
The intensity and the scale of the military actions, the number of forces and combat equipment involved, as well as the statements of Azerbaijani officials clearly indicate that the events of 2-5 April were not a spontaneous escalation, but a carefully planned and prepared military aggression.
The following facts prove that Azerbaijan has been systematically and openly preparing for a new aggression for the past several years:
Militarization and Military Expenditures of Azerbaijan
In violation of the provisions of the CFE Treaty, Azerbaijan has acquired offensive weapons significantly exceeding the maximum allowed ceilings. According to published data, Azerbaijan has an arsenal of about 570 tanks, over 1140 artillery systems of 100 mm caliber and above, nearly 223 AIFVs and 70 attack helicopters whereas it is allowed to have 220 tanks, 285 artillery systems, 135 AIFVs and 50 attack helicopters. The main types of conventional weapons have been imported from six countries - Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Turkey and South Africa. From 2010, Azerbaijan signed contracts on arms supplies totaling more than $13 billion, of which about $5 billion with Russia1, $3 billion with Turkey (for the supply of 60 T- 129 АТАК attack helicopters)2, $5 billion with Israel3. According to SIPRI Fact Sheet “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2015”, Azerbaijan was the largest importer of major weapons in Europe from 2011 to 20154.
The Azerbaijani authorities, at the highest level, on numerous occasions have publicly stated that they seek to achieve a manifold military superiority to launch a sudden and decisive offensive and capture Nagomo Karabakh. On 23 March 2015, the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan stated that they accumulated necessary weapons and equipment to destroy 70 percent of the enemy in the first strike. "The time has come… It will happen for sure, no one should have any doubts about that," he added5. On 19 March 2016, President Aliyev said that “To resolve the conflict, in the first place it is necessary for our country and army to become even stronger. A lot is being done in this direction. Today, we have gained full advantage on the line of contact. The enemy is receiving crushing blows."6
Xenophobia and anti-Armenian propaganda
Despite the calls of the mediators and the international community to prepare the societies of the parties to the conflict for peace, and not war, Azerbaijan continues to incite hatred, intolerance and enmity towards Armenians. The demonization and dehumanization of Armenians became part of a state policy pursued under the slogan "Azerbaijan's main enemy are Armenians of the world", which was voiced publicly by the President of Azerbaijan on 28 February 20127.
The following facts show how far the Azerbaijani authorities have gone into the campaign of hatred towards Armenians:
- For the last few years, Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov, a murderer who, motivated by ethnic hatred, beheaded with an ax Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan while the latter was sleeping, has been presented in Azerbaijan as an exemplary image. They were both taking language training courses in Budapest as part of the NATO’s "Partnership for Peace" program. Ramil Safarov was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Hungarian court, however on 31 August 2012 he was extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was immediately pardoned and promoted to the rank of Major, with the payment of salary for 8 years spent in prison.
- In 2010 and 2014, two residents of border villages of Armenia, Manvel Saribekyan and Karen Petrosyan were murdered in Azerbaijani captivity. Moreover, Karen Petrosyan was killed a day after his capture.
- Anyone in Azerbaijan who speaks publicly in favor of establishing any relations with Armenians is subjected to intimidation and persecution by the authorities, as was the case with Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli.
- Any Armenian in Azerbaijan is treated as a potential hostage by the Azerbaijani authorities. A vivid example of this was the proposal of the Azerbaijani authorities to exchange Yeghishe Petrosyan's family, who in 2010 had fled to Azerbaijan with his wife and children to avoid criminal prosecution in Armenia, with Azerbaijani citizens Dilham Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev who were imprisoned in the NKR for committing serious and particularly serious crimes in 2014, including kidnapping and murder8.
The manifestations of racism and xenophobia towards Armenians in Azerbaijan have been also confirmed in a number of documents of international organizations, in particular the Concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD/C/AZE/CO/4 dated 14 April 2005), the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reports on Azerbaijan dated 28 June 2002, 15 December 2006, 23 March 2011 and 17 March 2016, the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities opinions on Azerbaijan dated 22 May 2003 and 9 November 2007.
On 13 May 2016, in its Concluding observations on Azerbaijan the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern over the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities condoned racial hatred and hate crimes towards Armenians.
Azerbaijan’s Rejection of Measures on Strengthening the Ceasefire
The Azerbaijani authorities have consistently rejected all proposals by the mediators, the NKR and Armenia to reduce tensions and promote stability and predictability on the Line of Contact between the armed forces of the NKR and Azerbaijan. In particular, they have rejected the proposal put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs on the withdrawal of snipers (2009) and establishing a mechanism for investigation of incidents (2011), as well as the NKR initiatives to establish a hotline between the parties and their operational headquarters (2001), to conduct ongoing monitoring of the ceasefire through an expansion of the office staff of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office (2004), to refrain from any provocative actions during religious holidays (2012). Azerbaijan also rejected the initiative, proposed by U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel and supported by more than 80 members of the U.S. Congress, on installing advanced gunfire-locator systems and sound-ranging equipment to determine the source of attacks on the Line of Contact (2015).
