Armenian Ambassador to Lebanon Samvel Mkrtchian laid the responsibility for recent violence in Nagorno-Karabakh squarely at the feet of Azerbaijan, urging the Azeri leadership to respect the cease-fire and re-engage in the peace talks administered by the OSCE. “These recent events, unfortunate and very deplorable events, at the beginning of April, the so-called Four Day War, was undoubtedly launched by the Azeri side in order to impose its will yet another time on Nagorno-Karabakh’s people,” Mkrtchian told The Daily Star Wednesday in an interview at the Armenian Embassy in Mtaileb.
“It has been already quite some time since Azeri leadership at the top level, including the president himself, have [used] very harsh rhetoric, and during the last [few] years Azerbaijan has increased its military budget 10 to 20 times and acquired and purchased new armaments. They were not making any secret that they might resort to a military solution of this conflict,” the Ambassador said.
Mkrtchian said Azerbaijan may have breached the cease-fire out of a desire to divert attention from problems at home created by falling oil prices.
“The danger which has been … pointed at by different experts is that if the Azerbaijani revenues from oil decline, they might resort to a military solution. Probably it is linked now also to the recent escalation, because with the drop of the price of oil in international markets, Azerbaijan is experiencing really hard problems with its economy, with its financial situation, which are further exacerbated with the restrictions on human rights and freedoms in the society,” he said.
“The recent events might indicate that the Azeri leadership tried for this escalation on the line of contact to deviate the public opinion form those internal problems.”
Mkrtchian also said that the recent fighting overlapped with revelations of massive corruption involving Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and his family.
“The coincidences in this are exemplary. The recent escalation came exactly on those dates when the Panama Papers became public,” the ambassador remarked.
Mkrtchian said he was pleased the international community moved quickly to call for the violence to stop. “There was a unanimous reaction coming [from] around the world that this conflict has no military solution and the only way to move forward and have lasting peace is to go back to the table of negotiations.”
The ambassador said he did not know if the recent deterioration of relations between regional powers Turkey and Russia played any role in the clashes, but called Turkey’s absolute support for Azerbaijan detrimental to negotiations.
“With their unequivocal backing of the Azerbaijani position, Turkey directly or indirectly encourages the other side to stick to a harsh position during the negotiations and not be inclined to make the required and necessary compromises in order to have a solution,” Mkrtchian said.
He had kinder words for Moscow, an Armenian ally that ultimately facilitated a halt to the fighting. “The Russian Federation never shows any unequivocal support for the Armenian or for the Azeri side, they try to keep the balance.”
Russia is the primary arms supplier for both countries, and has said it would continue to provide such military support, citing the value of deterrence and maintaining an equality of arms. Its position precipitated protests at the Russian embassy in Yerevan last week.
“That made the Armenian side extremely unhappy. … We expressed our concern in regard to Russia’s selling armaments to the other side, especially when those armaments are of offensive nature,” the ambassador said. “That’s a real concern for the Armenian side.”
Mkrtchian repeatedly emphasized Armenia’s support for the conflict resolution efforts pursued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Minsk Process.
He blamed Azerbaijan for not embracing the framework outlined in the peace talks and for rejecting overtures from both the OSCE and Armenia to provide for the independent monitoring of cease-fire violations. But the ambassador said he was confident that the 22-year-old process was the best way to bring resolution to the conflict.
“It is really our hope that the peaceful negotiation process will be revived, and a new impetus will be brought into this process,” he said, citing the upcoming visit of U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to the area as a sign of increased international engagement.
Mkrtchian sounded an optimistic note on the long-term prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “We are neighbors; we are not going to go away from this area. It’s extremely unfortunate that we cannot live peacefully side-by-side and to normally trade and normally interact, because we are natural economic partners and both sides will benefit from that kind of relationship.”