Baku has issued more warnings to Serzh Sargsyan not to pay visits to the “occupied territories” of Azerbaijan after the Armenian leader attended a school opening ceremony in Shushi in Karabakh last weekend.
The statement by Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev comes amid increased tensions in the region that some international experts fear may result in a new Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
“The trip of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan again shows that the Armenian leadership has no political will to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh,” Abdullayev said on Wednesday, according to Day.az.
The subject of Armenia and Karabakh was also addressed by the leaders of Turkey and Azerbaijan who met in Baku this week. The leaders of the two states regarded as ethnic cousins and political allies in the region reaffirmed their fraternal ties and again vowed to support each other in international affairs.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, in particular, slammed Armenia’s “unconstructive” and “hypocritical” position in the negotiation process and accused Yerevan of obstructive peace in the region. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, reiterated Turkey’s linkage of the normalization process with Armenia to the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the “occupied lands” in Karabakh.
“Our position will remain unchanged,” Erdogan assured Aliyev, according to the latter’s press office.
The latest warnings from Baku come amid a new wave of escalating tensions around Karabakh in the wake of Hungary’s handover to Azerbaijan of Ramil Safarov, a convicted axe-murderer of an Armenian army officer with whom he attended a NATO-sponsored English language course in Budapest in 2004. Safarov, who had been sentenced to life, was extradited on August 31 after serving 8.5 years in Budapest jail. The man was pardoned upon repatriation, financially rewarded and promoted to major by Azerbaijani leadership.
Baku views Safarov’s extradition as a huge diplomatic and political success. But Armenia severed ties with Hungary over the matter, urging the world to condemn the “Azeri-Hungarian deal”.
In his remarks the Azeri Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sargsyan visited Shushi – “one of the centers of Azerbaijani culture” as he described it – to raise his image in the eyes of fellow Armenians that Abdullayev said had suffered because of the Safarov Affair.
“What happened comes as a confirmation of Azerbaijan’s growing weight on the international arena and, on the contrary, the weakening of Yerevan’s influence,” he claimed.
Armenia, meanwhile, believes it has the moral high ground in the Safarov Affair that it says shows Azerbaijan as a racist state and proves that Armenians cannot live under “murderous” Azeris who are allowed – on the state level – to kill Armenians and go unpunished.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan said earlier this week the international community shared Armenia’s stance in condemning the actions of both Hungary and Azerbaijan.
With Armenia and Azerbaijan continuing to trade accusations there seems to be little room left for the resumption of formal talks regarding the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Some international experts believe the lack of contacts between the leaders of the two countries only heightens the likelihood of another war breaking out in the region.
Even while the Sargsyan-Aliyev meetings were pretty much regular the Azeri leader did not conceal his country’s designs to win Karabakh back militarily if it failed to “restore its territorial integrity” by means of negotiations – a threat routinely scoffed at by Armenia.
And now an international voice privy to the negotiations has given more weight to Armenia’s arguments that a war may only be detrimental to Azerbaijan.
Matthew Bryza, who was the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group in 2005-2009 and served as a U.S. ambassador in Baku in 2011, was quoted by Reuters on Tuesday as saying that despite its massive defense spending Azerbaijan is still unable to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Azeris can’t retake Karabakh now. They are militarily incapable of doing it,” Bryza said. “I don’t think they could dislodge the Armenian forces from the high ground. I think that’s extremely difficult.”