Armenia Accuses Neighbor of Stoking Conflict

12-11-2012 09:24:42   | Armenia  |  Interviews
The President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan gave interview to the Wall Street Journaland discussed growing tensions with Azerbaijan about the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. By Joe Parkinson Armenia's president is increasingly concerned about what he sees as neighboring Azerbaijan's willingness to engage in armed conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, he said in an interview, warning that Armenian forces would deliver a disproportionate blow should conflict erupt between the neighbors. In comments to The Wall Street Journal, President SerzhSargsyan said Armenia's government would continue to push for a negotiated settlement to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has simmered for nearly two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he also tapped the rising tensions in one of the world's key energy corridors. "Unfortunately, I believe Azerbaijan is waiting for an occasion to start a conflict," President Sargsyan said Thursday. "I am confident such a mistake would harm the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia but that most harm would come to the people of Azerbaijan….We won't stand aside when the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is going to be destroyed." In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Armenian president SerzhSargsyan discussed growing tensions with Azerbaijan about the disputed territory of NagornoKarabakh. Some observers said his hawkish tone was in part meant to appeal to a domestic audience and large international diaspora that supports a hard line on Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Sargsyan-a fanatical chess player who built his political reputation as a longtime defense minister-is hoping to win a second five-year term in February elections. But President Sargsyan's comments also marked the latest in a war of words in recent months between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has sparked concerns by the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Military spending has risen in recent years by both countries nestled between Russia, Turkey and Iran. Azerbaijan has repeatedly accused Armenia of violating its border and killing its soldiers along the neighbors' northern frontier. A growing number of Azeris, exasperated with diplomacy and emboldened by their government's expanding military and hawkish rhetoric, are calling for a military solution to the dispute. The Armenian president also said that his government was pushing forward to tackle rampant corruption and that Armenia's economy had posted a 7% expansion in the year through September. That signals Armenia's emergence from an economic crisis that saw remittances from its large diaspora tumble. Yet politics in this landlocked nation remains dominated by Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan's borders and was overtaken by Armenia during a six-year war that ended in a cease-fire 18 years ago at the cost of 30,000 lives. The enclave's population is predominantly ethnic Armenian. Its borders are maintained by Armenian troops. Armenia has long said that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh should be given the right to decide their own fates, but the diplomatic track remains deadlocked. Azerbaijan is focused on reclaiming the territory and securing the return to the area of ethnic Azeris who were forced out by the conflict-almost 600,000 people, or 7% of Azerbaijan's population, according to the United Nations. Threats of war have for years been intertwined with negotiations as efforts by the Minsk Group-created by The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992 and jointly chaired by United States, Russia and France-faltered. In recent years, both nations have amassed more powerful weaponry. Azerbaijan has grown wealthy, as new pipelines have been constructed carrying the cenergy-rich country's gas and oil to Europe via Turkey. Tensions have risen in recent months. Sporadic firefights have intensified between the neighbors' forces, stationed in trenches as little as 100 meters apart along the enclave's so-called contact line. The war of words intensified in August, when Azeri President IlhamAliyev offered a hero's welcome to RamilSafarov, an Azeri officer convicted of hacking an Armenian to death with an ax on a NATO course in Hungary in 2004. The affair prompted a diplomatic storm, and Armenia withdrew its ambassador to Hungary. "What is the reason for establishing such a xenophobic atmosphere and hatred against Armenians in Azerbaijan?" President Sargsyan said. "It is easier to create such an atmosphere, to encourage hate speech, rather than deal with the consequences of that atmosphere and turn the tide back." Azerbaijan has rejected the international criticism. President Aliyev said in September that the pardon was in keeping with the constitution, while government officials have said Mr. Safarov faced emotional stress because his family was displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and a young relative killed. Washington and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have watched developments with mounting alarm. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of the threat of a "much broader conflict" when she visited Armenia in June. NATO Secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed his "deep concern" in September over the dramatic escalation in rhetoric between the capitals. President Sargsyan's statements underscored the need for the international community to engage more actively, analysts said. "In the absence of any substantive negotiations is a growing chance that the combat field will dictate the situation," said Sabine FriezerGunes, director of the Caucasus program at the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution body. "This is a very dangerous moment." Baku spent $11 billion on weapons in the past five years compared with less than $2 billion by Armenia, data from the Stockholm-based research institute Sipri show. Both governments are purchasing sophisticated offensive weapons systems, including Russian missiles capable of hitting targets 45 miles away, within range of towns and cities, according to the International Crisis Group. Some military analysts have speculated that Armenia could launch a pre-emptive strike against Baku before the military balance moved irrevocably in Baku's favor. President Sargsyan said Armenia would strike Azerbaijan on ly if NagornoKarabakh or Armenian were attacked but vowed that Yerevan's response would be "disproportionately" strong. Local political analysts cautioned that President Sargsyan's hawkish stance could be exaggerated to ahead of national elections. "He's trying to pre-empt attacks from the diaspora or conservative elements ahead of the election by taking the ground from under them," Richard Giragosian, Director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan. "But isn't just political posturing, the situation is serious." President Sargsyan also warned that the prospect of a military strike against Iran, with which Armenia shares a border, was an issue of "extreme concern" which could set off a sequence of events that could also trigger a conflict between Yerevan and Baku. He said deeper international engagement in the region was vital to help reduce tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. "If we had been living in an isolated region where there was no international impact, war would have already begun," he said. The