Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian on Friday brushed aside Azerbaijan’s apparent threats to shell Yerevan from its Nakhichevan exclave and warned Baku against raising tensions on the frontlines in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
In a statement on Thursday cited by Azerbaijani news agencies, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry commented on Ohanian’s recent visit to Armenian army units stationed along Nakhichevan sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
“The leadership of Armenia must realize that from the territory of Nakhichevan the Azerbaijani armed forces are ready to destroy military facilities in Armenia, including Yerevan, at any moment,” said the statement. It emphasized the fact their weaponry includes Russian-made Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems.
Azerbaijan - President Ilham Aliyev (L) inspects a Russian-made Smerch multiple-launch rocket system deployed in Nakhichevan, 7Apr2014.
One of the most devastating weapons of its kind, Smerch has a firing range of 90 kilometers, putting the Armenian capital within reach of its rockets deployed in Nakhichevan. Azerbaijan has purchased dozens of such systems from Ukraine and Russia over the past decade.
Ohanian scoffed at the Azerbaijani threats as he spoke to reporters in Yerevan. “We thought that they are engaged in constructive things,” he said. “But instead of building, they are trying to destroy.”
“We have already had such experience [of dealing with that,] by the way,” he said, clearly alluding to Azerbajan’s defeat in the 1991-1994 war for Karabakh.
“A [real] destroyer would have probably given up everything and returned home to defend his fatherland during the Artsakh (Karabakh) liberation war,” Ohanian quipped in an apparent jibe at Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev or his defense minister, Zakir Hasanov.
Unlike Aliyev and Hasanov, Ohanian played a prominent role in the war. The Karabakh-born minister was gravely wounded in action in 1992 and had one of his legs amputated as a result.
Serious truce violations along Armenia’s border with Nakhichevan were very rare until two Armenian soldiers serving there were killed by Azerbaijani sniper fire in June 2014. The Armenian military reportedly retaliated by significantly moving forward its positions at another section of the Nakhichevan frontier. Armenian defense news websites reported that roughly 100 square kilometers of neutral or contested territory was placed under Armenian control as a result.
The Azerbaijani military denied losing any ground there. Still, some Azerbaijani media outlets reported at the time that the Armenians have launched an “offensive” on Nakhichevan.
The Armenian army reportedly made more, albeit modest, territorial gains in the area after one of its soldiers was killed and two others wounded late last month. Earlier this month, a Yerevan-based video blogger linked to the military posted footage of Armenian servicemen fortifying an apparently new post overlooking Nakhichevan roads leading to nearby Azerbaijani army positions.
The latest Nakhichevan incidents followed several months of relative calm on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and “the line of contact” around Karabakh. Both warring sides have reported increased skirmished there this month.