A total of seven soldiers were killed when fighting broke out on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border on April 11, the deadliest incident there in seven months.
It is the first major violence since the deployment - over Azerbaijani and Russian objections - of EU civilian monitors on the Armenian side of the border.
The Armenian side reported four soldiers killed and six wounded while Azerbaijan said three of its soldiers were killed and two were wounded. The fighting lasted for a few hours and took place near the village of Tegh.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said a group of Azerbaijani soldiers approached Armenian servicemen carrying out engineering work and opened fire on them. Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry called the incident an Armenian "provocation" that showed Yerevan was "not interested in the peace process."
Tegh is situated on the road that until recently linked Armenia with the Armenian-administered territory of Nagorno-Karabakh through the Lachin corridor (which has been under Azerbaijani blockade since December 12).
Previously, when the Lachin road passed through Tegh, the area was controlled by Russian border guards. With the rerouting, Armenian and Azerbaijani border guards were deployed in the area, after which, according to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani forces were conducting engineering works as much as 300 meters inside Armenian territory.
In remarks to parliament the day after the Tegh incident, Pashinyan said that Azerbaijan's "treacherous" attack could have been avoided if not for Armenian officials' "failure" to obey his instructions. A few hours later, he dismissed the commander of the border troops of the National Security Service, Colonel Arman Maralchyan.
The latest escalation is seen in Armenia as a continuation of Azerbaijan's "borderization" - that is, the use of force to create realities on the ground that are to be reflected later in the two countries' border demarcation process, which started following the Second Karabakh War in 2020.
Since the war the two countries have been engaged in a fraught multi-track peace process periodically marked by bursts of fighting, both along the border and in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Following a major escalation in September 2022 in which Azerbaijani troops took up positions inside Armenian territory, a short-term EU monitoring mission was deployed to the Armenian side of the border. A longer-term mission was set up in February.
While some called the Tegh escalation a "test" for the EU monitors' credibility, the director of the Regional Center for Democracy and Security, Tigran Grigoryan, said Armenians should have realistic expectations from the mission.
"First, the number of EU observers in Armenia with their support staff is about 100 people. Their capabilities are very limited in terms of quickly finding out who initiated an escalation in a particular area. Second, the observers only track the situation and transmit information to EU structures. They are not authorized to make any public statements. In this regard, one should not expect a reaction from them. Brussels should react if the need arises," Grigoryan told Eurasianet.
The EU in this case did respond, calling on the parties to the conflict to withdraw their forces to a safe distance from the border in order to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.
Meanwhile, Moscow, which objects to any Western involvement in conflict resolution in the South Caucasus, said it had taken measures to de-escalate the situation. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing on April 12 that Baku and Yerevan had agreed to hold a round of talks in Moscow though she added that no date had been determined.
Two Azerbaijani soldiers detained in Armenia
In a separate, apparently unrelated, incident on April 10, the day before the Tegh clash, two Azerbaijani servicemen reportedly entered Armenia through its western border with Azerbaijan's Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan. Azerbaijan said that they had gone missing due to "bad weather conditions."
Both soldiers were apprehended by local civilians who handed them over to police. The second soldier reportedly managed to record and post a video in which he speaks of "shedding Armenian blood" and "beheading Armenians" prior to being detained.
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aykhan Hajizada asserted in a tweet that the soldier had been subjected to "torture" by Armenians.
Arshaluis Mgdesyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.