President Serzh Sarkisian questioned Azerbaijan’s commitment to the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone on Tuesday after he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev agreed on confidence-building measures designed to prevent fresh fighting there.
Sarkisian said at the same time that he is largely “satisfied” with his talks with Aliyev that were co-hosted in Vienna late on Monday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and France’s Secretary of State for Europe Affairs Harlem Desir.
“The president of Azerbaijan assured that his country and he personally does not aim to solve any issue through hostilities,” he told Armenia’s leading TV channels while flying back to Yerevan. “That is good but it gives us little faith because there have been many conversations before but the fact is that agreements have not been honored [by Azerbaijan] for several years.”
Austria - Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (C) during a meeting with Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries (Russia, the United States, France) on Nagorno-Karabakh, Vienna, May 16, 2016
“But we cannot be guided only by our presumptions and predictions because war is not the best solution,” said Sarkisian. “So we will see how events develop.”
In a joint statement issued right after the Vienna talks, Kerry, Lavrov and Desir said Aliyev and Sarkisian “reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire” and agreed to let the OSCE investigate truce violations and deploy more monitors on the Karabakh “line of contact.”
“We should not pay too much attention to those agreements considering our past experience,” cautioned Sarkisian. “We have had 20 meetings [with Aliyev.] We agreed on many things during those meetings. But on his return to Baku the president of Azerbaijan made totally different statements. Time will tell how events develop this time around.”
“The important thing for us is the following: the [U.S., Russian and French] co-chairs should once again see that our aim is not to maintain the status quo and wage a perpetual war,” he added.
Even so, the Armenian leader was hopeful that ceasefire violations will now decrease. “I don’t think that they will end starting from tomorrow,” he said. “But I hope that things will be much calmer than they have been until now.”
Skirmishes along “the line of contact” around Karabakh actually intensified overnight, immediately after the Aliyev-Sarkisian encounter in Vienna, leaving one Armenian and one Azerbaijani soldier dead. Each warring side blamed the other for the fighting.
The Karabakh Armenian army said Azerbaijani forces fired nearly 80 mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and light cannon shells towards its positions southeast of Karabakh.
Austria - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) gestures next to Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan during a bilateral meeting in Vienna, Austria, May 16, 2016
Kerry and Lavrov also announced that the Armenian and Azerbaijani president agreed to again meet next month and resume discussions on a framework peace accord drafted by the three mediating powers. Sarkisian said he proposed that the meeting take place after the OSCE puts in place the agreed safeguards against truce violations. Aliyev did not object to the proposal, he said.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov gave on Tuesday a positive assessment of the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani summit, saying that it laid the groundwork for “the start of substantive negotiations” between the parties. Those talks should get underway “as soon as possible,” the APA news agency quoted him as saying.
Mammadyarov did not comment on the confidence-building measures that were agreed at Vienna. Baku has previously opposed them, saying that they would only cement the status quo.
The main purpose of the high-level talks in the Austrian capital was to de-escalate the conflict following last month’s heavy fighting in and around Karabakh, which left at least 180 soldiers from both sides dead. The four-day hostilities threatened to escalate into an all-out war.