Photo courtesy Anna Naghdalyan, Armenian MFA

Foreign Ministers Elmar Mamedyarov and Zohrab Mnatsakanyan met in New York during the United Nations’ annual General Assembly meetings on September 23. They were joined by diplomats from France, Poland, Russia and the United States, who support the Karabakh conflict mediation process under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) umbrella.

The previous meeting, held in Washington three months before, helped solidify the cease-fire along the Line of Contact (LoC). However, on the day of the New York meeting, Nagorno Karabakh’s Defense Army reported an incursion by Azerbaijani forces on September 22, leaving one of them dead and his body left in the no-man’s land between the two sides’ trenches. This was the first fatal LoC incursion reported since February 2017, when at least seven Azerbaijani servicemen were killed.

Azerbaijani forces staged smaller scale attacks – mostly sniper shootings – prior to diplomatic meetings last June and before that in September 2018, likely intended to serve as a form of pressure prior to talks.

So far, 2019 has been the quietest year on the LoC on record with fewer than ten fatalities caused by hostile fire reported on both sides. By contrast there were at least 22 deaths for the same period of 2018 & more than 40 during January-September 2017.

Earlier this year, officials from Armenia and Azerbaijan made several positive statements on the peace process, but beyond relative calm on the LoC, no other steps have been taken to – in official lingo – “prepare the populations for peace.”

UPDATED Sept. 24: Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry described the New York meeting as “an opportunity to exchange views” and promised to “punish” those responsible for the death of Azerbaijani serviceman last weekend.

“During the conversation, the Armenian side attached importance to continued efforts aimed at strengthening the ceasefire and reducing tensions, also through the introduction and strengthening of relevant mechanisms”, said a statement by Armenia’s foreign ministry. “The need for consistent steps to build an atmosphere of mutual trust was emphasized, including implementation of previously achieved arrangements.

“With regards to the citizens of Armenia detained on the territory of Azerbaijan, the Armenian side stressed the need for ensuring their repatriation. To make progress in peace process, Minister Mnatsakanyan highlighted the importance of ensuring the parity of commitments of the sides, reiterating Armenia’s principled position and approaches in the process.”

While in the United States this week, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan again said that he expected a change in Azerbaijan’s leaders’ rhetoric on Karabakh before any headway in talks. Pashinyan’s spokesman said that there were no immediate plans for another meeting with Ilham Aliyev. Pashinyan and Aliyev last met at the end of March.

UPDATED Sept. 25: Defense Army reported shooting down an Azerbaijani reconnaissance drone on Sept. 25, first such incident this year. Notably, on June 18, a day before the previous Armenian-Azerbaijani ministerial held in Washington, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry published a drone-shot video of Armenian forces holding exercises some ten kilometers inside the Line of Contact.