Azerbaijan has warned Armenia that it is prepared for "large-scale military operations" in relation to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, while stating that comments by its neighbour’s new government on the territory are "not acceptable".
Azerbaijani Defence Minister Zakir Hasanov made the remarks at a meeting of Azerbaijani military officials on May 12, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry said. Three days earlier, Armenia's new prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, who came to power on May 8 following the ‘Armenian Velvet Revolution’, visited Nagorno-Karabakh. The visit was just one day into Pashinian’s tenure and featured the new Armenian leader calling for the de facto authorities of the breakaway region to be given a position in the internationally mediated talks to resolve the longstanding conflict over the territory between Yerevan and Baku. “NK” is under the control of ethnic Armenian forces but it is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan despite a 1991 declaration of independence.
Prior to becoming prime minister, on May 8, Pashinian told the Armenian parliament that the "revolution" in his country will lead to the "recognition of realising the rights of Karabakh to self-determination," according to RFE/RL. Pashinian and Russian President Vladimir Putin are likely to discuss the future of the territory during a meeting expected to take place in Black Sea resort Sochi later on May 14. Russia plays a subtle and complex role when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh, having in recent years sold weapons to both the Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry said Hasanov had denounced "reckless statements made by various [Armenian] officials," including Pashinian. "The defence minister warned Armenia's military-political leadership that such actions of the opponent are unacceptable, and the Azerbaijani army is fully prepared for large-scale military operations," the ministry added.
Nagorno-Karabakh is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians. It declared independence from Azerbaijan during a 1988-94 conflict that killed some 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Ankara holds out hope of diplomatic ties
In a positive development for Armenia, another neighbour of the country, Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey, moved to indicate it is willing to consider an offer by Pashinian to establish diplomatic relations.
Turkish PM Binali Yildirim said in Ankara on May 11: "If Armenia gives up its hostile attitude which it has had for several years, its attitude toward Turkey's territorial integrity and borders, if it is giving up all its wrong attitudes... and it wants to open a new page, we will give the response looking at the details relating to this."
The border between Armenia and Turkey is closed. Russian troops based in Armenia guard the frontier.