In televised remarks aired late on Tuesday, Aliyev again referred to Syunik as a “historical Azerbaijani land” and said Baku “will accomplish the task of creating the Zangezur corridor whether Armenia wants it or not.”
“If Armenia wants, we can solve that easily. If it does not, we will solve that by force,” he said.
“I already said during and before the war [in Nagorno-Karabakh] that they must willingly get out of our lands; or else, we will throw them out. This is what happened. The same will happen to the Zangezur corridor.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry was quick to condemn Aliyev’s remarks as a fresh threat to Armenia’s territorial integrity.
“Such statements seriously undermine regional peace and stability. They reveal the false nature of Azerbaijan's recent statements on peace and reconciliation,” the ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, said in a late-night statement.
“We are in constant touch with our strategic ally [Russia] as well as with all our partners interested in peace in the South Caucasus. Armenia will undertake all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” added Naghdalian.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian also deplored Aliyev’s remarks when he visited Syunik on Wednesday.
“With such provocative statements, Azerbaijan’s leadership wants to … walk away from our understandings, heightening tensions in the region to continue blockading Armenia,” Pashinian said at a meeting held in the provincial capital Kapan.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry insisted earlier in the day that Aliyev did not threaten Armenia’s territorial integrity or lay claim to any Armenian territory. In Pashinian’s words, the ministry’s denial contradicted what the Azerbaijani leader said.
The Russian-brokered agreement that stopped the Karabakh war on November 10 commits Yerevan to opening rail and road links between Nakhichevan and the rest of Azerbaijan. Armenia should be able, for its part, to use Azerbaijani territory as a transit route for cargo shipments to and from Russia and Iran.
“If Azerbaijan talks about a ‘Zangezur corridor,’ then by the same token Armenia can talk about a ‘Nakhichevan corridor’ or a ‘north Azerbaijan corridor,’” Pashinian said in this regard.
At a January meeting in Moscow hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Aliyev and Pashinian agreed to set up a trilateral working group tasked with working out practical modalities of reopening transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The group co-headed by deputy prime ministers of the three states has held several meetings since then. Aliyev reportedly praised its activities on April 1. But earlier this year he accused Armenia of dragging its feet over the “corridor” and threatened to force Yerevan to open it.
The Armenian government dismissed those threats and argued that the truce agreement makes no reference to any transport corridors. It maintains that Baku itself has violated the agreement by refusing to free dozens of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian captives.
Syunik borders districts southwest of Nagorno-Karabakh which were retaken by Azerbaijan during and after a six-week war. Russia deployed soldiers and border guards there late last year to help the Armenian military defend the region against possible Azerbaijani attacks.
Pashinian said last week that Russian and Armenian officials are holding “quite productive discussions” on a possible deployment of more Russian troops to the area which also borders Iran.
During a March visit to Yerevan, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif voiced strong support for Armenia’s territorial integrity, calling it a “red line” for the Islamic Republic.