Causes of the Nerkin Hand murders


Causes of the Nerkin Hand murders

Chronicle of Unfortunate Events

The morning of February 13 began with the shelling of the Armenian positions near the village of Nerkin Khand in the Syunik region of Armenia by the Azerbaijani armed forces. Four servicemen of the "Yerkrapa" volunteer corps guarding this section of the border were killed and one volunteer was wounded.


It is important to note that this act of Azerbaijani aggression was preceded by the release of information from Baku announcing the shelling of Azerbaijani army positions by units of the Armenian Armed Forces from positions in the Tavush region on the evening of February 12. The Armenian Defense Ministry called this information inaccurate. However, on the same day, the State Border Service of Azerbaijan distributed a report on the wounding of an Azerbaijani border guard as a result of shelling from the Armenian territory in the Kapan-Zangelan sector. In response, the Armenian Ministry of Defense announced that they started an investigation regarding this information, stressing that if the information is confirmed, those responsible for violating the order not to fire unless absolutely necessary will be brought to justice.

However, Baku decided not to wait for the results of the Armenian investigation, and on February 13, according to the official wording, "in response to the provocation, the Armenian Armed Forces carried out the operation "Retaliation", completely destroying the combat post of the Armenian Armed Forces in the Gafan region, from where they opened fire on the positions of the Azerbaijani Army". Close attention should be paid to the way in which Azerbaijani reports give fictitious Azerbaijani toponyms to populated areas on the territory of Armenia.


Response from Armenia and the World

Condemning Azerbaijan's provocation near Nerqin Khand, the Armenian Foreign Ministry noted that Yerevan had expressed its readiness to investigate Baku's reports on the wounding of an Azerbaijani military officer. They also stressed that Azerbaijan nevertheless took aggressive actions, thus demonstrating its desire to find an excuse for the escalation of the border and to nullify the mediators' efforts to resume negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian Investigative Committee, having qualified the shelling of the Azerbaijani armed forces as actions taken on the grounds of racial, national, ethnic hatred and xenophobia, started a case under the articles "murder" and "attempted murder".

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan drew attention to this issue at a meeting with British MPs on the same day, when he reported on Azerbaijan's use of UAVs.    

"The killing of four of our servicemen is a continuation of a series of Azerbaijani provocations aimed at derailing the peace process with Armenia. And spiced with outright territorial claims to Armenia, Baku's aggressive official rhetoric is aimed at deepening the enmity. Nevertheless, our government is committed to the peace process because we are convinced that there is no alternative to it," the Prime Minister noted.

At a joint briefing with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan in Brussels, European diplomacy chief Josep Borrel described the situation from the Armenian side as shelling from the Armenian side.

The shelling from the Armenian side as deplorable and the response from the Azerbaijani side as disproportionate,  ignoring the announcement by the Armenian Minister of Defence Suren Papikyan that this incident will be fully investigated.

"This yet again illustrates the urgent need for the distancing of forces, which is something that the European Union has been advocating for a long time," Borel stressed. Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic-Buric urged Baku and Yerevan to refrain from using force and return to dialogue. 

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Christine Quinn confined herself to expressing condolences to the families of the dead Armenian soldiers and wishing the wounded a speedy recovery.
All these statements caused a real hysteria in the Azerbaijani media, accusing the EU and US of bias. However, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov's call for restraint on the part of Armenia and Azerbaijan somehow went unnoticed.


What does Baku want?

The analysis of the above-mentioned chronicle and, above all, the assessment of the events allows us to assume with a high degree of certainty that, once again, Baku is the real initiator of the tension. This is evident by the rhetoric and the tone of all statements accompanying the next Azerbaijani attack on Armenia. This comes as no surprise, as Azerbaijan has been using the act of killing soldiers on the border as a technique to  pressure Armenia since Ilham Aliyev took power in Azerbaijan from Heydar Aliyev in 2003. The killing of four Armenian servicemen as a result of yet another Azerbaijani act of aggression is further confirmation of this.

Azerbaijan continues to avoid signing a peace treaty with Armenia on the terms outlined and urged by Europe and the United States. In fact, for this purpose, in order to delay things further, Aliyev has announced a farce with the next extraordinary elections. He is also trying to introduce his own claims and ideas about the distribution of the territories of Armenia and Azerbaijan into the context of the peace treaty.

The allocation, for example, in the same official Azerbaijani statements of settlements in Armenia with non-existent Azerbaijani names is nothing but a manifestation of territorial claims. The direction of the next outbreak of Azerbaijani aggression - the coveted "corridor" of the Syunik region - does not look accidental either.

From this point of view, even if shots were fired from the Armenian side in the direction of Azerbaijan, it could only be the result of insufficient control of the military leadership over individual subordinates. This could have happened specifically in the case of "Yerkrapah". There is no way of it being a manifestation of state policy. Democratic Armenia needs peace, unlike authoritarian Azerbaijan. And the latter is trying not to sign it, on top of it, it is also creating artificial tensions between the two countries through more and more murders.

It is important to highlight that the Azerbaijani positions from which Armenian soldiers were killed yesterday became Azerbaijani as a result of their invasion to the Armenian regions of Vayots Dzor and Syunik, which took place on September 15, 2022. This invasion resulted in the occupation of 10 square kilometers of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia. In total, 207 square kilometers of Armenia's sovereign territory are currently occupied by Azerbaijan. In particular, in the direction of Nerqin Khanda, Azerbaijan managed to seize favorable positions for new killings due to the fact that the Russian military officers who were "guarding" the village of Nerqin Khanda left them beforehand “by accident”.

Finally, this section of the state border, which Baku and Moscow call conditional, by a strange misunderstanding, is also the responsibility of the Russian military. It is the latter that is preventing the representatives of the EU Civilian Mission in Armenia (EUMA) from going there.

David Stepanyan is an associate expert at the Armenian Institute of International and Security Relations.


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