We have seen an unexpected war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region between April 2nd-6th. This unexpected conflict has gone down in history as the “Four Day War.” The Armenian and Azeri chiefs of General Staff signed a ceasefire in Moscow on April 6th and the gunfire stopped. Following the ceasefire, it is necessary to look at the behind-the- scenes secrets of this clash.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a crisis emerged due to the separatist tendencies of Karabakh Armenians and with the state of Armenia’s support this crisis turned into a war. The war started in 1991 and ended in 1994 with a ceasefire. This ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan was signed in Nagorno-Karabakh area between the states. Even if the Madrid Principles—as suggested by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—had been acknowledged by the parties during the twenty-two years of ongoing peace negotiations, there was not an agreement on details of how it would work out.
What was needed in order to start the peace process as suggested in the “Gradual Solution” for Karabakh issue, was the Armenian withdrawal from the 5(+2) regions—Gubadli, Cevrayil, Ağdam, Fizuli and Kelbecer, Lacin—around Nagorno-Karabakh. Later, parties were expected to work on determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and reach an agreement. But the parties could not reach that phase. In the end, clashes that had been expected, erupted again.
Azerbaijan’s explanation of the April 2016 clash is because of the Armenian military provocations throughout the year. That is why Azerbaijan developed the strategy of reprisals with small scale operations (Controlled Conflicted Strategy) in Karabakh. But this time, a possibility for arousal of these small scale operations was possible. It was even possible for it to go out of control and to turn into a full scale war. The Azerbaijani army recaptured a few important positions in regions such as Seysulan, Leletepe and Talish around Karabakh.
Retreat of the Armenian army around Karabakh raised serious concerns within the central government. Thus, Armenia tried to recapture their positions by carrying out military operations because this type of loss of territory disturbs the governments both in Armenia and Karabakh and which also created fear. In fact these losses may even cause Sargsyan to lose power in Armenia. After the ceasefire, according to Armenian press, a Talish village was recaptured from the Azerbaijan army.
What is the reason behind all these military provocations?
One plausible answer would be as follows: Azerbaijan and Armenia put pressure on each other and therefore, provoking each other. Every time, before or after the meetings of presidents of the two countries, there have been small scale clashes. “Who started it first” line of questioning seems meaningless. Previously, a one-day conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place on March 4. This conflict lasted only one day and ended with Russia's pressure. Eventually with the initiative of Kremlin and Medvedev, presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a joint declaration resolving the conflict with peaceful means, on November 2, 2008.
Despite this, the conflict did not stop in Karabakh. This created an even more of a chance for this conflict to grow into a war. This time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a warning to both Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan on August 5, 2011, reminding them of the lessons learned during the war of Georgia. Medvedev met with both leaders on January 23, 2012 and made them issue a joint declaration that they would find a peaceful solution to the problem. However, there was no real convergence. In 2015 there was more than 100 breaches of the ceasefire and twelve Azerbaijani soldiers were killed.
Who could be helping to create this conflict? President of Azerbaijan, Aliyev, who was in the security summit in the USA, has given the signals of successful meetings with US authorities about the Southern Gas Corridor. John Kerry clearly stated they support the Southern Gas Corridor and he also pointed out its importance when he met Aliyev. Aliyev also explained the importance of this support and conveyed his appreciation. For the success of the Southern Gas Corridor Project, stability in the region is extremely important. After all these successful meetings, why would they carry out military operations having negative effect on energy projects and cause instability in the region?
There may be two reasons: First, Azerbaijan's worsening economy. Carrying out military operations may be a strategy of distracting the population from their real problems. Second, there may be an agreement between Azerbaijan and Russia that is forcing Armenia to make peace, which also has the effect of showing how powerful Russia can be. Azerbaijan's Controlled Conflict operation is only possible by compromising with Russia. The main outcome is Moscow's motivation to give Azerbaijan the green light to start a war. The real reason, needless to say, is to keep Azerbaijan by its side permanently. Thus, it may be better to think about the outcome of Azerbaijan’s green light.