BAKU (Combined Sources)–As the US Charge d’Affairs in Armenia Joseph Pennington was praising the June 6 meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents as a sign of progress in peace talks, Azerbaijan on Thursday staged its first military parade in 16 years, and announced its intentions to build a military industrial complex that would support a second round war with neighboring Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The military parade, which was a show of strength aimed at Armenia, comes amid rising tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and other top officials in his government continue to jeopardize the future of peace-talks with Armenia by threatening to launch an all out war in the Caucasus. Warnings of an eminent military attack on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and frequent cease-fire violations by Azeri armed forces have marred recent attempts by the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.
But a resumption of hostilities could disrupt oil supplies from Azerbaijan, which exports about 700,000 barrels of oil a day to world markets, most of it via a pipeline operated by a British Petroleum-led international consortium.
Troops, multiple rocket launch systems, armored personnel carriers, tanks and unmanned reconnaissance planes were paraded in front of the Soviet-built government headquarters in the capital Baku, watched over by President Aliyev.
Attack helicopters, bombers and fighter jets later flew in formation past the building on the shores of the Caspian Sea, in a parade that lasted over an hour.
Much of the equipment on show was Soviet-designed but there was also Western gear and troops were fitted out in NATO-style uniforms–part of a modernization of the armed forces funded with a ten-fold rise in defense spending since 2003. The United States has also been a benefactor for the Azeri military, providing military expertise and millions in US aid to combat drug trafficking, "counter-terrorism", and Caspian Sea oil security.
But Aliyev signaled in his speech during the parade that his country intends to develop its own military industrial complex that will bolster the country’s military strength in order to wean it off its dependency on foreign military hardware.
"Most of our armamen’s and defense technologies are bought from foreign states, we want to produce our own military hardware," he said. "Azerbaijan is building a military-industrial complex."
Aliyev said at the parade Azerbaijan’s annual defense spending was now $2 billion. He said the increase was in line with an overall growth in state spending in Azerbaijan, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
"The international community is worried by our policy in this area and places the emphasis on this," said Aliyev, who succeeded his father as president in a 2003 election.
But Azerbaijan continues to live in a state of war and is trying to resolve the Karabakh issue," he said. "We are continuing negotiations with Armenia, but they have been going on for a very long time and the people are tired of them. They cannot go on for ever."
"The war is not over, only the first stage has ended and we are ready to liberate our lands at any moment," he warned.
Though the international community, and the OSCE Minsk Group continue to assert that progress is being made in peace talks, the fragile ceasefire that has been in force since 1994 is on the verge of collapse, as Azerbaijan continues to beef up its military and provokes a war.
The two sides have never signed a peace deal to formally end the conflict, and their armies are locked in a tense stand-off, as Armenian and Karabakh border villages are frequently fired upon by Azeri forces.
The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group from France, Russia and the US attended Thursday’s military parade and congratulated Aliyev on the occasion of the anniversary of the country’s Armed Forces. Prior to that, the French co-chair, Ambassador Bernard Fassier, who was in Baku on Wednesday said that "real peace requires wisdom, moral power and will."
The three mediators are set to meet with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and President Aliyev on Friday, after which they will fly out to Yerevan and meet with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and President Serzh Sarkisian. They will visit Stepanakert and Yerevan once more before they leave for Vienna for a June 30 expanded session that will focus on recent developmen’s in peace talks.
Thus far, talks mediated by envoys from France, Russia and the United States have failed to produce a peace agreement.