Azerbaijan’s policy of aggressive borderization and its main objectives

The village of Tegh. Photo by Karen Harutyunyan/CivilNet.

Op-ed by Tigran Grigoryan

On April 11, a deadly fighting broke out between Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces in the vicinity of Tegh village in Armenia’s Syunik region. As can be clearly seen in the footage published by Armenia’s Defense Ministry, a group of Azerbaijani servicemen approached an area where Armenian servicemen were conducting engineering works and opened fire in their direction. Because of this provocation, a skirmish started, resulting in casualties on both sides.

In late March, Azerbaijani forces took control of a temporary road connecting the new route of the Lachin corridor with Armenia and advanced several hundred meters into Armenia’s sovereign territory. Azerbaijan’s armed forces installed military positions on parts of agricultural lands belonging to Tegh residents. The deadly firefight that occurred on April 11 was preceded by days of negotiations between the sides.

The developments of the last few weeks near Tegh are part of Azerbaijan’s post-war policy of aggressive borderization. While all the mediators have been urging the sides to carry out the delimitation and demarcation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, Baku has been engaged in a de facto “delimitation and demarcation” process of its own, changing facts on the ground and gaining control over key heights and other areas of strategic importance along the border.

This tactic of creeping annexation has been used by Baku both in Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku’s aggressive borderization policy pursues two main objectives: firstly, to take advantage of the volatile geopolitical situation on the ground and occupy as much territory as possible; and secondly, to have the high ground in all areas of the frontline, both in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

What’s even more troubling is that Baku’s aggressive borderization policy is accompanied by attempts to delegitimize Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-defense. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has publicly said on a number of occasions that Armenia shouldn’t be allowed to have an army, and he has also lambasted countries that sell weaponry to Armenia.

Azerbaijan’s large-scale attack against Armenia in September 2022 was justified by the claim that Armenian armed forces were planting landmines along the frontline within Armenia’s territory. Baku has also been trying to disarm the Artsakh Defense Army, Nagorno-Karabakh self-defense force.

Azerbaijan’s negative attitude toward the European Union’s civilian monitoring mission is also part of this approach. The Aliyev regime aims to militarily impose its maximalist demands on Armenia, and every small obstacle in that process is viewed as a problem. In a nutshell, Baku is trying to normalize its aggressive policies on the ground, while denying Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-defense in the meantime.

The firefight near Tegh resembled the pattern mentioned above. Azerbaijan first advanced into Armenia’s sovereign territory and started installing its military positions in that area. When the Armenian side tried to install their own positions, Azerbaijani armed forces started the deadly skirmish.

This policy of aggressive borderization is one of the main instruments in Baku’s toolkit and will be continuously used in the future as well. There are not any real guarantees that Azerbaijan will abandon this tactic, even if an actual process of delimitation and demarcation takes place. It is not accidental that in one of his recent speeches, Aliyev said that delimitation will be carried out on Azerbaijan’s conditions.

In that regard, it is extremely important to prevent the normalization of Baku’s policy of aggressive borderization. The lack of a strong international response to it incentivizes the Aliyev regime to continue pursuing this tactic on the ground. Neutral statements and calls for both sides to deescalate are not helpful at all. There is only one side escalating the situation on the ground. All international actors who buy Azerbaijan’s weaponized narratives indirectly contribute to the success of this policy.

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