Sarkisian as well as Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and Karabakh’s top political and military leaders inspected Armenian frontline positions east of the disputed territory on Friday before attending the final phase of the drills held in the same area since November 1. He then discussed the situation in the conflict zone with the top brass of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army closely integrated with the armed forces of Armenia proper.
“The military exercises, which were maximally adapted to a combat situation, must be a warning to others,” Sarkisian told them. “If push suddenly comes to shove, we will manage not just to repeat what happened in 1992-1994 but to finally resolve the conflict and the issue will be closed once and for all.”
“We never wanted war, we were simply compelled to defend our homeland at that time,” he said, referring to the first Armenian-Azerbaijani. “We will not attack first now either. But if the moment arrives, if they force us, our strike must be devastating and final this time around.”
Sarkisian confirmed that the exercises were held in response to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s growing threats to reconquer Karabakh and Azerbaijani districts surrounding them. Aliyev reiterated those threats as he visited Azerbaijani-controlled territories across the heavily fortified “line of contact” earlier in the week.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry dismissed the Karabakh exercises as a publicity stunt on Saturday. “Their exercises now resemble children’s games,” ministry spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu told the APA news agency.
Sabiroglu claimed that the Armenians are too cash-strapped to stage genuine war games. He said they have held more than a dozen exercises this year involving only “five or six tanks” and “sometimes a couple of salvos.”
Azerbaijani news agencies reported on Friday, however, that residents of four Azerbaijani districts close to the frontline have heard over 100 powerful explosions from the Armenian side in recent days. Citing local residents, the government-linked APA suggested that the Karabakh Armenians are holding their biggest ever exercises.
A military official in Stepanakert likewise said on Saturday that the latest drills “stand out in terms of the quantity and quality of forces involved.”