Armenian Soldier Killed In Fresh Border Incident


Institute for War and Peace Reporting , UK
IWPR Caucasus Reporting #707
Nov 1 2013

Incident part of recurring cycle as civilians try to earn a living
close to Azerbaijani and Armenian army lines.

By Lilit Arakelyan – Caucasus

An incident in which Azerbaijani troops killed an Armenian soldier
close to the border between the two countries has sparked fresh calls
for mediators to work on confidence-building measures.

On October 22, troops on the Azerbaijani side of the border opened
fire on a vehicle travelling along a road between the towns of Berd
and Ijevan in the Tavush region of northeast Armenia. The vehicle was
carrying soldiers returning to their posts, and one of them, Private
Garik Poghosyan, was killed. Three other conscripts were injured.

Ten days earlier, Hayk Kosakyan, a 29-year-old civilian, was wounded
by gunfire from the Azerbaijani side while he was out working in
fields belonging to the village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur. Hit in the
left side, he was taken to hospital in the town of Berd.

Open war between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces ended in 1994 with
the ceasefire that halted the Nagorny Karabakh war. No peace deal
was signed, however, and negotiations on conflict settlement and on
Karabakh’s future status, mediated by the OSCE’s Minsk Group, have
made little progress. The Armenian administration in control of Nagorny
Karabakh regards itself as independent, but has not won international
recognition, and Azerbaijan continues to claim sovereignty.

Troops face each other along the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia,
as well as along the “line of control” that separates the hostile armed
forces around Karabakh. Exchanges of gunfire over these front lines
are frequent, and each side generally accuses the other of shooting
first. (See Gunfire as Extension of Politics on Azeri-Armenian Border.)

On October 17, OSCE monitors were forced to call off an inspection
after Azerbaijani troops fired at Armenian positions near Hadrut
in Karabakh.

The Armenian defence ministry told IWPR that the Azerbaijanis had
broken the ceasefire nearly 8,000 times between January and July,
resulting in the deaths of three soldiers and ten injuries.

George Tabakyan, founder of the Sahman (Border) NGO, which runs
agricultural, educational and cultural projects in villages along
Armenia’s frontier, described the precarious conditions in which
people live their lives there.

“They [Azerbaijanis] are putting pressure on the residents of border
villages to force them to leave their homes. They are still living
there, but at any time their homes, their children’s playgrounds and
the schools they attend might come under fire,” Tabakyan told IWPR.

“Over these 20 years, people in frontier villages have learned to be
cautious and to know which areas are is dangerous and which are safe,
and where they can hide from bullets.”

Kosakyan, who comes from the village of Navur, told IWPR that
Azerbaijan soldiers deliberately shot at him and two companions while
they were out picking grapes.

“They fired at our car from Azerbaijani positions and hit me. I
was the first to get out. I knew there was often shooting in that
place, but the last time I’d gone there, things were quiet,” he
said. “Since grapes don’t grow in Navur, we’d come to pick them in
Nerkin Karmiraghbyur. That’s how we ended up under fire from the

Some 1,160 people live in the village Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, most
working as farmers and livestock herds. This border area is more
fertile than most parts of Armenia, but most of it lies empty because
locals are afraid to stray too close to the Azerbaijani lines.

“People try to make ends meet by working in the fields. But there’s
never a guarantee they won’t come under fire,” Manvel Kamendatyan,
who heads the village administration, told IWPR.

Almost every house in the village bears the scars of bullets, and
local children know they have to keep close to walls when they are out,
and hide in the basement if they hear shooting. In such circumstances,
many villagers have left to seek better lives elsewhere.

“Every year, seven or eight people from our village go abroad to earn
money. Many of them want to go and resettle their whole families in
other places, but they aren’t able to,” Kamendatyan said.

Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute, says that
outbreaks of shooting typically coincide with events at political
level, such as Minsk Group meetings.

“With this incident, I’d look for a parallel in the presidential
election in Azerbaijan,” he said, referring to the October 9 polls
won by the incumbent, Ilham Aliyev.

Armenian defence ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said the
Minsk Group should try to build greater trust between the two sides
by installing telephones to allow army officers on either side to
contact one another when incidents happened. (See Civilian Deaths
Underline Armenia-Azerbaijan Tensions for one recent case where a
fatality seemed avoidable.)

“Azerbaijan constantly refuses to take a constructive approach to
this problem,” Hovhannisyan told IWPR.

In Azerbaijan, analysts said Armenian calls for more mediation and
better communication were merely a ploy to cement the status quo
on the ground, in other words Armenian control over Karabakh and
neighbouring districts.

“People are being killed on the front line because the conflict
is still going on,” Farhad Mammadov, director of the presidential
Centre for Strategic Studies, told IWPR. “The Armenians want to freeze
this conflict. People are dying and will continue to die because no
agreement has been signed.”

Most experts doubt that the Minsk Group, which is chaired jointly by
Russia, the United States and France, has the leverage it would need
to stop armed forces on either side from firing at one another.

According to Iskandaryan, “The Minsk Group mediators are trying to
persuade the two sides to come to a mutual understanding. They are
trying to maintain the status quo and the state of parity so that the
war doesn’t start again. However, parity will not stop the shootings
on the border, so such incidents are sadly going to continue.”

Lilit Arakelyan is a reporter for in Armenia. IWPR’s
Azerbaijan country director, Shahin Rzayev, provided additional
reporting from Baku.

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