President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan gave interview to the Wall Street Journaland discussed growing tensions with Azerbaijan about the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. By Joe Parkinson Armenia's president is increasingly concerned about what he sees as neighboring Azerbaijan's willingness to engage in armed conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, he said in an interview, warning that Armenian forces would deliver a disproportionate blow should conflict erupt between the neighbors. In comments to The Wall Street Journal, President SerzhSargsyan said Armenia's government would continue to push for a negotiated settlement to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has simmered for nearly two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he also tapped the rising tensions in one of the world's key energy corridors. "Unfortunately, I believe Azerbaijan is waiting for an occasion to start a conflict," President Sargsyan said Thursday. "I am confident such a mistake would harm the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia but that most harm would come to the people of Azerbaijan….We won't stand aside when the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is going to be destroyed." In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Armenian president SerzhSargsyan discussed growing tensions with Azerbaijan about the disputed territory of NagornoKarabakh. Some observers said his hawkish tone was in part meant to appeal to a domestic audience and large international diaspora that supports a hard line on Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Sargsyan-a fanatical chess player who built his political reputation as a longtime defense minister-is hoping to win a second five-year term in February elections. But President Sargsyan's comments also marked the latest in a war of words in recent months between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has sparked concerns by the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Military spending has risen in recent years by both countries nestled between Russia, Turkey and Iran. Azerbaijan has repeatedly accused Armenia of violating its border and killing its soldiers along the neighbors' northern frontier. A growing number of Azeris, exasperated with diplomacy and emboldened by their government's expanding military and hawkish rhetoric, are calling for a military solution to the dispute. The Armenian president also said that his government was pushing forward to tackle rampant corruption and that Armenia's economy had posted a 7% expansion in the year through September. That signals Armenia's emergence from an economic crisis that saw remittances from its large diaspora tumble. Yet politics in this landlocked nation remains dominated by Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan's borders and was overtaken by Armenia during a six-year war that ended in a cease-fire 18 years ago at the cost of 30,000 lives. The enclave's population is predominantly ethnic Armenian. Its borders are maintained by Armenian troops. Armenia has long said that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh should be given the right to decide their own fates, but the diplomatic track remains deadlocked. Azerbaijan is focused on reclaiming the territory and securing the return to the area of ethnic Azeris who were forced out by the conflict-almost 600,000 people, or 7% of Azerbaijan's population, according to the United Nations. Threats of war have for years been intertwined with negotiations as efforts by the Minsk Group-created by The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992 and jointly chaired by United States, Russia and France-faltered. In recent years, both nations have amassed more powerful weaponry. Azerbaijan has grown wealthy, as new pipelines have been constructed carrying the cenergy-rich country's gas and oil to Europe via Turkey. Tensions have risen in recent months. Sporadic firefights have intensified between the neighbors' forces, stationed in trenches as little as 100 meters apart along the enclave's so-called contact line. The war of words intensified in August, when Azeri President IlhamAliyev offered a hero's welcome to RamilSafarov, an Azeri officer convicted of hacking an Armenian to death with an ax on a NATO course in Hungary in 2004. The affair prompted a diplomatic storm, and Armenia withdrew its ambassador to Hungary. "What is the reason for establishing such a xenophobic atmosphere and hatred against Armenians in Azerbaijan?" President Sargsyan said. "It is easier to create such an atmosphere, to encourage hate speech, rather than deal with the consequences of that atmosphere and turn the tide back." Azerbaijan has rejected the international criticism. President Aliyev said in September that the pardon was in keeping with the constitution, while government officials have said Mr. Safarov faced emotional stress because his family was displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and a young relative killed. Washington and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have watched developments with mounting alarm. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of the threat of a "much broader conflict" when she visited Armenia in June. NATO Secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed his "deep concern" in September over the dramatic escalation in rhetoric between the capitals. President Sargsyan's statements underscored the need for the international community to engage more actively, analysts said. "In the absence of any substantive negotiations is a growing chance that the combat field will dictate the situation," said Sabine FriezerGunes, director of the Caucasus program at the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution body. "This is a very dangerous moment." Baku spent $11 billion on weapons in the past five years compared with less than $2 billion by Armenia, data from the Stockholm-based research institute Sipri show. Both governments are purchasing sophisticated offensive weapons systems, including Russian missiles capable of hitting targets 45 miles away, within range of towns and cities, according to the International Crisis Group. Some military analysts have speculated that Armenia could launch a pre-emptive strike against Baku before the military balance moved irrevocably in Baku's favor. President Sargsyan said Armenia would strike Azerbaijan only if NagornoKarabakh or Armenian were attacked but vowed that Yerevan's response would be "disproportionately" strong. Local political analysts cautioned that President Sargsyan's hawkish stance could be exaggerated to ahead of national elections. "He's trying to pre-empt attacks from the diaspora or conservative elements ahead of the election by taking the ground from under them," Richard Giragosian, Director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan. "But isn't just political posturing, the situation is serious." President Sargsyan also warned that the prospect of a military strike against Iran, with which Armenia shares a border, was an issue of "extreme concern" which could set off a sequence of events that could also trigger a conflict between Yerevan and Baku. He said deeper international engagement in the region was vital to help reduce tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. "If we had been living in an isolated region where there was no international impact, war would have already begun," he said. "The Noyan Tapan Highlights", #41 (938) 12 November 2012
 
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