A 34-year old member of the Armenian army, working on a reconnaissance mission, was apprehended by Azerbaijan’s armed forces in Azerbaijan’s western Gazakh district on Sunday.
Self-identified as Karen Kazaryan, the soldier was attempting to cross the border into a frontline military unit of the Azerbaijani army along with others, according to the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan. The ministry announced that the suppression of what was a sudden reconnaissance and sabotage attempt by the Armenian armed forces resulted in a retreat and a loss of manpower. No casualties have been reported on the Azerbaijani side.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan goes back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the two neighboring nations had their relations soured over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but was partially populated by ethnic Armenians alongside indigenous Azerbaijanis. During the twilight of the USSR – of which Armenia and Azerbaijan were once part – Armenia put forward ethnopolitical claims to the region, which in 1991 had turned into a full-scale war. In 1994, the war halted in a ceasefire.
More than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and one million displaced during those years, and Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, along with seven surrounding districts, were captured by Armenia. These amounted to about 20 percent of the country's landmass, and have been occupied by Armenia ever since. Four United Nations Security Council resolutions dating to the 1990s call for the full withdrawal of Armenian forces from the territories, but all go unfulfilled to this day.
Even the slightest overture or statement can cause the regional conflict to flare up, if not militarily then politically.
On July 9, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan saw his son, a conscript in the Armenian armed forces, off to do his military service in one of the units located in Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Pashinyan said his son, Ashot, deliberately sought to do his mandatory service in the region, and that as a father he was “proud of him.”
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry slammed Pashinyan’s words, calling them a “political show to protect their image and political influence” in Armenia. The ministry’s spokesperson, Hikmat Hajiyev, said fulfilling military service by citizens of Armenia in what is a territory of Azerbaijan contributes to occupation, and “these acts are not serving peace in the region.”
When the news first broke in May that Pashinyan’s son would be serving in Nagorno-Karabakh, Viktor Baranets, a Russian military journalist and colonel in the reserves, said the situation is a real source of concern, and could push Azerbaijan into a provocation.
“It will be a very dangerous, very ignorant and untimely step. Such a statement would only have a negative impact on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict,” Baranets told Ordu.az on June 1.
Baku’s official position has always been that for peace to resume in the region, Armenia must end its occupation and stop sending its soldiers to Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We have not occupied the territory of Armenia,” Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev is reported to have said during a meeting with the country's Security Council on April 2 in 2016. “We fight in our own lands. If the Armenian soldier does not want to die, let him get out of the lands of Azerbaijan.”