By Zulfugar Agayev – Blommberg.com
- Aliyev signals shift over resolving Nagorno-Karabakh dispute
- At least 17 have died in fighting at Armenia-Azerbaijan border
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signaled a tougher stance on a decades-long territorial conflict with Armenia, adding to tensions over fighting at their border that has killed at least 17 people.
Aliyev appeared to step back from longstanding Azeri policy of seeking a gradual resolution to the dispute over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan taken by Armenian forces in the early 1990s.
“We don’t need any partial resolution because that would be temporary,” Aliyev said in comments published on his website late Tuesday. “The issue needs to be resolved fully. All the occupied lands must be freed without exception.”
Mediators from the U.S., Russia and France have failed to broker a peace deal between the South Caucasus neighbors since a 1994 cease-fire halted a war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority Armenian territory within Azerbaijan, that killed 25,000 people and created a million refugees.
Aliyev spoke after thousands of Azeris defied a nationwide coronavirus lockdown last week and rallied in the capital, Baku, to demand mass mobilization to fight Armenia.
“Aliyev’s statement indicates that he thinks the talks are useless,” Elxan Shahinoglu, head of the Atlas research group in Baku, said by phone.
At past negotiations, Azerbaijan backed a stage-by-stage process that would let it regain some districts outside Nagorno-Karabakh in return for offering security guarantees before the territory’s status is settled. It wants to restore sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is still internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, a position backed by Turkey.
Armenia, which has a defense pact with Russia, argues that the independence and self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh should be respected. It has previously resisted ceding any territory without first reaching agreement on the status of the unrecognized republic.
After dismissing longtime Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov last week, Aliyev criticized a lack of progress in the talks. “We don’t intend to conduct negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” he said. “There is a limit to the patience of the Azerbaijani people.”
Azerbaijan won’t “force us to make unreasonable and unilateral concessions” over Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a July 17 meeting of Eurasian Union states including Russia. “There is no military solution to the conflict.”
Clashes this month on their international border have killed at least 12 Azeri troops and a civilian as well as four Armenian soldiers, the most serious outbreak of fighting since hundreds died on both side in an April 2016 war.
— With assistance by Sara Khojoyan