President Serzh Sarkisian flew to Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday more than two weeks after the outbreak of heavy fighting around the territory that nearly escalated into a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
The Armenian presidential press office released photographs of a uniform-clad Sarkisian arriving at the Stepanakert airport by helicopter and being greeted there by Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, and Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian.
A statement by the office said that Sarkisian and Sahakian met with the Karabakh Armenian army’s top brass later in the day. “A broad range of issues related to army building was discussed,” it added without elaborating.
The trip is clearly connected with the April 2 escalation of the Karabakh conflict sparked by an Azerbaijani offensive at two sections of the “line of contact” around Karabakh. At least 100 soldiers from both sides died in the ensuing fierce clashes stopped by a Russian-mediated ceasefire on April 5. The ceasefire is largely holding despite sporadic gunfire reported by both warring sides.
Sarkisian held an emergency session of Armenia’s National Security Council just hours after the outbreak of what was the worst fighting in the conflict zone since 1994. He said Armenia will bolster Karabakh’s security through a “treaty on mutual military assistance” that will be signed with the unrecognized republic soon.
As Sarkisian began the trip to Karabakh, a senior aide to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to revive the stalled peace process. “An intensive phase of negotiations may start in the coming days,” the official, Ali Hasanov, was reported to tell Azerbaijani television.
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Vladimir Hakobian, said later on Monday that the Armenian side parties did not discuss the possibility of an Armenian-Azerbaijani summit with the Russian as well as U.S. and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group when they visited the region more than a week ago.
Speaking to the RIA Novosti news agency, Hakobian confirmed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Yerevan later this week. “It will be a good opportunity to continue discussions on Russia’s approaches to Azerbaijan’s large-scale aggressive actions taken against Nagorno-Karabakh in early April, war crimes committed by it … and to look at prospects for the negotiation process, the main essence of which is the realization of the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination,” he said.
Putin stressed last week that he sees a “solely political” solution to the Karabakh conflict and that Moscow will spare no effort to try to achieve it. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made a similar point when he visited Yerevan and Baku just days after the Russian-brokered truce went into force.