Consistent Escalation of Tension by Azerbaijan
Over the past few years, violations of the ceasefire by Azerbaijan have become permanent. Each time, those violations were becoming more serious both by their nature and scope. Starting from January 2014, Azerbaijan unleashed a subversive war against NKR, which reached its culmination in late July - early August of the same year, resulting in numerous casualties. In November 2014, Azerbaijani armed forces downed an NKR Defense Army helicopter, which was making a training flight near the Line of Contact9. From January 2015, Azerbaijani armed forces have been using mortars to shell the positions of the NKR Defense Army. From September they have been using heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems and from December onwards tanks.
Azerbaijan's policy of constant escalation has been publicly defined by the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan, who stressed that Azerbaijani "soldiers day and night should use every opportunity to destroy the enemy"10. Already after the large-scale military offensive, at a meeting with the supreme command staff on 23 April, the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan underlined that the armed forces personnel should be ready to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan at any cost. "That is what our state expects from us and what our people want us to do", he said11.
A similar position was articulated by the political leadership of the Republic. In particular, on November 12, 2016, the President of Azerbaijan during his visit to the Line of Contact between the armed forces of the NKR and Azerbaijan announced that after April war Azerbaijani authorities have allocated additional finances for armament. “ If Armenian Armed Forces will not draw to correct conclusions in the future more successful operations will follow”, the Azerbaijani President threatened12.
Azerbaijan’s Rejection of Peacekeeping Initiatives at the Level of Public Diplomacy
Since 2014, the Azerbaijani authorities have intensified the persecution against the civil society representatives involved in public diplomacy initiatives aimed at promoting a settlement to the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict. Having arrested a number of Azerbaijani activists on charges of espionage in favor of Armenia, including journalist Rauf Mirkadirov (20 April 2014) and human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunus (30 July 2014), the Azerbaijani authorities thwarted the attempts to establish relations between the societies of Azerbaijan, Artsakh and Armenia even at the level of people to people contacts.
At the same time, freedom of speech in Azerbaijan has been severely restricted and the possibility to express an alternative point of view has almost been completely eliminated in the public space. On September 24, 2014, the President of Azerbaijan signed an order to prevent the dissemination of information on dislocation and assignment of facilities of special significance for reasons of national security and defense, strategic, operational and mobilizing deployment of military units, the organizational structure and personnel strength of military units, as well as other military information constituting a state secret in the media and online resources, as well as in social networks. The same order tasked the Government of Azerbaijan to prepare and submit within three months a new edition "On Martial Law"13. Such actions, including total control over information, are typical for a country preparing for war. It is noteworthy that this order was signed a month after the failed attempt by Azerbaijan to attack the NKR in August 2014 and was aimed at, inter alia, covering the actual losses of the Azerbaijani army.
Azerbaijan's Policy to Disrupt the Negotiation Process
For many years, the Azerbaijani authorities have pursued a policy aimed at disrupting the negotiation process and undermining the mediation format of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship. Azerbaijan has systematically and consistently refused at first, further bilateral talks between the NKR and Azerbaijan, later trilateral talks between the NKR, Azerbaijan and Armenia, completely stalled the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations in 2014-2015 and, ultimately, refused to meet with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs in late 2015 - early 2016. On 19 March 2016, the President of Azerbaijan openly accused the Minsk Group Co-Chairs of provocation against Azerbaijan and stated that Azerbaijan's confidence in their activities had been completely undermined14.
On the first day of the aggression, the official Baku did not even hide the fact that it was Azerbaijan, which started the war. In particular, the Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia in an interview with radio station “Govorit Moskva” (Moscow speaking) and Television Network "Dozhd" on 2 April 2016 said that Azerbaijan had no other option than to solve the conflict by force15.
A few months later, on November 12, 2016, the President of Azerbaijan has openly declared that the April war was aimed at destroying the NKR. In particular, he said: "We will never allow to create the second Armenian state on our land. April fighting once again proved it ... "16
By building up military potential, rejecting any peace initiatives, seeking to isolate Nagorno Karabakh at all costs, promoting xenophobia, hostility and militarism, Azerbaijan was laying the groundwork for a new aggression. It was obvious that when the intention of Azerbaijan to solve the conflict by force matched the actual capacities, resumption of large-scale hostilities could become a reality, which is what happened on 2 April 2016.
