Azerbaijan Won’t Exploit Ossetia Conflict, Says Hovannesian

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)-Azerbaijan does not have the capabilities to attack the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau member Vahan Hovannesian said during a press conference on Saturday.

Hovannesian’s remarks came in response to questions about a recent statement by Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, which hailed Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia as setting a precedent for Azerbaijan to invade and "reclaim" Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan’s Government held an emergency meeting on what to do next when Georgia first began moving forces into South Ossetia on Aug. 7, a source in Azerbaijan’s government told Stratfor on Aug. 8. The discussion centered on the idea that if Georgia succeeded in South Ossetia, it would set a precedent for Azerbaijan to "take back" the Nagorno-Karabakh region immediately, especially considering the recent violence there.

The Foreign Ministry statement described Georgia’s military offensive against South Ossetia as a positive precedent for countries seeking to use military force to restore "territorial integrity."

"Georgia has proven that peaceful talks are not the only way to restore territorial integrity," it said. "[Azerbaijan] has the right to return its lands by use of force."

But Azerbaijan is not Georgia, and Karabakh is not South Ossetia, Hovannesian told reporters, explaining that Baku would have attacked and settled the Karabakh conflict militarily long ago, if it had the ability to do so.

"At present the gates to Nagorno-Karabakh are fully closed, and if Azerbaijan wishes to open them, they will receive an appropriate, if not a more powerful military response," said Hovhannesian, who is also the head of the ARF’s parliamentary Faction.

Karabakh’s Foreign Ministry Saturday released a statement calling on all sides of the conflict and the international community to stop the bloodshed. The statement said that a military solution to the South Ossetian issue is not viable and will not work.

The aggravation of the situation in South Ossetia causes serious concern in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, as the outbreak of hostilities caused by Georgia’s invasion is rife with unpredictable consequences for the entire region, the ministry statement said.

"We hope the international community will do its best for the restoration of the peace and stability and a renewal of the negotiation process between Georgia and South Ossetia," the Karabakh Foreign Ministry Said.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a historic Armenian territory placed within Azerbaijan by Stalin, declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan in. Azerbaijan responded by sparking an all out war against the nascent republic in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the region. By May 1994, the Armenia’s were in control of Karabakh and the Azerbaijani government, for the first time during the conflict, recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a third party in the war and started direct negotiations with the Karabakh authorities. As a result, a cease-fire was reached on May 12, 1994 through Russian negotiation.

But the peace process, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, has failed to reach a final solution to the conflict since then. Meanwhile, official Baku continues to express frustration with the pace of negotiations, claiming that it is its right to reassert its "territorial integrity" by force if necessary.

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met on August 1in Moscow for the third time in as many months to try to bridge the two countries’ differences over a framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh proposed by international mediators. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian had their first face-to-face meeting in Saint Petersburg in early June. The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have described the meetings as positive and hopeful.

Aliyev, however, has been hardening his war rhetoric, threatening to use his country’s growing oil wealth to launch a full-scale invasion of Karabakh to occupy the Armenian territory and "restore [Azerbaijan’s] territorial integrity."

In early June, Aliyev said that although Azerbaijan would continue to take political steps to recover Karabakh and neighboring territories under Armenian control, "we should be ready to liberate our lands in a military way at any time." He added that Azerbaijan’s army was the strongest in the region.

On March 4, Azeri Armed Forces violated the Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire line and opened fire on Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Army positions northeast of the Martakert Region, temporarily capturing a Karabakh defense position. The attack, which was followed by protracted skirmishes throughout the month, was considered by Armenian officials and international mediators as unprecedented in its scale.

But now that Georgia appears to not have succeeded, Baku is "regrouping" because Nagorno-Karabakh is saying it believes Russia would back the republic if Azerbaijan made moves against it.

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