Armenia and Azerbaijan Take Welcome Action to Counter Rising Tensions
On June 12, Azerbaijan and Armenia took important and welcome steps to reduce tensions between the two counties and in the South Caucasus more broadly. Azerbaijan released 15 Armenian citizens it had detained for illegally crossing into its territory, and Armenia provided maps showing the placement of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the areas now back under Azerbaijan’s control following last year’s war. The exchanges reportedly took place on the Azerbaijani-Georgia border with the participation of Georgian government representatives.
Despite the cease-fire that Russian President Putin engineered in November 2020 that ended the weeks of full-scale fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, there had been a serious rise in tensions in recent months. In addition to military personnel from both countries crossing undemarcated portions of the international border into each other’s territories, issues of Armenian citizens still held by Azerbaijan and maps Armenia possessed showing locations of at least some of the mines planted in Nagorno-Karabakh and other regions Armenia had controlled since the early 1990’s presented the potential for renewed conflict.
Azerbaijan’s return of the detained Armenians and Armenia’s decision to provide information that will aid in de-mining the formerly occupied areas are important in halting the rising tensions in the South Caucasus. Hopefully, they will also put the two countries more firmly on a path towards building a lasting peace that would bring both Armenia and Azerbaijan greater security and prosperity.
Statement by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, July 12. Source: @SecBlinken, Twitter
Just as importantly, the two countries’ actions show the benefit of determined, high-profile diplomacy. In its June 12 statement, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry credits the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with the week’s visit by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Phillip Reeker, with helping bring about the needed actions by both Baku and Yerevan. No doubt, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s conversations with the two countries’ leaders played a key, positive role as well. The Azerbaijani government’s statement also gives credit to Georgia’s government for its role in realizing the humanitarian action, thus underlining what the countries in the region can do to improve peace, security, and the well-being of their citizens
At the same time, as important, necessary, and highly welcome as the actions the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments took June 12 are, much more still needs to be done to counter decades of conflict and to help the people of the countries build a lasting peace. Nevertheless, the June 12 actions show that focused, persistent, high-level diplomacy can be effective and is key to helping build peace in the region. The United States, the whole of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, and others with influence, will need to remain engaged to help move this process forward.
Photo sourced from AFP