President Serzh Sarkisian criticized the international community on Friday for what he described as a lenient approach to Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian rhetoric and actions, saying that it is paving the way for another Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
He also said that Azerbaijan’s controversial decision to pardon and promote the Azerbaijani army officer who hacked to death an Armenian colleague in Budapest in 2004 is forcing Armenia to “seriously think about changing some of our approached” to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian issued the warnings at a meeting with senior U.S., Russian and European diplomats representing their nations at the Vienna headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They discussed the fallout from Ramil Safarov’s release from a Hungarian prison late last week.
In his opening remarks publicized by his press office, Sarkisian claimed that by freeing and glorifying the convicted axe-murderer the Azerbaijani government sought to test the international community’s reaction to its “extraordinary steps.” Those steps are part of Baku’s broader strategy of obstructing a peaceful settlement of the conflict and preparing for an eventual attempt to forcibly win back Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it, he said.
“I had felt the consequences of the [1991-1994 Karabakh] war on my skin,” he told the visiting diplomats. “I am sure that no country that cares about the security of our region wants [another] war either. But desires are not enough and actions are needed. And those actions should start with an accurate evaluation of things. In this case, the so-called diplomatic correctness is simply damaging regional security.”
Sarkisian likewise spoke of the possibility of another Karabakh war in a September 2 letter to the Karabakh Armenian leadership. “We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win,” he said.
Safarov’s release has been criticized by the United States, Russia, the European Union and other Western structures. They have all said that it dealt a serious blow to long-running international efforts to end the Karabakh dispute.
Nevertheless, Sarkisian complained about “international structures” which he said are trying to “equate” the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides in the Safarov affair. “This is a very bad fact,” he said.
With the presidential office giving no details of Sarkisian’s ensuing discussion with the OSCE envoys, it was not clear who the Armenian leader is unhappy with. Yerevan might have been upset by EU leaders’ calls for both Armenia and Azerbaijan to “exercise restraint,” which were voiced in response to Safarov’s release.
Sarkisian also criticized the international community’s response to anti-Armenian statements made by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev earlier this year. “When Aliyev started claiming that Yerevan and Armenia as a whole are Azerbaijani lands, nobody reacted to that statement,” he said. “When Aliyev declared that Armenians are his country’s number one enemy which must be destroyed, nobody reacted.”
“To our requests and warnings to the co-chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group] and others that this is the beginning of a bad process we were getting unacceptable replies to the effect that those statements by Aliyev are meant for domestic consumption,” added Sarkisian.
Aliyev, meanwhile, defended on Friday Safarov’s extradition from Hungary and his decision to immediately pardon the officer. “Those who say that law was broken in this case do not know the reality,” he said, according to the Regnum news agency. “Armenia wants to maintain the status quo in the negotiating process and is therefore exploiting this issue.”
Aliyev spoke at a joint news conference with NATO’s visiting Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The latter said he is “deeply concerned” over the pardoning. Rasmussen expressed the same stance while visiting Armenia on Thursday.