Armenia accused Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on Friday of undermining international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after he again claimed that Yerevan and other parts of Armenia are “historic Azerbaijani lands.”
Aliyev pledged to “return Azerbaijanis” to Yerevan, Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province also known as Zangezur, and the area around Lake Sevan when he addressed a pre-election congress of his Yeni Azerbayacan party on Thursday.
“We must not and will not forget about our historic lands,” he said. “This must determine our future activity, and we are already working in that direction. Our historic lands are the Yerevan Khanate, Zangezur and Geycha.”
“This is our strategic goal and we must gradually move closer to achieving this goal,” he declared.
Aliyev has repeatedly made similar statements in the past. In 2014, for instance, he stated that Baku will eventually gain control of not only Karabakh but also parts of the “fascist” Armenian state which he said had been created on “historic Azerbaijani lands.”
Officials in Yerevan were quick to condemn his latest remarks. Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), lashed out at the “Azerbaijani sultan” later on Thursday, comparing him to Adolf Hitler.
“Before talking of historic lands you have to have a history of statehood, and the Azerbaijani state is not even 100 years old,” Sharmazanov told reporters. The birthplace of Azerbaijanis and other Turkic peoples is Central Asia, not Armenia, he said.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry, for its part, said Aliyev’s statement amounted to territorial claims to Armenia. It also demonstrated “the racist essence of the ruling regime in Baku,” a ministry spokesman was quoted by the Russian RBC news agency as saying.
President Serzh Sarkisian likewise mentioned “the latest statements coming from Baku” when he met on Friday with U.S., Russian and French diplomats seeking to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. According to his press office, Sarkisian said they highlight Baku’s reluctance to embrace a settlement advanced by the international mediators. Aliyev is also defying the mediators’ calls for preparing the Armenian and Azerbaijani societies for peace, he said.
A statement by the office also said the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group briefed the Armenian leader on their talks with Aliyev held in Baku on Wednesday. It gave no details. The mediators are due to proceed to Karabakh this weekend.
Aliyev and Sarkisian pledged to step up the protracted search for a Karabakh settlement at their most recent meeting held in Geneva in October. Their foreign ministers held follow-up talks in December and January.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov described those talks as “positive.” In a magazine interview cited by Azerbaijani media on Friday, Mammadyarov noted with satisfaction the “intensity and concrete and logical consistency” of the current stage of the negotiation process.
According to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Aliyev and the Minsk Group co-chairs “reached an agreement on the continuation of intensive negotiations after the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
In a decree announced on Monday, Aliyev brought the date of Azerbaijan’s next presidential election forward by more than six months, to April 11. He did not explain the reasons for the unexpected decision.
The fresh election will be held two days after Sarkisian completes his second and final presidential term. Sarkisian is tipped to become Armenia’s prime minister later in April. The next Armenian president will be chosen by the parliament in early March and have largely ceremonial powers.