Serzh Sargsyan: Azerbaijan waiting for an occasion to start a conflict

Armenia’s president is increasingly concerned about what he sees as neighboring Azerbaijan’s willingness to engage in armed conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, he said in an interview, warning that Armenian forces would deliver a disproportionate blow should conflict erupt between the neighbors.

In comments to The Wall Street Journal, President Serzh Sargsyan said Armenia’s government would continue to push for a negotiated settlement to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has simmered for nearly two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he also tapped the rising tensions in one of the world’s key energy corridors.

“Unfortunately, I believe Azerbaijan is waiting for an occasion to start a conflict,” President Sargsyan said Thursday. “I am confident such a mistake would harm the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia but that most harm would come to the people of Azerbaijan….We won’t stand aside when the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is going to be destroyed.”

The Armenian president also said that his government was pushing forward to tackle rampant corruption and that Armenia’s economy had posted a 7% expansion in the year through September. That signals Armenia’s emergence from an economic crisis.

The Wall Street Journal reminds that “the war of words intensified in August, when Azeri President Ilham Aliyev offered a hero’s welcome to Ramil Safarov, an Azeri officer convicted of hacking an Armenian to death with an ax on a NATO course in Hungary in 2004. The affair prompted a diplomatic storm, and Armenia withdrew its ambassador to Hungary.”

“What is the reason for establishing such a xenophobic atmosphere and hatred against Armenians in Azerbaijan?” President Sargsyan said. “It is easier to create such an atmosphere, to encourage hate speech, rather than deal with the consequences of that atmosphere and turn the tide back.”

“Washington and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have watched developments with mounting alarm. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of the threat of a “much broader conflict” when she visited Armenia in June. NATO Secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed his “deep concern” in September over the dramatic escalation in rhetoric between the capitals,” the papaer writes.

President Sargsyan’s statements underscored the need for the international community to engage more actively, analysts said.

President Sargsyan also warned that the prospect of a military strike against Iran, with which Armenia shares a border, was an issue of “extreme concern” which could set off a sequence of events that could also trigger a conflict between Yerevan and Baku.

He said deeper international engagement in the region was vital to help reduce tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. “If we had been living in an isolated region where there was no international impact, war would have already begun,” he said.

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