Azerbaijan Says Economic Crisis Will Force Armenia to Drop Karabakh Independence

BAKU (Reuters)–Azerbaijan hopes the global economic crisis will force Armenia to give up its support for Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

Armenia has been hit hard by the crisis. Turkey’s decision to close its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan has also taken its toll and shut Armenia out of lucrative energy transit deals currently enjoyed by Georgia.

"The time has come to think realistically for them," Azimov, who is responsible for security issues at the foreign ministry, said, denying his country’s oil-financed military expansion meant it was planning war to take back the region of Nagorno-Karabakh from its indigenous Armenia’s.

There is "no miracle" in sight to resolve the dispute, he said, adding that Azerbaijan, by growing its economy, its military and its image as a stable partner for the West, was trying to convince Armenia of the need to compromise.

"We never said and we never say that we shall go to war with Armenia," he said. But with Armenia insisting on independence for the region, "I have to say that in all circumstances and by all means we will restore territorial integrity."

Azimov also accused Russia of supplying arms to Armenia. "Armenia is being supplied by its military ally, Russia," Azimov.

He said Moscow was equipping Armenia, its closest ally in the Caucasus, under cover of restocking its military hardware at the Russian military base in the Armenian town of Gyumri.

"We know that from time to time Russia is maintaining its presence in Gyumri. When new pieces are brought in, what happens to the old ones?" he said. "Things are coming in, and nothing is coming out."

Both Moscow and Yerevan have vehemently denied that Russia is supplying a military build-up in Armenia. Russia’says it moved some troops and equipment to Gyumri after they pulled out of bases in neighboring Georgia under an arms control pact.

Some analysts suggested last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, also over an unresolved ethnic and territorial dispute, might revitalize efforts to resolve Nagorno-Karabakh, but diplomats say that beyond rhetoric there is little progress.

The indigenous Armenian population of Karabakh fought a war of independence in the 1990s to liberate mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijani aggression.

No peace accord has ever been signed, and the ceasefire is frequently tested by fatal exchanges of fire across the frontline. Armenia backs Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination and independence, something Azerbaijan says it can never have.
But the balance of power in the region has shifted dramatically since the end of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan’s economic and military growth, based on oil exported westwards, has rapidly outpaced that of Armenia.

Azerbaijan, ruled by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father Heydar in 2003, refuses to rule out taking back Nagorno-Karabakh by force. Azerbaijan votes in a referendum next week on whether to scrap a two-term presidential limit, allowing Aliyev to run again in 2013.

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