Turkish TRT World TV channel has broadcast a reportage headlined "Orchards in the Valley, Fire in the Mountain: A Clash in the Caucasus".
ONA presents the reportage.
Author: Deep in the valleys of the South Caucasus the picturesque countryside scenery has a tendency to quickly give away to tragedy and turmoil. Renewed clashes along one of the most sensitive borders in the world brought me back to Azerbaijan a country that I have come to know more and more over the years. The two rival armies of Azerbaijan and Armenia recently exchanged days of heavy fire outside the city of Tovuz along their northern border. Both sides took casualties. Azerbaijani soldiers are dug in on the side of the mountain here, and trenches that really look like out of a scene from World War I. The cold conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia went hot just a few days ago. The Azerbaijani soldiers here are dug in. They are observing looking on the cross no man`s land looking for any sign of movement. It is very clear here that tensions remain very high. The fighting could break out again on a moment`s notice.
The two countries have been locked in a frozen conflict since they fought a six-year war following their independence from the Soviet Union . The clashes in Tovuz touched off real concern. They could lead to another full-fledged war.
Lieutenant Ulvi Valizade: I have been in the combat zone since the first minutes of the clashes. At first, the enemy started firing at our positions. They targeted the civilian population using large-caliber weapons and mortars. There were fierce battles for about three days. I also took part in the battles. Although the enemy repeatedly tried to advance into our lands, their provocation was prevented by our troops and the enemy was repulsed.
Author: The sun baked valley separating the 2 sides is filled with minefields and in the midst of it an Azerbaijani cemetery. In this conflict even the deads' final resting place cannot find peace. The Tovuz region gets its name from two of the ancient Turkish tribes that settled here over a millennia ago. The region is one of the Caspian`s richest agricultural centers and even became famous for producing cognac which at one point supplied the entire Russian market. And as we drove to Tovuz the Caspian`s boundless horizon seemed to meld with its rich blue waters. But the serenity here would soon be brutally shattered. The destructive aftermath of heavy shelling like what you see here pockmarks so many of the homes in this village right outside of the Azerbaijani town of Tovuz. But in so many other conflicts that we`ve seen around the world that is civilians like those that used to live in these homes that bear the brunt of this type of fighting. Reminders of the cause of the three-decade-old are everywhere and the latest flare-up in fighting has ignited bitter memories. Memorials of the fallen serve as a testimony to the pain of the living.
Elman Asadullayev, Tovuz resident:
For 30 years, Armenians always attack when we stand they attack and we always wanted friendship, and therefore discussed the issues of peace. So we sit and wait. We see their soldiers walking on our land, but we cannot shoot them, we don't do it. They come and start killing our people not only here but wherever there is a border. They provoke us, then they raise global outrage. Our brothers, children, civilians are being killed. This is our Azerbaijani land.
Author: The renewed fighting with Armenia came less than a week after Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev strongly criticized the diplomatic negotiations with Armenia which had become seemingly hopelessly deadlocked. Armenia occupies nearly 30 percent of Azerbaijan's territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding districts. And senior officials I spoke with in Baku told me that the occupation is at the heart of ongoing tensions.
When we last met there seemed to be a sense of cautious optimism in terms of the peace talks with Armenia that have since stalled. What has changed since then?
Hikmat Hajiyev, Assistant to the Azerbaijani President, Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration:
Actually Azerbaijan had some expectations when Pashinyan came to power. Azerbaijan had an expectation that Pashinyan most probably can pursue a different policy than the previous Armenian leadership. I also want to remind the Dushanbe meeting of my President with Pashinyan. An Armenian Prime Minister asked 'let's give some time we can make house cleaning in Armenia and prepare for parliamentary elections' and so on. And from Azerbaijan's perspective we have provided constructive engagement in the negotiation process and giving it a time and also try it from our side to ensure a ceasefire regime. But unfortunately, we haven't seen reciprocity. Armenian side and Armenian government continued their destructive policy. First it starts from the offensive military doctrine of Armenia that calls for new territories and new wars that also publicly disclosed by Armenian Defense Minister. Then Armenian Security Minister said that no inch of territory of Azerbaijan should be back and then Pashinyan said that Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia and full stop."
Author: On July 14, a day after Azerbaijan took some of its heaviest casualties losing a popular high-ranking general on the frontline, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Baku with some storming the parliament building. They called for a general war against Armenia and for the liberation of the Armenian-occupied Karabakh region. Dozens were arrested, and a number of opposition figures were also rounded up by state security. But as always what happens in the South Caucasus will invariably involve other regional powers. The Russian army conducted a surprise major military exercises in its southern military district shortly after the Tovuz clashes. Armenia has a long standing alliance with Russia.
