The United State government is encouraged by recent relaxation of Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions along the frontline, the acting deputy chief of the U.S. Mission at OSCE Gregory Macris said in a statement.
“The United States is encouraged by recent constructive contacts by the sides at the levels of heads of state and foreign ministers,” the statement said. “These contacts appear to be paying direct and positive dividends, [such as] a decrease in violence along the Line of Contact and in conflict-affected areas over the past two months.”
The statement referred to the September 28 meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, in which Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev agreed and have since established a direct line to communicate any cease-fire related concerns in order to reduce tensions. Armenia and Azerbaijan had direct line of communication throughout the 1992-94 war and into early 2000s, but they have been suspended after Ilham Aliyev became president of Azerbaijan.
A notable decrease in tensions has been in place since shortly after the April 2016 war and especially since the middle of 2017. Starting in 2014, the sides regularly reported mortar and sometimes artillery fire, no such reports have been made in over a year. Though sniper fire continued with some regularity, there has been an overall drop in hostile fire fatalities. The Armenian side confirmed eight such fatalities so far this year, compared to 25 in 2017 and 112 throughout 2016.
At the same time, the Azerbaijani side continued to refuse to implement cease-fire strengthening measures, such as the expansion of the OSCE monitoring mission, proposed by the mediators after the April 2016 war and agreed in principle at the time. As the analysis by bellingcat published this week revealed, the Azerbaijani forces have also used the hiatus in shooting to continue to build up positions that could threaten Armenian positions and civilian areas in the event of a new escalation in fighting.
The statement further said that “the United States supports confidence-building measures and increased dialogue between Armenians and Azerbaijanis that can stabilize the security situation and create a more constructive atmosphere for negotiations.” The statement added that “those participating in dialogue must be able to do so freely, without fear of harassment or recrimination when they return home.” The Armenian-Azerbaijan civil society initiatives have mostly shut down after some of the more prominent Azerbaijani participants, such as Arif and Leyla Yunusovs, were arrested on charges of spying for Armenia and were subsequently forced to leave Azerbaijan and go into exile in Europe.