Azerbaijan stepped up its threats to win back Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it by force on Thursday, with Defense Minister Safar Abiyev speaking of a growing likelihood of “a great war” with Armenia.
“For 15 years diplomacy has not achieved any concrete results and Azerbaijan cannot wait another 15 years,” Abiyev said, according to an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry statement reported by local and international media.
“Now it's the military's turn and the threat is growing every day," Abiyev was quoted as telling the French ambassador to Baku, Gabriel Keller. “If Armenia does not end its occupation of Azerbaijan's territory, the beginning of a great war in the South Caucasus is
Azerbaijani leaders and President Ilham Aliyev in particular have for years been threatening to resolve the Karabakh conflict by military means if the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations fail to yield a settlement acceptable to Baku. Abiyev’s comments seemed to take this bellicose rhetoric, criticized by international mediators, up a notch.
Armenian leaders dismiss such threats. President Serzh Sarkisian warned late last month that an Azerbaijani assault on Armenia and Karabakh would trigger “serious counterattacks” with unspecified elements of surprise.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian issued a similar warning earlier in January. He said Armenian forces have significantly beefed up defense fortifications around Karabakh in recent years and are prepared for renewed fighting.
The mutual threats contrast with the American, French and Russian mediators’ hopes to broker an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework accord on Karabakh in the course of this year. “The understanding [between the conflicting parties] is growing and the number of issues that must be tackled by the top leaders is decreasing,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said early this month.
Still, the top U.S. intelligence official, Dennis Blair, warned just days before Lavrov’s statement that chances of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war have grown because of the U.S.-backed rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey strongly opposed by Azerbaijan.