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Sarkisian Warns Azerbaijan About Use Of Force In Karabakh

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian visits military exercises held by Karabakh Armenian troops on November 12.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian visits military exercises held by Karabakh Armenian troops on November 12.
STEPANAKERT -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has said Azerbaijan will be dealt a "devastating" blow if it uses force to try to resolve the conflict over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian made the comments on November 12 after monitoring the final phase of military exercises held by Karabakh Armenian troops along frontline positions in the disputed region with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and Nagorno-Karabakh's top political and military leaders.

The maneuvers began on November 1.

Sarkisian also discussed the situation in the conflict zone with leaders of the Nagorno-Karabakh army, which is closely integrated with the armed forces of Armenia.

"The military exercises, which were maximally adapted to a combat situation, must be a warning to others," Sarkisian said. "If push suddenly comes to shove, we will manage not just to repeat what happened in 1992-1994 but to finally resolve the conflict and the issue will be closed once and for all.

"We never wanted war, we were simply compelled to defend our homeland at that time," he said, referring to the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the early 1990s in which Armenian forces took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and a lot of surrounding Azerbaijani territory. "We will not attack first now, either. But if the moment arrives, if they force us, our strike must be devastating and final this time around."

Sarkisian, who commanded Karabakh-Armenian forces during the war, confirmed that the military exercises were held in response to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's statements about a military solution to Karabakh and the Azerbaijani districts surrounding them that are currently held by Armenian forces.

Aliyev reiterated those threats as he visited Azerbaijani-controlled territories across the heavily fortified "line of contact" earlier in the week.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry on November 13 dismissed the Karabakh exercises as a publicity stunt.

"Their exercises now resemble children's games," ministry spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu told the Azerbaijani state APA news agency.

Sabiroglu claimed that the Armenians are too cash-strapped to stage genuine war games. He said they have held more than a dozen exercises this year involving only "five or six tanks" and "sometimes a couple of salvos."

But Azerbaijani news agencies reported on November 12 that residents of four Azerbaijani districts close to the frontlines heard more than 100 powerful explosions from the Armenian side in recent days. Citing local residents, the government-linked APA suggested that militar forces in Karabakh are holding their biggest-ever exercises.

A military official in Stepanakert said on November 13 that the latest drills "stand out in terms of the quantity and quality of forces involved."