By Associated Press

AZERBAIJAN: Standing on an overcast morning on a street in Stepanakert, the main city in breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh, Olga Grigoryan says locals fear another war with Azerbaijani forces could be imminent.

Three years after an Azerbaijani-Armenian war for control of the mountainous territory ended with a fragile Russian-brokered truce, the situation remains volatile.

The summer of near-daily clashes with Baku’s military in Nagorno-Karabakh has turned to autumn and fears of a fresh all-out conflict.

“We are in a permanent fear that a war would erupt again,” Grigoryan told AFP.

“The situation is escalating more and more, day by day. People are simply afraid that they will wake up tomorrow to the sound of bombings, just as in 2020,” she said.

“We don’t know how to live in such a situation, how to raise children when we live under constant stress, and nobody wants to help us.”

Internationally-mediated peace talks have failed to bring about a breakthrough and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said recently that large-scale hostilities could reignite, accusing Baku of massing troops near Nagorno-Karabakh and along the two countries’ frontier.

Serious provocation’ 
In what was praised as a first step towards a lasting peace, Pashinyan said in May that Armenia was recognising Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

But Baku accuses him of acting contrary to the statement as Yerevan continues to fund ethnic-Armenian separatist forces from its state budget.

“Some recent actions of the Armenian leadership have caused serious damage to the peace process,” Hikmet Hajiyev, an influential foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, told AFP.

He referred particularly to Pashinyan’s congratulatory letter on Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence day on September 2, which sparked Baku’s anger.

“The holding of so-called ‘presidential elections’ (in Nagorno-Karabakh) on September 9 was yet another serious provocation,” he added, accusing Yerevan of “torpedoing attempts of dialogue” between the central government in Baku and separatists in Stepanakert.

The European Union and United States — who mediate peace talks between the Caucasus arch-foes — have said the vote was illegitimate.

Yerevan, on its part, accused Baku of spurring a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh by blocking the sole road linking the region with Armenia, the Lachin corridor, which is policed by Russian peacekeepers.

‘Big regional war’ 
Analysts have said the lack of progress at peace talks fuels tensions and raises the spectre of a new war.

“The probability of a new armed conflict is undoubtedly very high as Azerbaijan is intensively concentrating troops at the border with Armenia and near Karabakh, and is increasing its units’ cohesion there,” independent Armenian analyst Beniamin Matevosyan told AFP.

Azerbaijani political expert Farhad Mammadov said “The risk of a renewed large-scale fighting will always remain high as long as the peace treaty is not signed.”

He said Baku is likely to “attack the territory of Armenia proper in case Yerevan intervenes militarily in Karabakh.”

Hakob Balayan, an Armenian analyst, said “An Azerbaijani attack on Armenian soil would lead to a big regional war” that would involve Baku’s ally Turkey as well as Ankara’s historical rival Iran, which is wary of the growing Turkish influence in the strategic Caucasus region.

Nagorno-Karabakh was at the centre of two wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In the 1990s, Armenia defeated Azerbaijan and took control of the region, along with seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan.

Thirty years later, energy-rich Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, which built a strong military and secured the backing from Ankara, took revenge.

In autumn 2020, Russia brokered a ceasefire to end six-weeks of fighting and deployed 2,000 peacekeepers to the Lachin corridor, which connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Under the deal, Yerevan ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades, in what was seen as a national humiliation in Armenia where public opinion is largely in favour of retaking Nagorno-Karabakh.

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