During the hostilities, the Azerbaijani army committed numerous war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law, both against civilians and soldiers of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Starting from the very first day of the aggression, the Azerbaijani army shelled a school in Martuni region, as a result of which 12-year-old Vagharshak Grigoryan was killed, and two children were injured. In the village of Talish of the Martakert region, the Azerbaijani servicemen committed brutal murder of three elderly Armenian family members, followed by mutilation of their bodies. The bodies of over twenty soldiers of the NKR Defense Army were also abused: their heads, wrists, fingers and ears were cut off. At least four soldiers were tortured while still alive. The Azerbaijani soldiers, posing with cut-off heads, demonstrated them to the residents of the nearby villages of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has so far refused to transfer the cut-off heads of two servicemen to the Karabakh side.
These facts indicate how deep the hatred towards Armenians is in Azerbaijan, where such manifestations of medieval cruelty are considered as promotion-deserving actions: an Azerbaijani soldier, posing with a cut-off head, was rewarded by the President of Azerbaijan. This step by the Azerbaijani President leaves no doubt that this is exactly the result sought by the Azerbaijani authorities, conducting a policy of promotion of xenophobia and hate crimes against Armenians.
The deliberate nature of the violations of international humanitarian law can be vividly seen, in particular, in the interview of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, who stated that there were "no civilians" in Nagomo Karabakh, "but the field and the military"17, as well as in the statement of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, which publicly threatened to strike "crushing blows" on capital Stepanakert, using all the "heavy weaponry" at their disposal18.
However, Azerbaijan, after suffering heavy losses in manpower and equipment19 asked for a cessation of hostilities through the mediation of the Russian Federation.
On May 16, 2016, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev met in Vienna, with the participation of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States of America John Kerry, and State Secretary for European Affairs of France Harlem Desir, as well as the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. After the negotiations, the co-chairing states of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a joint statement, in which they reiterated that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The Co-Chairs insisted on the importance of respecting the 1994 and 1995 ceasefire agreements. The statement also reads that the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism, to expand the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, as well as to continue the exchange of data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
On June 20, 2016, the Russian side initiated another meeting of the Presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in St. Petersburg, at which the parties confirmed the agreements reached at the May 16 Summit held in Vienna.
Despite the agreements reached, the Azerbaijani side has been refusing to take practical steps to implement them.
1. Over five years, Russia will supply arms for 5 billion USD to Azerbaijan. Contact.az, October 14, 2014
2. Turkey’s ATAK helicopter joins the Azeri army. Daily Sabah, February 4, 2013
5. Azerbaijani Defense Minister: “We’ll destroy 70% of enemy in the first attack”. Azeri-Press Agency (APA), March 23, 2015
6. Speech by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the nationwide festivities on the occasion of Novruz holiday. Official web-site of the President of Azerbaijan. March 19, 2016
7. Speech by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the conference on the results of the third year into the “State Program on the socioeconomic development of districts for 2009-2013”. Official web-site of the President of Azerbaijan. February 28, 2012
8. Azerbaijan appeals to ICRC with hostage exchange proposal. Trend News Agency. August 22, 2014
9. For 10 days, the Azerbaijani side has been refusing to guarantee the safe access for the representatives of the NKR and the ICRC to the site of the downed helicopter for recovering the bodies of its crew members. Moreover, the site of the crash was under constant shooting by the Azerbaijani armed forces. On November 22, 2014, the Artsakh Defense Army had to conduct a special operation to recover the remains of the crew members.
10. Azerbaijani Defense Minister: “We’ll destroy 70% of enemy in the first attack”. Azeri-Press Agency (APA), March 23, 2015
11. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry holds consultation. Azeri-Press Agency (APA), April 23, 2016
12. Speech by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev during the visit of operational conditions in frontline command control center. Official web-site of the President of Azerbaijan. November 12, 2016
13. Decree of the President of Azerbaijan. September 24, 2014 http://ru.president.az/articles/12963
14. Speech by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the nationwide festivities on the occasion of Novruz holiday. Official web-site of the President of Azerbaijan. March 19, 2016
15. Radio station “Govorit Moskva” (Moscow speaking). April 2, 2016 http://govoritmoskva.ru/news/74103/
16. Speech by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev during the visit of operational conditions in frontline command control center. Official web-site of the President of Azerbaijan. November 12, 2016
17. Interview of spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev to Meduza.io, April 4, 2016
18. Press release of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan. April 4, 2016
19. Azerbaijani losses in heavy military equipment only made up 24 battle tanks, 2 helicopters, 14 UAVs, 6 armored vehicles, 1 AIFV, 1 TOS-1A, 1 MLRS "Grad", and 1 engineering vehicle