Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has condemned large-scale Armenian military exercises that were held in and around Nagorno-Karabakh last month, saying they dealt a blow to international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict.
In an interview with a Russian news channel aired late on Monday, Aliyev claimed that the November 4-16 drills ran counter to the spirit of his most recent talks with President Serzh Sarkisian that were hosted by their French counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris in late October.
“Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides positively evaluated the meeting in Paris in their public comments,” he told the Rossiya-24 TV network. “But just two weeks later Armenia began holding so-called military exercises in the occupied part of our territory. They held those exercises not even within the [former] Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast but in the Aghdam district of Azerbaijan, literally on the Line of Contact.
“According to their own information, 47,000 soldiers and thousands of pieces of military hardware were involved. What was the point of staging provocations right after the positive meeting in Paris?”
The official purpose of the annual war games was to boost the combat readiness of the armed forces of Armenia and Karabakh in the face of Azerbaijan’s regular threats to end the Karabakh conflict by force. The Azerbaijani army also conducts military exercises on a regular basis.
The Armenian drills were marred by the downing by Azerbaijani forces on November 12 of an Armenian combat helicopter over an Aghdam section of “the line of contact.” The incident heightened tensions the conflict zone, with the Armenian military pledging a retaliation. International mediators have expressed serious concern about its possible consequences.
Aliyev made no mention of the helicopter’s downing in the Rossiya-24 interview. He reiterated instead his claims that the Armenian side is keen to maintain the Karabakh status quo at any cost.
Armenian leaders claim the opposite in the public statements, saying that Baku’s negotiating position and bellicose rhetoric are torpedoing the mediators’ efforts to broker a compromise settlement.