Tensions between Azerbaijani and Armenia-aligned forces will likely persist along the Line of Contact (LoC) in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region through at least late October despite a second ceasefire coming into effect Oct. 18. Fierce, localized clashes have continued in several locations along the LoC since the ceasefire came into effect; further isolated hostilities are likely in the coming days as Azerbaijani and Armenia-aligned forces attempt to improve their tactical positions ahead of additional peace talks.
The heaviest fighting, including possible artillery and drone strikes, will likely continue to take place in the Fuzuli-Jabrayil and Aghdara-Agdam sectors. Fierce clashes have been reported to the south and west of Jabrayil city, as well as along the Araz River, Oct. 19 possibly representing a more concerted effort by Azerbaijan to take more ground in areas where the terrain is less favorable to the Armenian defenders. Any Azeri gains may result in counteroffensives from pro-Armenian forces. Shelling has also occurred in the Armenia-Azerbaijan border region, including locations that are somewhat outside of the immediate conflict zone, such as the Tavuz and Dashkesan districts of Azerbaijan.
A previous ceasefire agreement, reached Oct. 10, was poorly observed, though it did succeed in reducing the scale of hostilities. Major combat operations Oct. 11-17 were largely concentrated along the southeast of the LoC, in the Fuzuli-Jabrayil and Martuni (Khojavend) sectors. Outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, conflict incidents were largely limited to isolated exchanges of gunfire, and artillery and rocket strikes. Azerbaijani officials assert that Armenia-aligned units launched near-daily rocket attacks on the city of Ganja; rocket strikes on Oct. 11 and 17 resulted in the deaths of at least 20 civilians. Rocket and artillery strikes were also reported in Azerbaijan's Agdam, Agjabadi, Goranboy, Fuzuli, and Tartar districts Oct. 11-17. In NK, reports indicate the cities of Stepanakert and Shusha, as well as several other towns, regularly came under heavy rocket and artillery attack by Azerbaijani forces, causing civilian casualties, significant property and infrastructural damage, and displacing many locals. NK authorities also assert that Azerbaijani artillery has struck the Lachin bridge - an important supply route connecting NK with Armenia - on at least three occasions. Hostilities remain unlikely to affect Baku or Yerevan.
While each side's reporting of military losses is unreliable, it still appears clear that both armies have seen substantial numbers of troop casualties and military hardware lost.
Martial law remains in effect nationwide in Azerbaijan; an indefinite 2100-0600 curfew is in force in six of the nation's most important cities, as well as in the districts along the NK line of contact and in the border region with Armenia. Azerbaijan has also implemented certain restrictions on internet social media access, which authorities assert have been put in place to thwart potential hostile disinformation efforts.
Martial law remains in force nationwide in Armenia, and the government is continuing the country's general mobilization, requiring males under the age of 55 to report for military duty and prohibiting them from leaving the country. Similarly, NK officials have declared martial law within their enclave and have mobilized military-aged men. Due to the hostilities, Armenian hospitals have reportedly suspended routine procedures and are only providing emergency treatment. Additionally, Armenia's National Security Service (NSS) has urged the public to refrain from sharing information about troop movements or frontline actions by telephone or SMS due to concerns over intercept by enemy forces.
Spontaneous or planned demonstrations in response to the latest fighting are possible in Armenia or Azerbaijan's major cities. Authorities will probably move quickly to disperse any such gatherings that may materialize.
Background and Analysis
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has openly presented his nation's current military action as an offensive to retake occupied Azerbaijani territories - a move that has been very popular with the country's citizenry. Despite the latest truce, isolated clashes could persist for many days and wider hostilities could resume at any time; some government officials in Baku have suggested that the current ceasefire would only remain in effect until the ICRC has completed facilitating the prisoner and body exchange.
Moreover, Baku may very well intend to continue the fight until it can claim a politically or militarily meaningful victory, enabling it to enter negotiations from a position of strength. Such a scenario would require recapturing sufficient ground in NK; this being the case, Azerbaijani forces may seek to resume their offensive without significant delay in order to minimize the potential impact of winter weather on their operations. However, despite Azerbaijan's two decades of military modernization, Armenian forces are entrenched in terrain that is generally very favorable to the defender. While Azeri forces are believed to have recaptured several non-strategic towns, a protracted battle with little gain could easily turn public sentiment against Aliyev as casualties mount, potentially resulting in significant backlash.
While Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have frequently engaged in clashes along the NK line of contact and the two countries' shared border further north, neither government has previously gone so far as to declare martial law, impose curfews, or launch mobilizations since the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict went into effect in 1994. Nevertheless, actual hostilities will probably remain confined to the zone around the NK line of contact and the two countries' shared border areas; therefore, they are unlikely to threaten people operating in locations away from the combat zone, including Baku and Yerevan.
Avoid nonessential travel to areas near the NK line of contact or close to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border until the situation stabilizes. If operating in these areas, exercise extreme caution; carry proper identification at all times, and heed the instructions of local security personnel. Consider alternative methods for routing shipments in the vicinity of the conflict zone. Avoid any demonstrations that might materialize in Azerbaijan or Armenia.