President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday blamed Azerbaijan for the latest upsurge in deadly violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and warned that the Armenian military will continune to take “tough” action against Azerbaijani “provocations.”
“I have always said that provocations along the line of contact are extremely dangerous. I have also always said that they will get a tough response. The incidents of recent days also testify to that,” he said, referring to fierce fighting that left at least five Azerbaijani and four Armenian soldiers dead.
“We do not want an escalation of the situation but will not leave any action against our citizens, state borders and Nagorno-Karabakh without a response,” Sarkisian said in written remarks to the Panorama.am news service. “The Armenian Armed Forces have received a strict order to display restraint and vigilance and at the same time prevent and punish any provocation by the enemy.”
Official Baku dismissed Sarkisian’s statement. “The president of Armenia prefers disinformation to hide military setbacks of the last few and prevent strong popular protests. He is thus trying to avoid public condemnation,” the Regnum news agency quoted an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman as saying.
The latest cycle of violence began on Monday with the fatal shooting of three Armenian soldiers guarding a western section of Armenia’s long border with Azerbaijan. At least five Azerbaijani soldiers were shot dead at a nearby border section the following morning.
The conflicting parties say daily skirmishes between their troops have also intensified at frontline sections this week. Each side blames the other for the ceasefire violations that that have prompted serious concern from the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned against possible attempts to end the Karabakh conflict by force when she visited Yerevan and Baku earlier this week.
Azerbaijan and President Ilham Aliyev in particular threaten a military solution to the dispute on a regular basis.
“Our army needs 10 days to liberate the occupied territories and reach the borders with Iran and Armenia,” the Azerbaijani army’s General Staff said on Thursday in a statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies. “The only reason holding us back from that step is that we do not want more bloodshed and casualties.”
Sarkisian has warned previously that the Azerbaijani military will suffer a “final and devastating” blow if it attempts to forcibly regain control of Karabakh and other Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave.
Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), echoed that warning on Thursday. “We do not favor war, we favor political solutions by means of negotiations,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But if, God forbid, there is war, we will ensure a final solution … and they will suffer great losses in terms of both military and economic potential.”
The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers are expected to discuss the escalating violence when they meet in Paris on June 18 in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group.
Zohrabian said he does not anticipate “serious results” from the talks. Still, he said they could “calm the situation” around Karabakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier.