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Only Change In Turkey's Stance Can Unlock Karabakh Settlement, Says Pashinian


NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian attends a meeting with army commanders in Nagorno-Karabakh, October 6, 2020

(Reuters) - Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Tuesday he believed that only a change in Turkey’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh could prompt Azerbaijan to halt military action over the region.

But, in his first interview since a ceasefire deal was agreed in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was agreed in Moscow on Saturday, he gave no indication to Reuters that he saw any sign of Ankara shifting its position.

Since fighting flared on September 27, Turkey has backed Azerbaijan strongly and said Armenian forces must leave the enclave, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.

Turkey said on Tuesday it should play a role in international discussions on the conflict, something Yerevan opposes. The ceasefire, brokered by Russia, is already badly frayed, with both sides accusing the other of attacks and crimes against civilians.

Speaking at his official residence, a huge Soviet-era building in the center of the Armenian capital Yerevan, Pashinian accused Turkey of sabotaging the ceasefire and of trying to muscle its way into the wider South Caucasus region to further what he called its expansionist ambitions.

“I’m convinced that for as long as Turkey’s position remains unchanged, Azerbaijan will not stop fighting,” Pashinian said.

Azerbaijan says it is open to the temporary humanitarian ceasefire agreed in Moscow to exchange prisoners and bodies of those killed in the fighting, but accuses Armenian forces of breaching it. Yerevan denies this. Azerbaijan has said it envisages further fighting after the truce to capture more territory.

Pashinian said Turkey had stated publicly, before the ceasefire talks, that it believed Azerbaijan should keep fighting, and that Turkey’s foreign minister had phoned the Azeri foreign minister after the deal.

Pashinian suggested the purpose of the Turkish post-ceasefire call “was really an instruction not to dare under any circumstance to stop fighting”.

The Turkish foreign ministry said on the day of the call that the ceasefire would not be a lasting solution, and has since said Armenian forces should withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Turkey has come to the South Caucasus to continue the policy it is carrying out in the Mediterranean against Greece and Cyprus, or in Libya, or in Syria, or in Iraq. It is an expansionist policy,” Pashinian said. “And the problem is that Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last remaining obstacle on its path to implement that expansionist policy.”

The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war over the territory that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed. It is being closely watched abroad, partly because of its proximity to Azeri energy pipelines to Europe and because of fears that Russia and Turkey could be drawn in.

If left unchecked in the region, Pashinian warned that Turkish influence could poison the South Caucasus. “The whole of the South Caucasus will become Syria and that fire would spread to the north and to the south rapidly,” he said.

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