Attacks by Armenia against Azerbaijani civilians and critical infrastructure should not be overlooked

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A man shows remnants of a missile after Armenian shelling in the village of Baharli in the Agdam region of Azerbaijan, 15 October 2020. [Aziz Karimov/EPA/EFE]

Armenia’s attacks against the civilian settlements and critical infrastructure of Azerbaijan threaten to cause a humanitarian catastrophe, writes Hikmet Hajiyev.

Hikmat Hajiyev is Assistant to the President and Head of Foreign Policy Department of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

On 27 September, less than three months after the Tovuz escalation of July, the armed forces of Armenia launched another military attack against Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani Army was compelled to take the counter-attack measures to deter the aggression and to protect its citizens.

This has re-ignited the thirty-years old territorial conflict between the two countries which has remained unresolved due to the disregard of the Armenian government for the four UN Security Council resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884) adopted in 1993 that call for an immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of armed forces of Armenia from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and other seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s behavior over the past few weeks since the outbreak of the hostilities has once again testified to its unwillingness to comply with the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Quite the contrary, the incumbent leadership of Armenia has further ratcheted up its militaristic and hostile rhetoric, and made new provocations towards the Azerbaijani side.

In the course of its counter-offensive operation since 27 September, Azerbaijan succeeded to liberate a part of its occupied territories.

From the beginning of the hostilities, Azerbaijan has set it upright that its targets are not civilians, but only legitimate military objects and combatants, in accordance with international humanitarian law, the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Confident battleground gains by the armed forces of Azerbaijan have caused a sense of misdirection to the military and political leadership of Armenia, and they started to attack deliberately densely populated Azerbaijani cities and villages well beyond the theatre of military hostilities.

The Azerbaijani cities neighboring the frontline, primarily, Barda, Tartar, Beylagan, Agdam, Fuzuli, Goranboy, Shamkir and Naftalan, are being continuously shelled by the Armenian armed forces often from the territory of Armenia.

Armenia also hit Azerbaijan’s Khizi and Absheron region in the neighborhood of the capital city of Baku with two 300 km mid-range missiles.

On 11 October, Armenia launched “SCUD” ballistic missile from its territory to residential area in Ganja, the second largest city of Azerbaijan that is located more than 60 km away from the frontline. The fact that there is not any military installation in the vicinity of the targeted area which could justify the attack gives ground to characterize it as a war crime. The attack at the midnight destroyed the apartment building and killed 10 civilians in their sleep and injured 34. One of the most tragic results of the attack was about a two-years old child who lost both parents.

As of 14 October, 43 Azerbaijani civilians have been killed and 214 civilians were wounded in the course of these attacks against the settlements. 277 civilian facilities and 1571 houses and buildings have been destroyed. Even hospitals, medical facilities, ambulances, schools and kindergartens are not spared.

The attacks against the civilian settlements serve Armenia’s goal to terrorize the Azerbaijani public and disseminate fear among the civilian population. This is also an attempt to expand the theater of military hostilities and as such to distract Azerbaijan from its peace enforcement operations.

Moreover, by striking the densely populated cities from Armenia’s territory, the government of Armenia hopes to provoke Azerbaijan for a counter-strike, thus effectively making a case for dragging the third parties – namely the Collective Security Treaty Organization – in its own adventures.

In addition to civilian population, Armenia also targets Azerbaijan’s critical energy infrastructure, oil and gas pipelines that possess strategic political and economic importance for Azerbaijan and its international partners as well as for the energy security of the wider continent.

From the heightened militaristic posture of Armenia and the choice of new locations for military onslaught, which is fully in line with Armenia’s Defense Minister’s pledge in early 2019, to wage “new wars for new territories,” it appears that the incumbent Armenian leadership aims to achieve more than just “new territories.”

Therefore, it was not coincidental why Tovuz was chosen as a venue to carry out military provocation against Azerbaijan in July 12-16, 2020. Tovuz is situated on international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, not along the Line of Contact, and hosts energy and infrastructure projects nearby.

The Baku–Tbilisi–Supsa and BTC oil pipelines, and the Southern Caucasus pipeline, an important chain in the multimillion megaproject the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), pass close by the Tovuz area. The intention of Armenia to engage third parties in the war against Azerbaijan and demolish the latter’s critical energy infrastructure was also present in July.

Armenia on numerous occasions threatened Azerbaijan to hit Mingachevir Dam. On 28 September, the representative of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia announced that Armenia might well use Iskander ballistic missiles and SU 30SM fighter jets “… when the logic of the relevant hostilities corresponds to the need to use this weapon… .”

In early days of October, we already saw these threats dangerously materializing. On 4 October, Armenia unleashed four “Tochka U” short-range missiles at Mingachevir – the city that hosts Mingachevir Dam and a Hydropower Station as well as “Azerbaijan” Thermal Power Plant. The attack was neutralized by Azerbaijan’s air defense system and these strategic objects were not damaged. If the missiles would damage the water reservoir, it could cause a huge humanitarian catastrophe in the region.

On 6 October, Armenia fired a cluster rocket to Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in the vicinity of Yevlakh district, which landed ten meters away from the pipeline. The attack was unsuccessful, and so far, no damage was detected to this infrastructure through missile attacks. If such a damage occurs, it will cause interruptions in the operation of this important pipeline and millions of Europeans will find it harder to access reliable energy. It will also cause an environmental catastrophe.

A few days ago, an Armenian Member of Parliament called for an attack and destruction of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas pipelines naming this a priority. These calls and recent attack against BTC pipeline show that targeting Azerbaijan’s critical energy infrastructure occupies Armenia’s strategic thinking.

These dangerous attacks by Armenia against Azerbaijani civilians and critical energy infrastructure should not be overlooked by Azerbaijan’s international partners. The Baku–Tbilisi–Supsa and Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan oil and Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum gas pipelines have increased Azerbaijan’s role as not only an energy producing and exporting country, but also as the provider of energy security.

The Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) is already becoming a reality. Work on all segments of the SGC is complete – the Shah Deniz-II project, the Southern Caucasus Pipeline Extension (SCPX), and the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) – and its final portion, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), is close to full completion. This Corridor is one of the biggest contributions that Azerbaijan and its partners have made to energy security and the sustainable development of neighboring regions and the greater European continent. Through the SGC, Azerbaijan will ensure the diversification of routes and sources of natural gas alongside contributing to the continent’s efforts to decrease carbon emissions.

It is now abundantly clear that Armenia poses a threat to peace and stability in the strategically-important South Caucasus region, placing at risk human lives and energy security. Armenia has been targeting not just Azerbaijan but also European energy security.

Azerbaijani civilians and its critical energy infrastructure should not bear the brunt of Armenia’s frustration over Azerbaijan’s successes in peace enforcement operations to restore its territorial integrity. Azerbaijan’s international partners should be more vigilant against such dangerous provocations and condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

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