By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
In a further effort to boost their combat-readiness, the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh began on Friday a week of annual military exercises involving thousands of troops and military hardware. They are accompanied by a two-day call-up of army reservists, many of whom had taken part in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
The drills are taking place in an area southeast of Karabakh, near the heavily fortified line of control that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Soldiers are expected to stage, among other things, shooting exercises, using all weapons at their disposal, including tanks and artillery. A military source told RFE/RL that all units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army are to “demonstrate their capabilities.”
Officials in Stepanakert made it clear that the war games were planned in advance and are not a sign of heightening Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions. They also denied that the exercises are a show of force directed at Azerbaijan.
The two sides technically remain in a state of war despite a 1994 ceasefire agreement that stopped fierce fighting in and around Karabakh. The truce has largely held despite sporadic minor skirmishes. Meeting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border earlier this month, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan pledged to maintain the ceasefire regime and continue to seek a peaceful solution to their conflict.
The pledge followed repeated threats by President Heydar Aliev and other Azerbaijani leaders to win back Karabakh by force if the protracted peace talks do not led to the restoration of Baku’s control of the disputed territory. The leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Armenia have dismissed those threats.
Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Baku has refuted an Azerbaijani newspaper report that quoted Washington’s chief Karabakh negotiator as warning of a growing danger of renewed fighting for the enclave. The embassy said in a statement on Wednesday that the comments ascribed to Ambassador Rudolf Perina “appear to have been fabricated.”