Continuing ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh are unlikely to escalate into a full-scale war, a senior official in Stepanakert insisted on Friday.
“Although the war can break out at any moment, its likelihood is low,” said Davit Babayan, the deputy chief of staff of Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president.
“Why? Because Azerbaijan spent 22 years getting ready to start the four-day war of April 2016. And it got ready for a blitzkrieg,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Only one year has passed [since the April 2016 war.] Given so many [Azerbaijani] casualties and the clear position of the international community, I don’t think that another war is possible now,” added Babayan.
The four-day hostilities mentioned by the Karabakh Armenian official marked the worst fighting in the conflict since a Russian-mediated truce stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war for the disputed territory in 1994. They left at least 190 soldiers from both warring sides dead.
In a report published on Thursday, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think-tank, warned of a serious risk of renewed heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. “A year after Nagorno-Karabakh’s April 2016 violent flare-up, Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer to war than at any point since the 1994 ceasefire,” it said, calling for more vigorous international efforts to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Babayan dismissed this conclusion, arguing that the ICG did not predict the April 2016 hostilities. “It does not reflect the reality,” he said of the report.
Truce violations along “the line of contact” have periodically intensified over past year. In the most recent escalation, Azerbaijani forces fired guided missiles at an air-defense system of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army on May 16. The latter retaliated with mortar fire targeting Azerbaijani military facilities across the frontline.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group condemned the “significant violations of the ceasefire.” In a May 18 statement, they urged the parties to “take all necessary measures to prevent any further escalation in the conflict zone.”