Once again, the Azerbaijan-Armenia border has become the center of global media attention. The latest conflict started on July 12 when four Azerbaijani soldiers died and several troops were injured on both sides in Tavush, a northern province of Armenia near the border of Azerbaijan. Many Armenian and Azerbaijani citizens have demanded the peaceful resolution of the nations’ territorial dispute, but some protestors and politicians have called for war.
Both sides have blamed each other for the responsibility of the attacks. Azerbaijani government claimed 12 deaths in total, including an Azerbaijani general, while Armenia confirmed four casualties, according to the separate press releases.
“The political-military leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the consequences of the provocative action undertaken amid these threats,” the Embassy of Armenian to Japan answered in an email.
“As for the reaction to the Azerbaijani provocation, the most important reaction from Armenia was the proper reaction of the Armenian military which effectively suppressed the provocative actions and made the attacking Azerbaijani forces retreat,” the embassy added.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused the Armenian army of a breakthrough attempt on the border.
“The purposeful targeting of the Azerbaijani civilian population and shooting by using heavy weapons by Armenia is a clear manifestation of fascism and barbarism. This is part of Armenia’s aggressive policy. The murder of an Azerbaijani civilian is a bloody crime,” according to the press release.
The Azerbaijan Embassy in Japan did not respond to several interview requests.
Two nations have been in the territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan which seceded and became de facto independent since 1994 when the war ended.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh signed a ceasefire agreement in the same year. Since then, the two nations had been negotiating to solve the territorial dispute.
The latest development can be the “PR war,” in which both governments intend to get the support from other nations on each side of the decades-long territorial dispute, said Asbed Kotchikian, a professor at Bentley University, who has taught politics in the Middle East, former Soviet space and international relations for over 20 years.
After the outbreak in Tavush in mid-July, protests have been taking place worldwide, such as New York, Washington D.C., Ottawa, Vienna, and Moscow, some of which turned violent.
On July 21, the protesters led by the California-based Armenian American organization clashed with a smaller group of Azerbaijani counter-protesters near the Azerbaijan Consulate in Los Angeles, resulting in the arrest of one person and injuries of several people.
Following the latest border fighting and the subsequent protests around the world, a young Azerbaijani citizen said many Azerbaijani citizens signed up for the military in case their government decides to go into war against Armenia.
“We’ve waited for 25 years to get our land back, and Armenia doesn’t want to solve it peacefully with agreements,” said Natig Gasimov, an international student at Northeastern University. “As a young person, I want a war. And, I want to get our land back.”
As some protestors call for war, Kotchikian said nationalism plays a massive role in both countries.
“For all countries, nationalism is there,” said Kotchikian, adding the military involvement, size of populations, homogeneity, and geographic features of the two nations make their citizens more nationalistic than those of other countries.
“If [countries] are small and threatened, [they] always use nationalism as a way to mobilize [their] people and get support,” he said. “It’s part of the identity. It’s much easier to create self-identity when you are antagonizing the other…In that way, you can unite people against the common enemy.”
While Armenian and Azerbaijani citizens agreed they want their governments to reach an agreement peacefully, they said they support their government’s decision if the conflict results in violence.
“Nobody wants war,” Narek Hakhnazaryan, an internationally recognized Armenian cellist. “But, if [it] is necessary, we will go because it’s the matter of protecting our country, our land and our people.”
As a professional musician who has thousands of followers on social media, he posted a statement on Facebook to call for peace a few days after the border fighting.
“It really doesn’t matter if I’m a musician, a carpenter, a taxi driver or a businessman,” said Hakhnazaryan. “I am Armenian, and my country, right now, is in a tough situation. I think it’s my duty as a citizen to somehow contribute, at least, to make as many people as possible know my point of view that we don’t want war but peace.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t [want the countries] to start the war,” said Nazrin Juvarlinskaya, a young Azerbaijani citizen, who studies at Baku State University.
She said she wants both governments to solve the longtime territorial dispute peacefully but also understands if the conflict escalates, adding “If it happens, we have patriots ready to stand up for the country.”
Kotchikian said although nationalism exists in every country, Armenian and Azerbaijani citizens’ nationalistic reactions to the conflict are hard for Americans to understand.
“This is the problem of a government or people who belong to larger, more developed nations. These things don’t make sense,” said Kotchikian.
“It’s not about culture. It’s about a small state,” he said, adding that most citizens wouldn’t react to the conflict vigorously unless it is “an existential issue” of their own nation.