Armenia Lashes out at Azeri Criticism of Karabagh

YEREVAN (RFE-RL)–A fresh war of words between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued on Friday–with Armenia angrily rebuffing Azeri condemnations of the ongoing military exercise and the upcoming local elections in Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR).

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said that Azerbaijan is using the two events to "divert attention from its unwillingness to negotiate a lasting peace."Whether complaining about Karabagh’s peaceful–legal–democratic elections–or whether making disparaging remarks about the people of Mountainous Karabagh and their continued readiness to defend themselves–their families and their property?these statemen’s simply result in a continuation of the atmosphere of distrust and cynicism," the ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian–said in a statement.

The Azeri Foreign Ministry expressed "deep concern" over the ten-day exercises that MKR’s forces began on Tuesday–saying they would hamper preparations for the next meeting between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The latest bitter exchange between the conflicting parties was triggered by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s fresh threat to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity by force if the peace process remains deadlocked.

The Armenian government reacted angrily–warning Baku of "disastrous consequences" of renewed fighting and questioning its commitment to peace. But Armenian officials have not commented on the even more bellicose statement by the chief spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry. The official–Colonel Ramiz Melikov–was quoted by a leading Azerbaijani daily on Wednesday as saying that Armenia will cease to exist as an independent state and its territory will become part of Azerbaijan "in the next 25-30 years."

Melikov’s reported prediction has alarmed a leading Armenian-American advocacy group. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) sent on Thursday letters to the White House and the members of the US Congress urging Washington to denounce the threat.

"We expect our government to forcefully and publicly confront the Azerbaijani government over these patently hateful and destabilizing threats," the ANCA executive director–Aram Hamparian–said in a statement. "Failure to do so would send extremely dangerous signals to Baku."

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