President Serzh Sarkisian voiced support over the weekend for his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev’s plans to win a third term in office in an upcoming presidential election, saying that would be the best outcome for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“For us, the current President Aliyev’s victory would probably be the most beneficial thing,” he said in during a visit to a summer youth camp in Tsaghkadzor, a resort town 60 kilometers north of Yerevan.
“We have gone through a long and difficult process of negotiations,” he explained. “The path to resolving the conflict has been almost outlined, at least through the public acceptance [by the conflicting parties] of settlement principles proposed by the Minsk Group co-chairs. We have been actively negotiating on them for the past four years.
“True, I wouldn’t say that the negotiating process is going on very actively right now. Nevertheless, we have gone quite a long way, and if after the elections Ilham Aliyev can demonstrate political will and rise above his fanatical Armenophobia, I think that [his reelection] would be the most acceptable and preferable development for us.”
Throughout his decade-long rule, Aliyev has frequently threatened to end the Karabakh dispute by force. He has backed up those threats with a continuing military buildup fuelled by Azerbaijan’s massive oil revenues.
Aliyev has also irked the Armenians with his increasingly hostile rhetoric. In particular, he has repeatedly claimed that modern-day Armenia was established on “historical Azerbaijani lands.” He also declared last year that “Armenians of the world” are the main enemy of his nation.
By contrast, Aliyev’s main election challenger, prominent filmmaker Rustam Ibragimbekov, favors a far more conciliatory approach. Ibragimbekov said earlier this month that Baku must avoid antagonizing Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population with threats of military action.
Sarkisian also downplayed on Saturday that the latest arms acquisitions by Azerbaijan. He insist that they “can in no way affect the balance of forces” in the Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian’s surprise endorsement of Aliyev’s efforts to cling to power prompted criticism from Armenian opposition groups on Monday. “Serzh Sarkisian probably doesn’t realize that authoritarian countries are prone to adventurism … With history textbooks, state propaganda and weapons, Ilham Aliyev is clearly heading for a military adventure [in Karabakh,]” said Stepan Safarian of the opposition Zharangutyun party.
“One must never wish Ilham Aliyev to remain president,” agreed Gurgen Yeghizarian, a senior member of the Armenian National Congress. “Wanting a fascist like Aliyev to stay on as president of Azerbaijan is not even a tragicomedy, it’s a comedy.”
But Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), dismissed the opposition criticism. Sahakian claimed that Aliyev’s regime is keeping Azerbaijan “vulnerable” in the conflict with Armenia. “It has become evident in the last few years that Aliyev’s clan is unable to impose a [pro-Azerbaijani] diplomatic, let alone military, solution to the conflict,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).