By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev has renewed his public threats to win back Nagorno-Karabakh by force, telling his compatriots to be ready to restart an all-out war with the Armenians “at any moment.”
Aliev’s Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian, meanwhile, spent the New Year’s Eve inspecting Armenian frontline positions and celebrating the holiday with soldiers stationed there.
A statement by Sarkisian’s press office said he visited an undisclosed section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian to monitor the day-to-day service of Armenian troops and wish them a happy new year and merry Christmas. “The head of state made a toast to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia,” it said.
Sarkisian made little mention of the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan in his New Year’s address to the nation broadcast by Armenia’s television station at midnight on January 1.
“Nagorno-Karabakh is an ancient Azerbaijani land, and we will make every effort to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,” Aliev said in a similar televised speech reported by Azerbaijani media. “We can use political, diplomatic and, if necessary, military means. We do have such a right. International law allows that.”
Aliev added that the Karabakh war, which was halted by a Russian-mediated truce in May 1994, is not over. “Only the first stage of the war ended, and we must be prepared to free our lands of occupiers by any means and at any moment,” he said. “The military parade held [in Baku] in 2008 demonstrated our military might to everyone.”
Aliev has regularly threatened the Armenians with another war ever since he succeeded his late father Heydar as president of Azerbaijan in 2003. He avoided making such threats in the months that followed the August war between Russia and Georgia.
Sarkisian said in the wake of the brief war that Georgia’s disastrous attempt to restore its control over South Ossetia militarily will have a “sobering impact” on Azerbaijani leaders. A senior U.S. official likewise suggested in October that the threat of renewed fighting in Karabakh has “somewhat receded” because the Russian-Georgian conflict “reminded everyone in this region how terrible war is.”
In a joint declaration issued after their early November talks outside Moscow hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Aliev and Sarkisian pledged to seek a “political settlement” of the Karabakh conflict. Top diplomats from the United States, Russia and France subsequently urged them to finalize an agreement on the basic principles of such a settlement proposed by the three mediating powers. The mediators hope that the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders will do that at their next meeting expected early this year.
But in a sign of lingering Armenian-Azerbaijani disagreements on the most important of those principles, Aliev again stated that Azerbaijan will never accept the loss of Karabakh. Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders, on the other hand, maintain that Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule is out of question.