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Nagorno-Karabakh Marks Anniversary, Vows Baku Will Never Claim Control

President Bako Sahakian

President Bako Sahakian

STEPANAKERT -- Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have marked the 19th anniversary of the disputed enclave's declaration of independence from Azerbaijan and pledged Baku will never resume control of their territory, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Bako Sahakian, the president of the Armenian-majority republic, described independence as the enclave's "supreme aim." Speaking to reporters in the capital, Stepanakert, Sahakian condemned threats by Baku to abandon the ongoing peace process and resolve the issue by force.

"If it continues like this, both Armenia and Karabakh -- despite the fact that both support and advocate a peaceful resolution of the problem -- will still have to take appropriate steps," Sahakian said.

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a six-year war over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located within Azerbaijani territory. A cease-fire in 1994 brought an end to the fighting, but the enclave remains a point of contention between the two sides. Flare-ups of violence have become increasingly frequent.

Sahakian's remarks came one day after Azerbaijan accused Armenian forces of staging an armed ambush on Azerbaijani soldiers guarding the line of control separating northern Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan proper. Baku said three Armenian and two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian today ruled out any peace accord that would restore Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a written statement issued in Yerevan marking the anniversary of the enclave's independence, Sarkisian said that "peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue can have only one outcome -- international recognition of Artsakh's independence," a reference to the Armenian name for Karabakh.

The highest-ranking Armenian official attending today's commemorations in Stepanakert was Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.

Yerevan itself does not formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, saying such a step would interfere with long-running international efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Sarkisian and Sahakian both warned Azerbaijan against pushing a controversial resolution upholding its sovereignty over Karabakh through the United Nations.

The draft resolution, which the General Assembly is expected to discuss next week, upholds the right of Azerbaijanis "expelled" from Karabakh and the Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it to return to their homes.

It also urges the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose Minsk Group has overseen the protracted peace talks, to send a fact-finding mission to the conflict zone.

Sahakian dismissed the resolution as a fresh attempt by Baku to derail the peace process:

"In recent years they [Azerbaijan] have made repeated and various statements that the work of the Minsk Group is not justified and they've tried to shift the issue to another international body, especially the United Nations," Sahakian said.

The statements came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Azerbaijan for a two-day visit in which the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is expected to be high on the agenda.