In the Azerbaijan-Armenia Conflict, a Small Mountain Outpost Can Make a Big Difference

2 MINS READFeb 5, 2016 | 09:00 GMT
A man looks at the mountains from the Gandzasar Monastery in Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh separatist region.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region often takes the spotlight when it comes to analyzing the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but occasional skirmishes elsewhere along the two countries' shared border should not be overlooked. In late 2015, the number of military skirmishes between Azerbaijan's Qazakh district and Armenia's Tavush province rose at about the same time as an uptick in fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. The terrain on this segment of the border is rough, and land mines make the surrounding areas hazardous. Though the few transport corridors that exist are regularly monitored, both sides often harass and occasionally occupy the other's border towns.

Such was the case in late December and early January, when Azerbaijani troops maneuvered against Armenian forces in northern Tavush province. But because these skirmishes are not a direct component of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, they are rarely tracked closely by monitoring organizations.

The Azerbaijani military has alleged that it has re-established control over its outpost on the Odundagh Mountain — a claim that reports coming out of the region seem to verify. Though it is unclear why Azerbaijan initially abandoned the position, Armenia was actively interrupting supply lines throughout Qazakh district at the time, possibly forcing Azerbaijani troops to retreat. Several reports indicate that Azerbaijan's military is rebuilding structures and fortifying the site, moves that are key to monitoring and controlling the areas surrounding the mountain. In particular, the outpost provides a good vantage point over Armenia's crucial H26/M1 highway.

Though small, this strategic position could make a difference elsewhere in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. Distracting Armenian military forces while relieving its own forces elsewhere will help the Azerbaijani military control the country's northern border. Russia has also recently shown interest in ensuring that negotiations on the territorial handoff of regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh progress. These factors could be motivating Azerbaijan to try to gain the upper hand before talks with Armenia get underway.

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