BAKU (RFE/RL)—Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has pledged to step up “diplomatic, political and economic pressure” on Armenia with the aim of restoring Baku’s control over Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian-controlled districts surrounding it.
Visiting Azerbaijani troops and civilian settlements close to the “line of contact” around Karabakh over the weekend, he again blamed the Armenian side for the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting there. He claimed that the Azerbaijani army went on a counteroffensive in response to Armenian “armed provocations.”
“Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity must be restored,” Aliyev told military personnel in the Terter district bordering northeastern Karabakh. “Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied lands are our historical territory.”
“We will try to convince Armenia through negotiations,” he said, according to Azerbaijani news agencies. “We will increase diplomatic, political and economic pressure and reinforce our positions on the Line of Contact.”
“If the Armenians again resort to an armed provocation against us, they will get an appropriate response and the outcome will be the same because the Azerbaijani army is now one of the strongest in the world,” he added.
Yerevan and Karabakh’s leadership maintain that the April 2 Azerbaijani assault at several sections of the frontline was unprovoked and aimed at achieving significant territorial gains that would force the Armenian side to make far-reaching concessions to Baku. They say Aliyev announced a unilateral cessation of hostilities on April 3 because of failing to achieve his goal. The fighting, which left at least 170 soldiers from both sides dead, was largely stopped by a Russian-brokered agreement on April 5.
Aliyev claimed that the United States, Russia and France — the three world powers trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict — are now exerting “serious pressure” on Armenia because it has been obstructing a peaceful settlement.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian claimed the opposite during a visit to Finland on April 2. Nalbandian argued that Aliyev and other Azerbaijani leaders have repeatedly lambasted the mediating powers for not pushing for Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule and proposing instead confidence-building measures that would bolster the ceasefire regime.
“Having failed in negotiations, Azerbaijani tried a military option and failed in that endeavor as well,” Nalbandian said in a speech delivered at University of Helsinki.
Nalbandian also reiterated that Yerevan will not agree to resume direct peace talks with Baku unless the latter accepts specific safeguards against truce violations that have for years been advocated by the U.S., Russian and French mediators. Those include a mechanism for an international investigation of such violations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on April 22 that the two sides should accept the proposed confidence-building measures without “further delay.” Unlike the Armenian side, Aliyev’s government has opposed them until now.