Armenia on Monday threatened to formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state and said the international community should put pressure on Azerbaijan to prevent ongoing fighting there from escalating into a “full-scale war.”
President Serzh Sarkisian dismissed a “unilateral” ceasefire announced by Baku on Sunday as he briefed Yerevan-based ambassadors of OSCE member states on the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines. He said international calls for a halt to the hostilities will fall on deaf ears unless world powers force the Azerbaijani leadership to revert to a 1994 truce that stopped the first Karabakh war.
“Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh stand for a cessation of hostilities and strict observance of the 1994 ceasefire regime and for the withdrawal of all army units to positions and barracks held by them until April 1, 2016,” he said.
“A so-called ‘unilateral ceasefire’ is out of the question because the 1994 truce agreement signed by Azerbaijan is still in force, and Azerbaijan … has an international obligation to adhere to the letter and spirit of that document,” he stressed.
Sarkisian said the OSCE must also bolster the ceasefire regime by increasing the number of his field observers deployed in the conflict zone and “urgently” introducing a mechanism for investigations of ceasefire violations.
Azerbaijan has opposed such investigations favored by the United States, Russia and France, the three nations co-heading the OSCE’s Minsk Group on Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani military announced the “unilateral” ceasefire on Sunday one day after its troops launched massive attacks on the Karabakh Armenian army’s positions along “the line of contact.” The Armenian side responded with a counteroffensive that seemed to be continuing unabated on Monday.
The unprecedented escalation, which has left dozens of soldiers on both sides dead, has prompted serious concern from the U.S., the European Union, Russia and regional powers like Iran. They have urged the conflicting sides to immediately end hostilities.
Sarkisian said these appeals for peace will be “ineffective” as long as they are not specifically addressed to “the party that provoked the hostilities” and do not spell out “consequences for ignoring them.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed over the weekend that his troops went on offensive in response to Armenian “provocations.” “Our heroic fighters not only managed to thwart the provocations but also occupy more beneficial positions [on the frontline] … We have scored a great military victory,” Aliyev told Azerbaijan’s top military and security officials.
Sarkisian brushed aside Aliyev’s claim, saying that the Azerbaijani army moved “only 200-300 meters” forward at two sections of the “line of contact” and is now rapidly losing its territorial gains. He warned that a further escalation of the fighting would be fraught with “unpredictable and irreversible consequences, including a full-scale war.”
“I must point out here that I have repeatedly stated that if hostilities continue and become large-scale, the Republic of Armenia will recognize Karabakh’s independence,” the Armenian president said in that regard.
Speaking at a weekend emergency session of his National Security Council, Sarkisian said Yerevan will further bolster Karabakh’s security through a “treaty on mutual military assistance” that will be signed with the unrecognized republic.