We saw recently the Russian military holding a massive military exercises in the south-west part of the country not far from Azerbaijan. Did that worry you?
Hikmat Hajiyev: Yes, we had some concerns and we have openly communicated to our Russian partners. Russia is also a neighboring country and in the midst of this escalation there was an information that Russia starts intensive military exercises in the territory of Russia. An Armenian division also joined this process but our Defense Minister had a talk with a Russian Defense Minister and we get assurances once again that in no way these two events are related.
Author: But despite the reassurances, reports surfaced that the Kremlin had in the midst of the fighting shipped hundreds of tons of weapons to Armenia via Iranian airspace. And in a rare rebuke Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev directly raised these weapons shipments in a phone call with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Turkey a long time strategic ally of Azerbaijan, responded with its own joint live fire exercises with Azerbaijani military counterparts. The message to Armenia was unmistakable. Though Azerbaijan and Armenia technically signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994, fighting has broken out intermittently since then. And Azerbaijan's military leadership warned that more fighting might be in store ahead if the underlying causes driving tensions are not resolved.
Colonel Vagif Dargahli, spokesperson of Ministry of Defense:
As a soldier, our task is to be ready forever. Azerbaijan is capable of resolving the conflict militarily in any case. In 2016, Azerbaijani army provided a small example of this. We are ready for war as an army.
Author: Azerbaijan has invested heavily in acquiring attack drones from Israel and most recently signed a deal to acquire the Bayraktar drones from Turkey. The drones have had a notable effect on the battlefield.
Colonel Vagif Dargahli, spokesperson of Ministry of Defense:
On the instructions of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, large-scale reforms were launched in 2014. These reforms include recruitment and training of personnel, modernization of the army and purchase of high-precision weapons. The Armenians provided false information about their losses. Our operational data show that the enemy losses amount to hundreds killed and wounded.
Author: The geopolitics of the clashes have potentially far-reaching consequences. Control over billions of dollars of energy resources could be at stake. Winston Churchill once famously quipped 'if oil is a queen, Baku is her throne'. The recent fighting took place in the center of the strategic Ganja gap. This trade corridor is only one hundred kilometers wide and is where 3 major oil and gas pipelines flow tons of energy resources to the West while bypassing Russia and Iran. I sat down with Elshad Nasirov, vice-president of SOCAR, Azerbaijan State Oil Company, to get a better idea of how global oil flows could be impacted due to the tensions with Armenia.
Elshad Nasirov: "The situation is really serious, because this is not only the situation of security of Azerbaijan but this infrastructure is providing the energy security to Europe. If you look at the map of Eurasia from the Barents Sea in the North, to the Persian Gulf in the South, the meridian that cuts Azerbaijan cuts only 3 countries: Russia to the North, Iran to the South and Azerbaijan in the middle. So the only corridor which is capable to provide Caspian energy resources to the European Union is the route of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
Author: Mass displacement of millions of Azerbaijanis forced out of their ancestral towns and villages in the occupied Karabakh is also a central issue in the divide between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Representatives of the Azerbaijani diaspora say that coexistence with Armenia is possible one day but without a return to their lands a long-term peace is not realistic.
Tural Ganjaliyev, Azerbaijani representative of Karabakh region:
The recent escalation along the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the attempt by the Armenian armed forces to attack and occupy more lands of Azerbaijan demonstrated one more time how fragile the situation is, and the urgent issue that we have to deal with and resolve this conflict as soon as possible, because feeling enjoyed this impunity for three decades the Republic of Armenia still continues its occupation keeping under occupation the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and surrounding districts. This time escalation broke out not in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan but around 130 km away from the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan which demonstrates that it was pre-planned attack of the armed forces of Armenia against Azerbaijan. We have high hopes that the day will come that we will go back to our native lands, we will restore violated internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan, we will restore our violated rights. These ceasefires are not meant to last forever. That's why it is very important for us to resolve this conflict as soon as possible, otherwise, it will be very heavy burden for the next generation.
Author: The burden of history can be a heavy weight to bear and tucked into the side streets of Baku's old city is a memorial to Azerbaijan's brief two-year liberation in 1918 from Armenian Bolshevik forces.
Hikmat Hajiyev: "And reminds history in 1918, when Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was established, Turkey stretches in a brotherly hand to Azerbaijan to fight against the Bolshevik and Dashnak troops who conducted massacre in Baku. And in 2018 as a symbol of act after 100 year later Azerbaijani and Turkish armed forces march through the streets of Baku with an old uniform and with a new uniform.
Author: There can be no frozen conflict. The conflict is still a conflict unless it's fully resolved, otherwise it will explode.
And as we prepared to depart Azerbaijan once again, I could not help but wonder how soon we would have to return to cover yet another outbreak of fighting in this land of endless beauty. A conflict seemingly without end.