President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday accused Azerbaijan of again heightening tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and said the Armenian military could step up retaliatory strikes against Azerbaijani forces to prevent fresh truce violations.
Addressing Armenia’s top army generals and other military officials, Sarkisian said the latest upsurge in deadly fighting is part of the Azerbaijani leadership’s continuing to efforts to clinch more Armenian concessions in peace talks mediated by the United States, Russia and France. This “policy of blackmail” will not influence Yerevan and can only have “terrible consequences” for Baku, he warned.
“Until recently our retaliatory operations were symmetric in form and asymmetric in terms of causing greater casualties,” Sarkisian told a meeting held at the Armenian Defense Ministry. “From now on, there can also be retaliatory actions that are asymmetric in form.
“Hotheads [in Azerbaijan] should expect numerous surprises. Furthermore, in case of greater and more threatening buildups on our border and the [Karabakh] Line of Contact we reserve the right to launch preemptive strikes.”
“We are obliged to be ruthless towards those who plot calamities for us,” added the Karabakh-born president.
Sarkisian stressed at the same time that the Armenian side remains committed to a mutual compromise with Azerbaijan based on the Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement put forward by the U.S., Russian and French mediators. But he went on to warn, “We are prepared for both the good and the bad. All possible options are on my table.”
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian already ordered the Armenian military on January 12 to launch “preventive” offensive operations in response to what he called a fresh upsurge in Azerbaijani armed incursions on its frontline positions. Deadly ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Karabakh frontline have continued unabated since then.
The latest escalation, which the Azerbaijani military blames on the Armenians, has prompted serious concern from the three mediating powers and the U.S. in particular. The American, French and Russian diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group are due to discuss it with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Poland on Tuesday. They plan to hold similar talks with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian.
Later on Monday, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the latest truce violations are the result of “Armenian provocations” aimed at torpedoing the peace process. Hikmet Hajiyev stuck to the official Azerbaijani line that Armenia is doing everything to maintain the Karabakh status quo.
Meanwhile, James Warlick, the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, was quoted by the Azerbaijani media as saying that the mediators are also trying to organize another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit later this year.
Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev already held three face-to-face meetings in as many months following a similar upsurge in deadly fighting in August. Nalbandian described as “constructive, useful and sincere” their most recent encounter held in Paris in October.
Tensions in the conflict zone were reignited in November by the shooting down by Azerbaijani forces of an Armenian combat helicopter near Karabakh. Sarkisian insisted shortly afterwards that Aliyev will not dare to provoke a full-scale war with the Armenians any time soon.