Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact
The Line of Contact (Armenian: շփման գիծ, shp’man gits, Azerbaijani: təmas xətti) separates the Armenian forces (namely the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army) and the Azerbaijan Armed Forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It was formed in the aftermath of the May 1994 ceasefire that ended the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–94). The mountain range of Murovdag is the northern part of the line of contact and is essentially a natural border between the two forces. The length of the line of contact was between 180 kilometres (110 mi) and 200 kilometres (120 mi) until 2020. It was slightly changed for the first time since the 1994 ceasefire during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 2016, and the current line of contact since the 2020 ceasefire following Second Nagorno-Karabakh War remains unclear.
Some Armenian analysts, including Ara Papian encourage the Armenian side to avoid the term "line of contact", instead calling it a "state border" between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. Independent journalist and author Tatul Hakobyan writes of it as a state border of Azerbaijan and Artsakh and notes that it is called the "line of contact" in international lexicon.
In Azerbaijan, the “line of contact” is often referred to as the “line of occupation” in accordance with designating Nagorno-Karabakh an occupied territory.
The line of contact was, immediately after the ceasefire, a "relatively quiet zone with barbed wire and lightly armed soldiers sitting in trenches", according to Thomas de Waal. There was also a relatively large no-man's land after the ceasefire which was several kilometers wide in some places. It was reduced to a few hundred meters in most areas of the line of contact due to Azerbaijani redeployments into the former neutral zone. In 2016, there were around 20,000 men on each side of the heavily militarized line of contact. Since the ceasefire the line of contact has become a heavily militarized, fortified and mined no-man's-land and a buffer zone of trenches. According to de Waal, it is the "most militarised zone in the wider Europe," and one of the three most militarized zones in the world (along with Kashmir and Korea). The trenches along the line of contact have been extensively compared to those of World War I.
The line of contact is regularly monitored by a group of six OSCE observers, headed by Andrzej Kasprzyk of Poland. There are exchanges of fire virtually on a daily basis. There have been significant violations of the ceasefire on various occasions, usually characterized by low-intensity fighting. Significant fighting occurred in April 2016, when for the first time since the ceasefire the line of contact was shifted, though not significantly. According to Laurence Broers of Chatham House, "Although slivers of territory changed hands for the first time since 1994, little of strategic significance appears to have altered on the ground." The 2016 clashes also marked the first time since the 1994 ceasefire that heavy artillery was used, while the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict saw use of heavy artillery, armoured warfare, and drone warfare. On October 9, 2020, when President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev addressed the nation, he stated, "There is no status quo. There is no line of contact. We smashed it."
According to Kolosov and Zotova (2020), "the deployment of military units along the separation line, the special regime of the border zone on both sides, constant skirmishes, and the destruction during the war and immediately after it of a number of cities and other settlements turned the border territories into an economic desert."
According to the International Crisis Group, all of 150,000 Karabakh Armenians are "within reach of Azerbaijani missiles and artillery shells", while around twice the number of Azerbaijanis (300,000) "live in the 15km-wide zone along the Azerbaijani side of the line of contact."
- United States: "Casualties continue to occur in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Intermittent gunfire and occasional use of artillery systems, including land mines and mortars, result in deaths and injuries each year. Avoid roads near the ‘line of contact’ and roads near the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan." - 7 August 2020 
- United Kingdom: "The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved. Consular support is not available in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Although a ceasefire has been in place since May 1994, the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian forces are closed. There are no peacekeeping forces separating the sides. There are regular exchanges of sniper fire and some skirmishes. The border areas between Armenia and Azerbaijan also contain mines and unexploded ordnance. Any foreigners venturing within 5km of these borders are liable to be stopped by the police or the military." - 6 April 2020 
- Australia: "Regular armed clashes occur in the buffer zone between the closed Armenia-Azerbaijan border and the ceasefire line. Conflict also occurs in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding military zone. All these areas have unmarked landmines. If, despite our advice, you travel to these areas, get professional security advice." - 8 June 2020 
- Smolnik, Franziska (2016). Secessionist Rule: Protracted Conflict and Configurations of Non-state Authority. Campus Verlag. p. 12. ISBN 9783593506296.
- "David Simonyan: Surrender of territories to Azerbaijan: Consequences for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh". Noravank Foundation. 21 April 2009. Archived from the original on 28 November 2019.
the northern flank – by the hard-to-access Mrav mountain range
- Elbakyan, Edgar (16 May 2014). "Արցախի տարածքն անբաժանելի է". Hayastani Hanrapetutyun (in Armenian). Archived from the original on 28 November 2019.
բնական սահմաններ հասցնելու համար, որը հյուսիսում Մռավի լեռնաշղթան է, իսկ հարավում՝ Արաքս գետը
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- de Waal, Thomas (24 July 2013). "The Two NKs". Carnegie Moscow Center. Archived from the original on 28 November 2019.
- "Statement by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Ceasefire Agreement". osce.org. 11 May 2014. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017.
...the perpetual threat of escalating violence along the international border and the Line of Contact...
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- Hakobyan, Tatul (11 January 2018). "Հայաստան-Ադրբեջան սահմաններն ու "սահմանադռները"". CivilNet (in Armenian).
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- Lynch, Dov (2001). "Frozen Conflicts". The World Today. 57 (8/9): 36–38. JSTOR 40476575.
The 'line of contact' between Azeri and Armenian forces is a trench system reminiscent of World War One.
- Kucera, Joshua (8 April 2016). "Nagorno-Karabakh: Trying to Separate Fact from Fiction". EurasiaNet. Archived from the original on 8 February 2019.
- Cristescu, Roxana; Paul, Amanda (15 March 2011). "EU and Nagorno-Karabakh: a 'better than nothing' approach". EUobserver.
- Lynch, Dov (2004). Engaging Eurasia's Separatist States: Unresolved Conflicts and de Facto States. United States Institute of Peace. ISBN 9781929223541.
The line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces is a well-defined trench system, which experiences only occasional violations of the cease-fire regime.
- "The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh". The Economist. 15 April 2016.
But despite the ceasefire, low-scale fighting continued along the line of contact.
- "Nagorno-Karabakh violence: Worst clashes in decades kill dozens". BBC News. 3 April 2016. Archived from the original on 25 October 2019.
- Simão, Licínia (June 2016). "The Nagorno-Karabakh redux" (PDF). European Union Institute for Security Studies: 2. doi:10.2815/58373. ISSN 2315-1129.
For the first time since the 1990s, Azerbaijani forces managed to regain control of small parts of the territory surrounding Karabakh – the first time the Line of Contact has shifted. Although these changes do not significantly alter the parties’ military predicament on the ground...Cite journal requires
- "The Nagorny Karabakh Conflict: Defaulting to War" (PDF). chathamhouse.org. July 2016. p. 2.
- Kramer, Andrew E. (2 April 2016). "Fighting Between Azerbaijan and Armenia Flares Up in Nagorno-Karabakh". The New York Times.
The separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh, whose principal backers are Armenia and Armenian diaspora groups in Southern California and elsewhere, characterized the fighting as the first time since 1994 that all types of heavy weaponry were being used along the front line.
- Kolosov, Vladimir A.; Zotova, Maria V. (2020). "Multiple borders of Nagorno-Karabakh". Geography, Environment, Sustainability. 13: 88. doi:10.24057/2071-9388-2020-04.
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