Last week, Armenia and Azerbaijan marked the 13th anniversary of the cease-fire signed between the two governments in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in 1994. But not only does the situation between the two countries remain tense, the prospects for peace keep getting smaller and smaller, with the risk that the current fragile status of “no war, no peace” will break at some point.
Many local analysts in Baku believe that despite the official cease-fire, cross-border shootings and murders of both soldiers and civilians has not stopped since 1994. The Azerbaijani daily newspaper Sherg has put the number of murdered persons from the Azerbaijani side since 1994 at close to 5,000. The last victim was killed just a week ago. APA News agency reported that Vahab Abdurrahmanov, a soldier from the Azerbaijani army, was killed by an Armenian sniper from the occupied Agdam region. Such violations of the cease-fire take place on an almost daily basis and usually last from 30 minutes to as much as two hours.
Azerbaijan’s Minister of Defense Safar Abiyev acknowledged that the situation on the border remains tense. Speaking to journalists on May 9, he said, “Armenians violate the cease-fire and the Azerbaijani army responds.” Abiyev also added that as long as the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories by the Armenian army endures, the “difficult situation” will continue.
Another point of tension in the last year has been the frequent capture of the prisoners by both sides. Due to the unclear border demarcation and the mountainous landscape, soldiers from both sides get captured by the opposing side and often become a bargaining chip in the political negotiations. Azerbaijani civilians also get captured. In just the past year three Azerbaijani soldiers were captured by Armenians, which, in the words of Azerbaijani military expert Uzeyir Jafarov, constitutes “nonsense” and shows the lack of professionalism in the army.
Recently, Azerbaijani army soldier Samir Mammadov was captured by the Armenians and reportedly refused to return home. Instead, he asked international mediators, such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, to transfer him to a third country. The Azerbaijani government and Mammadov’s parents refuse to believe that this appeal is genuine, and believe he wrote it under duress from the Armenians.
“As we understand, Armenia is putting pressure on Samir and does not want him to return to Azerbaijan. They speak on his behalf as if he did not want to come back. This is a lie,” Abiyev said to journalists on May 9.
Mammadov’s mother, Tarana Mammadova, appealed to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, “We ask the president to help us take back our son. Samir is not only our son, he is an Azerbaijani. Though we cannot meet with the president, we ask him to help us to take our son back. I believe that Samir will return and serve his motherland honorably.”
It must be noted, however, that the Azerbaijani authorities take the return of the arrested Azerbaijani soldier very seriously and with a great deal of caution, because captured soldiers risk being recruited by the Armenian intelligence services. Such a case occurred in 1994, when the Armenian intelligence services ordered captured Azerbaijani soldier Azer Aslanov to organize terrorist attacks in Baku in return for his mother’s freedom. Azer Aslanov subsequently organized a terror attack on a metro station in Baku.
Last year, Vusal Garadzhaev, a soldier of the Azerbaijani army, was seized and released from Armenian captivity on December 23, 2006, and then subsequently arrested in Azerbaijan. The Investigatory Department for Grave Crimes of the Military Office of the Public Prosecutor has initiated a criminal case against Garadzhaev under Articles 274 (betrayal of Motherland) and 338.1 (breaking the rules of combat duty) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
The situation is likely to continue as hostilities keep growing due to the lack of any progress at the negotiating table. Last week, speaking in front of the displaced persons from Azerbaijani town of Shusha, President Ilham Aliyev said that all seven occupied regions around Karabakh must be returned before the status of Karabakh can be decided. He also added that the Armenian side is willing to return five of the seven occupied regions. However, the May 12 parliamentary elections in Armenia and the upcoming presidential elections in both countries reduce the likelihood of a peaceful compromise. This, in turn, means that the cross-border violations of the cease-fire and the mutual capture of the soldiers will continue.
(Sherg, APA News Agency, AZTV, Interfax, Today.az, Karabakh.co.uk, May 10-14)