YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Islamist militants operating in Syria and Iraq could flock to Azerbaijan in case of a major escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan claimed on Friday.

“There are large numbers of militants of radical Islamist groups in Syria, and they realize that they have no place in Syria and Iraq anymore,” Pashinyan told Russian journalists in Yerevan. “According to our information, they are now looking for a new place where they can move.”

“If a new escalation starts in our region, that would be a good excuse for them to go to, say, Azerbaijan,” he claimed. “For them, that’s a very convenient point from which they could extend their operations towards Iran, Russia, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.”

A war in Karabakh, Pashinyan went on, could therefore spill over into neighboring countries. He said he hopes Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan realize this.

According to the Sputnik news agency, Pashinyan also stated that Moscow is capable of preventing renewed large-scale fighting in Karabakh. “I’m sure that Russia has all the leverage to prevent an escalation in the Karabakh region,” he said. “And I can’t believe that Russia will not use that leverage when necessary.”

Together with the United States and France, Russia has been spearheading international efforts to broker the conflict’s resolution. As recently as on April 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted a fresh meeting of his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts in Moscow.

“We will not be rushing the process, but we will not be putting the brakes on it either because the conflict is there and I don’t think it’s right to forget about it,” said Pashinyan.

Answering to a question about former President Robert trial, Pashinyan reacted cautiously to repeated calls for his release from custody made by Nagorno-Karabakh’s current and former leaders.

Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, and his predecessor Arkadi Ghukasian appeared before a court in Yerevan on Thursday to guarantee in writing Kocharian’s “appropriate behavior” in case of his release. They also deposited 500,000 drams (just over $1,000) each.

“[Sahakian] told me about that the day before his appeal and I expressed my attitude: from the moral standpoint I find it normal, but from the political standpoint there are some questions,” the TASS news agency quoted Pashinyan as saying.

“How would a court in Karabakh react if I tried to vouch for someone?” he added.

According to TASS, Pashinyan dismissed suggestions that many Karabakh Armenians could turn on him because of Kocharian’s prosecution. He said he may be even more popular in Karabakh than in Armenia.


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