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Armenian President Offers Baku Land For Security

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (file photo)

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (file photo)

YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has said that Azerbaijani territory currently held by Armenian forces could be returned in exchange for security and self-determination for the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sarkisian, in comments on his official website and to the Syrian newspaper "Al-Watan," reiterated Yerevan's long-standing policy of Armenian forces withdrawing from seven Azerbaijani districts around Nagorno-Karabakh in the event of an agreement on its final status.

"When the people of Karabakh get a true chance to realize their right to self-determination and mechanisms for security and development are created, then in compromise the Armenian side can consider the return of the regions around Karabakh, preserving the corridor linking [it] and Armenia," he said.

Sarkisian also warned that "unilateral concessions will deepen the existing dangers and threats."

Sarkisian's comments come one day after the Armenian military confirmed there is currently a nationwide call-up of military reservists, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian, a spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, told RFE/RL on March 22 that men across Armenia under the age of 50 are being summoned by military commissions to participate in military exercises. He said reservists spend up to a week in military camps refreshing and improving combat skills.

Shahsuvarian downplayed the significance of such drills, saying that the armed forces have always called up reservists to verify their availability and ensure that "every duty-bound Armenian man knows his place and function in the military" in the event of a conflict.

The latest call-up comes amid rumors, stoked by some media outlets, that the army has been put on high alert in anticipation of an Azerbaijani offensive.

The Defense Ministry has categorically denied those reports.

A senior Nagorno-Karabakh security official, Colonel Levon Chalian, on March 22 dismissed as a "provocation" pro-opposition media claims that Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have banned local male residents from leaving the territory. "We are performing our duties as usual," he told RFE/RL. "There are no restrictive instructions."

Shahsuvarian stressed at the same time that the Armenian military is taking serious Azerbaijani threats to solve the Karabakh conflict by force. "We have been reinforcing our frontline fortifications," he said. "We now have several lines of defense there. We are raising soldiers' spirits, combat-readiness, and so on."

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev warned last month that the threat of conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is increasing.

His Armenian counterpart, Seyran Ohanian, recently warned Azerbaijan against attempting to win back the Armenian-held region by force, saying that Yerevan's troops have significantly beefed up defensive fortifications around the disputed territory and are prepared for another war.

Armenian forces captured Karabakh from Azerbaijan in a six-year war that ended in 1994. Some 30,000 people were killed in the conflict and more than 1 million people were displaced by the conflict.