The fragile truce in the disputed Caucasus region looks increasingly at risk. EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg have asked both sides to negotiate. Meanwhile, civilian protests spread across Europe.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) The ceasefire in the Caucasus is coming apart. The Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers had agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire in Moscow on Saturday. But repeated clashes since have made a mockery of the truce deal, with each side on Monday accusing the other of repeated violations. The European Union urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to abide strictly by the ceasefire agreement and called on all actors, including external parties, to refrain from any action that may lead to further casualties. “In this respect, we note with extreme concern the reports of continued military activities, including against civilian targets, as well as civilian casualties, and urge the sides to ensure full respect of the agreement on the ground,” EU High Representative, Josep Borrell said in Brussels on Monday.
EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg
On Monday in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers discussed the diplomatic efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group to stop the hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh. Afterwards, Borrell stated: “We discussed how to provide tangible support to the ceasefire and we stressed the importance that the ceasefire be respected. The EU ministers also stressed that all regional actors should contribute to stopping the armed confrontation and contribute to peace.”
The EU called upon the sides to commit to real negotiations without delay under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, “without preconditions and on the basis of the agreed upon principles”. The aim is to push Yerevan and Baku towards a negotiated political solution to the conflict.
A larger conflict involving Turkey and Russia
The foreign ministers’ request follows similar appeals by the US and Russia to respect the truce. For the past two weeks, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been engaged in bitter clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region controlled by Armenians since the 1990s war, the independence of which is not recognised by any state. The Nagorno-Karabakh clashes have the potential to turn into a larger and international conflict — involving notably Russia and NATO member Turkey, two countries that already support opposing sides in Syria and Libya. The fighting, the worst since the 1994 ceasefire, has sparked fears of a regional conflict, with Turkey backing Azerbaijan, Armenia seeking to pull ex-Soviet ally Russia in on its side, and Iran looking on warily. Since the conflict around the region reignited, an estimated 450 people have died, including over 50 civilians.
The Franco-German axis
Despite repeated diplomatic pleas from all over the world, Turkey has offered Azerbaijan its unconditional support to continue the offensive. Several analysts have said that Baku currently appears to have the upper hand in the conflict. “The new aspect is that there is military involvement by Turkey which risks an internationalisation of the conflict”, French minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French Parliament earlier this month.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, representing the EU’s rotating presidency, has spoken with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Paschinvan, urging the parties to fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire. The view is that the military action must stop immediately, and substantial negotiations should be carried out with the help of the Minsk Group.
Civil demonstrations in Europe
Armenian and non-Armenian committees and associations prompted a sit-in this afternoon in front of the Italian Parliament to ask the institutions to “promote every possible action to restore peace in the South Caucasus and preserve the right to life, freedom and rights of the populations involved in the war”, the Armenian Community and Associations of Italy announced. They demanded that the Italian authorities condemn military intervention by third parties in the conflict and, in a reference to the Armenian genocide of 105 years ago, urged them not to abandon the Armenian people.
Italy has a significant national interest in the region, specifically the Caspian Sea and related pipelines.
In Europe, Azerbaijani intellectuals and members of civil society have appealed to NATO, the EU and the UN to ask for an immediate withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the territory of Azerbaijan. Last week, when the European Parliament debated the hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh, some 2,000 protesters, many waving Armenian flags, gathered in the vicinity of the EU headquarters in Brussels. The local police used water cannons to break up the demonstrations.