YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The Armenian military will respond “disproportionately” if Azerbaijan acts on its threats to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force, President Serzh Sarkisian said in a newspaper interview published on Friday.
Speaking to “The Wall Street Journal,” Sarkisian said Baku is waiting for “an opportune moment” to try to forcibly win back Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave.
“The resumption of military hostilities will harm Nagorno-Karabakh, will harm Armenia, but first and foremost it will immensely harm Azerbaijan … We won’t stand aside when the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is going to be destroyed,” he warned.
Sarkisian, who commanded Karabakh Armenian forces during their 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, said the Armenian side will strike hard only if it is attacked by the Azerbaijani army. He did not elaborate on the “disproportionate” Armenian response.
The Armenian military divulged some details of its war scenario when it held a series of large-scale exercises last month. It said its troops simulated, among other things, missile strikes on military targets as well as oil and gas installations in Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian watched the concluding session of those war games, which took place in Karabakh late last month. He also inspected Armenian army positions along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” east of Karabakh.
Azerbaijan has dismissed the Armenian missile threats, saying that its armed forces have the capacity to protect Azerbaijani oil facilities.
Azerbaijan has used its massive oil revenues for a military build-up which it hopes will eventually force the Armenians to return Karabakh under Azerbaijani rule.
Citing research conducted by a Swedish think-tank, “The Wall Street Journal” said Baku spent $11 billion on weapons in the past five years, compared with less than $2 billion by Yerevan. The latter has been trying to offset this spending gap through close military ties with Russia, which entitle Armenia to receiving Russian weapons at discount prices or even free of charge.
“It is better to achieve a resolution through negotiations,” Sarkisian told the U.S. business daily. “This issue is crystal clear. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh want to live free and decide its fate on its own. The peace proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs are anchored in this very idea.”
“We are ready to make compromises,” he added. “We are ready to settle the issue as swiftly as possible, and we call on Azerbaijan to follow suit.”
A senior aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, meanwhile, blamed the Armenians for the impasse and criticized the Minsk Group’s U.S., Russian and French co-chairs. “We are definitely going to heighten pressure on the Minsk Group co-chairs, including the U.S.,” Ali Hasanov told the Turan news agency on Friday. “They must in turn heighten pressure on Armenia in order to push forward the negotiating process.”