Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Tuesday threw his weight behind Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan, who has seemingly ruled out Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan and promised a more offensive posture against the Azerbaijani army.
Visiting the United States at the weekend, Tonoyan dismissed the so-called “lands-for-peace formula” of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “We are saying the opposite: a new war for new lands,” the Voice of America quoted him as telling members of the Armenian community in New York.
“Nothing will be conceded,” said Tonoyan. He added, though, that “compromises are possible.”
“We will rid ourselves of the trench-based, constantly defensive posture and increase the number of those army units that can shift hostilities into enemy territory,” warned Tonoyan.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry condemned the “provocative” statement, saying that it undermined international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. It also challenged the Armenian government to clarify whether Tonoyan voiced his personal views or official Yerevan’s position.
“If Davit Tonoyan had made a different statement I would have dismissed him as defense minister,” Pashinian said, commenting on the minister’s remarks. “What did the defense minister say? He said that if a war breaks out our objective will be to win that war.”
“This does not cast a shadow on the peace process,” he told reporters. “On the contrary, it underscores the importance of a peaceful settlement.”
Asked whether Tonoyan coordinated with him, Pashinian replied: “The defense minister acts under the prime minister’s leadership and is subordinate to him.”
The prime minister spoke at the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan after leading an official ceremony to mark the third anniversary of fierce fighting around Karabakh which nearly degenerated into a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war. At least 190 Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers were killed during four-day hostilities halted by a Russian-brokered agreement. It was the worst escalation of the Karabakh in over two decades.
Azerbaijan’s President marked the anniversary with a visit to a military base used by Azerbaijani special forces, which played the key role in offensive operations launched by Baku on April 2, 2016. Meeting with military personnel serving there, Aliyev again ruled out any peace deal that would fall short of restoring Azerbaijani control over Karabakh.
“No country recognizes and, I’m sure, will recognize the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” he said, according to the Turan news agency.
Aliyev also said that the new Armenian government has failed to change the internationally accepted format of peace talks. He clearly referred to Pashinian’s regular calls for Karabakh’s direct involvement in the talks.
Aliyev and Pashinian met in Vienna as recently on Friday. In a joint statement with the U.S., Russian and French mediators, the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers described the three-hour meeting as “positive and constructive.” The two leaders discussed “key issues of the settlement process and ideas of substance” and “recommitted to strengthening the ceasefire,” according to the statement.