Richard Hoagland speaking in Yerevan on March 27. Civilnet video grab
Richard Hoagland speaking in Yerevan on March 27. Civilnet video grab

“The April War anniversary should be marked at the negotiating table, it should not be marked on the battlefield,” said ambassador Richard Hoagland, the interim U.S. envoy for Karabakh, speaking in Yerevan on behalf of the international mediators that also include representatives of France and Russia. From April 2-5, 2016, there was intense fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, in which some 200 soldiers from both sides were killed.

After several skirmishes in late February-early March of this year, there has been a relative quiet on the Line of Contact in recent weeks. Incidentally, in March 2016 there was a similar hiatus in fighting and mediators particularly urged the sides to restrain from hostile actions during Novruz and Easter holidays marked at the end March of last year, to which the parties complied. Then overnight from April 1-2, Azerbaijani forces launched an attack on frontline Armenian positions, while presidents of two countries were en route from an energy security summit in Washington. This year, Armenia is holding a national election on April 2.

Speaking on March 25 in Karabakh, Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan warned that Armenia was ready to use its full military arsenal, including by launching modern ballistic missiles at key Azerbaijani infrastructure, to defend Karabakh. In a response, the Azerbaijani ministry of defense threatened to cause “large-scale casualties” among Armenia’s population, while the Azerbaijani foreign ministry said Sargsyan’s statements “violated the Bishkek Protocol of 1994” that preceded the cease-fire agreement.

In meetings with Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, including on visit to Nagorno Karabakh, mediators have sought to refocus the parties’ attention on negotiations, including a possible meeting of foreign ministers. On March 28, the day of their visit to Karabakh, an Armenian serviceman was reported killed by sniper fire, in first such incident reported in three weeks.

Carnegie Europe expert Tom de Waal noted in a commentary on the same day that when it comes to Karabakh and other post-Soviet conflicts “conflict management” is “the order of the day.”

“Ten or 15 years ago, when the peace processes in the region were more dynamic it was possible to recommend radical steps and hope for full resolution of the conflicts,” de Waal wrote. “Now, it is more realistic to pursue incremental change and to see the protracted conflicts in the context of societal development in the region as a whole.”