Deadly Skirmishes Continue Throughout the Weekend
YEREVAN (Combined Sources)—Azeri forces launched an attack on positions in Mardakert Friday, killing four Karabakh soldiers and wounding as many one day after a Armenian and Azeri presidential summit on Nagorno-Karabakh in St. Petersburg, mediated by Russia.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Ministry on Monday reported that skirmishes continued throughout the weekend with a spokesmen telling RFE/RL that since Sunday, Azeri forces violated the cease fire some 284 times.
Yerevan was quick to condemn the attacks describing them as “provocation” against Armenians and the peace process.
“Provocations are always inadmissible, however, this inhumane action was all the more unacceptable, since it occurred a few hours after the trilateral meeting held at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative,” Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian told reporters in Saint Petersburg.
“This incident is proof enough that the [OSCE] co-chair countries have a lot to think about,” said Sarkisian. “If unpunished, [Azerbaijan’s] bellicose statements and provocations can result in this kind or of consequences or even worse ones. I think such behavior was also disrespectful toward the Co-Chairs.”
Sarkisian also made clear that the firefight will have no impact on Yerevan’s position in the peace talks. “We are determined to and, I think, we will achieve [international] recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” he said in televised remarks. “This is our aim and I see no need to rethink it.”
Sarkisian also offered condolences to the families and friends of the four soldiers.
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian echoed Sarkisian’s condemnations in a written statement. “Having barely left the negotiation room, the Azerbaijani leadership organized a sabotage action in Nagorno-Karabakh’s Martakert district on the night from June 18-19,” Nalbandian said.
“Evidently, it was a pre-planned and programmed operation,” Nalbandian charged. “It once again shows the real face of Baku, which is doing everything to kill the negotiating process.”
The Azeri Foreign Ministry rejected the accusation later in the day. A ministry spokesman, Elkhan Polukhov, told the Trend news agency that the deadly skirmish resulted from the “continuing occupation of Azerbaijani lands.” “Incidentally, this fact once again shows that the Armenian-Azerbaijani Karabakh conflict is not a frozen one, as the Armenian side would like to think,” Polukhov said.
Meanwhile on Monday, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Army announced the names of the servicemen killed in action. The victims were: junior sergeant Mnatsakan Gasparyan, soldiers Araik Barseghyan, Edward Manukyan and Paruyr Melkonyan.
Junior sergeant Garik Matevosyan, soldiers Galust Badasyan, Andranik Arzumanyan and Harutyun Mesropyan were wounded.
The OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmen issued a lukewarm announcement the same day. While condemning the use of force, the co-chairs did not directly condemn Azerbaijan for initiating the attacks.
“The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassadors Bernard Fassier of France, Robert Bradtke of the United States of America, and Igor Popov of the Russian Federation strongly condemn the use of force and regret the senseless loss of life. Such an incident is an unacceptable violation of the 1994 Ceasefire Agreement and is contrary to the stated commitment of the sides to refrain from the use of force or the threat of the use of force,” said the announcement.
“The incident took place immediately after the meeting between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, held in St. Petersburg on June 17 at the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation to pursue the negotiation of peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The use of military force, particularly at this moment, can only be seen as an attempt to damage the peace process,” the announcement added.
The Co-Chairs also called upon “the sides to exercise restraint on the terrain as well as in their public communications and prepare their population for peace and not for war.” The announcement reiterated “that there is no alternative to a peaceful negotiation solution of the conflict and that war is not an option.”
“Finally they also call upon the sides to cooperate fully with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office and do nothing that would impede his monitoring activities,” concluded the announcement.
The statement by the Minsk Group co-chairs was immediately criticized by the Armenian National Committee of America, the largest Armenian issues advocacy group in the United States.
“The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, in choosing to issue a generic condemnation of violence instead of a direct criticism of Azerbaijan’s most recent attack–as was clearly warranted by the facts of this case–gave Ilham Aliyev yet another free pass to keep moving toward the renewed war that he has long promised to start against Nagorno Karabakh,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
Aliyev earlier this month threatened to withdraw from foreign-backed peace talks after he accused Armenia of stalling the negotiations. Baku has repeatedly warned that it is prepared to restore Azerbaijani control over Karabakh by force. Meanwhile on Friday, Azerbaijan’s parliament approved a revised 2010 state budget boosting defense spending by a third, as it pursues an arms build-up that has seen it nearly double defense spending in the last two years.
The ANCA urged the OSCE “to forcefully condemn Baku’s belligerence and pressure its leaders to stop using force.” It also called on the U.S. government to “immediately cut off all military assistance to Azerbaijan.”
A senior European Union diplomat also expressed concern Monday over the cease-fire violations. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Peter Semneby, the EU’s special representative to the South Caucasus, described the weekend clash that left four Armenian and one Azerbaijani soldier dead as “a deplorable event that should not have taken place.” “It is not really acceptable that evens like this take place,” he said. “And in addition, we had an unnecessary tragic loss of human lives as well.”
“This incident demonstrates that there is a tense situation along the line of contact that can easily get out of hand and that it’s necessary to take whatever measures are available in order to lower tension and to build confidence. This is ultimately necessary also in order to come to a negotiated solution on the issue,” added the diplomat.
Semneby made the point that further progress in the Armenian-Azeri negotiations would help to create “the right kind of atmosphere” which he said is necessary for kick-starting and completing the Turkish-Armenian normalization process.
“There is no link between the Karabakh issue and the Turkish-Armenian normalization,” the envoy said. “Each process should be considered on its own merits. But one can not close one’s eyes to the fact that each of these processes has an impact on the general atmosphere and thereby an indirect impact on the other issue.”
The attacks came days after the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in St. Petersburg with their Russian president for talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russian President Demitry Medvedev’s office said late Thursday that Aliyev and Sarkisian narrowed their differences on the mediators “basic principles” of settling the conflict at Saint-Petersburg. Nalbandian also hinted at progress in the talks when he spoke to journalists in the Russian city.
Azerbaijan’s Polukhov commented more equivocally on the results of the Aliyev-Sarkisian talks on Friday. “We would like the Armenian side to realize the necessity of turning the quantity of meetings on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement into quality,” he told Trend.
Aliyev reportedly flew back to Baku early Friday shortly after his meeting with Sarkisian and Medvedev. Alieyv’s press service had announced earlier that the Azerbaijani leader will visit Saint-Petersburg to participate in an annual international economic conference held there.
Medvedev and Sarkisian jointly attended the opening session of the Kremlin-sponsored forum on Friday. They also attended an Armenia-related event at Saint Petersburg State University and held a brief meeting there the next day. Sarkisian commented on the Karabakh fighting afterward.