By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan issued on Monday a fresh threat to win back Nagorno-Karabakh by force, with President Ilham Aliev warning that he may unleash an all-out war against Armenia “at any moment.”
Addressing officers of the National Security Ministry, the Azerbaijani successor to the Soviet KGB, Aliev said there is still a chance of a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict, but did not specify whether he thinks it can be achieved this year. He instead urged his countrymen to be prepared for renewed fighting.
“I think that the peace potential has not yet been exhausted. Therefore, we will of course remain faithful to the peace process,” Aliev said in remarks broadcast by the Azerbaijani TV station ANS. “But at the same time, we must be ready for any eventuality and that is why Azerbaijan has stepped up its army building efforts in recent years.
“Our military spending has increased over the past years, and it will increase further. This is our sovereign right, this is our job. Our country is in a state of war.”
“The opposite side must know that Azerbaijan is capable of securing its territorial integrity through war at any moment,” he added.
The comments came against the background of fading hopes for an imminent Karabakh settlement that stemmed from major progress registered in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks in the course of last year. Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian were widely expected to hammer out a framework peace agreement when they met in France last month. However, the two-day summit mediated by U.S., Russian and French diplomats ended in failure.
Shortly afterwards Aliev reverted to his regular public threats, always shrugged off by Armenian leaders, to resolve the conflict by military means. Kocharian responded by warning that Baku’s refusal to make major concessions to the Armenians could lead Yerevan to formally recognize Karabakh’s independence.
The Azerbaijani leader’s bellicose rhetoric was indirectly criticized on Friday by the European Union’s new special representative to the South Caucasus. “An attempt on the Azeri side to resolve the conflict by military means will have very serious consequences,” Peter Semneby told RFE/RL. “It may not be successful in the first place, and it will also seriously damage Azerbaijan in terms of its investment climate and reliability as a partner.”
Aliev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mamedov, was quick to dismiss the warning. “If Azerbaijan can indeed discredit itself as a partner if it starts war to liberate its own lands, how come that Armenia occupied Azerbaijani territories in a war and has kept them under occupation for 15 years, but this has not discredited Armenia anyhow?” Mamedov told the Azerbaijani ATV channel.
Meanwhile, the international mediators insist that the peace process may still be salvaged but seem undecided about their next steps. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said last week that they will either visit the conflict zone or arrange another round of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations soon.