Azerbaijan and Armenia brush off suggestion of peace talks
Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia brushed off the suggestion of peace talks on Tuesday, accusing each other of obstructing negotiations over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with dozens killed and injured in three days of heavy fighting.
In the latest incident, Armenia said one of its warplanes was shot down by a fighter jet from Azerbaijan's ally Turkey, killing the pilot, in what would be a major escalation of the violence. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan denied it.
The international community is calling for talks to end the decades-old conflict between the two former Soviet republics in the Caucasus Mountains region following a flare-up of violence this week.
It centres on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.
The UN Security Council called on Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday evening to immediately halt the fighting and urgently resume talks without preconditions. The UN's most powerful body strongly condemned the use of force and backed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' earlier call to stop the fighting, de-escalate tensions, and resume talks "without delay".
Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev told Russian state TV channel Rossia 1 that Baku is committed to negotiating a resolution but that Armenia is obstructing the process.
"The Armenian prime minister publicly declares that Karabakh is (part of) Armenia, period. In this case, what kind of negotiating process can we talk about?" Aliev said. He added that according to principles brokered by the Minsk group, which was set up in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to resolve the conflict, "territories around the former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region should be transferred to Azerbaijan."
Aliev noted that if Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says "that Karabakh is Armenia and that we should negotiate with the so-called puppet regime of Nagorno-Karabakh, (he is) trying to break the format of negotiations that has existed for 20 years."
Pashinyan, in turn, told the broadcaster that "it is very hard to talk about negotiations ... when specific military operations are underway." He said there is no military solution to the conflict and called for a compromise.
But first, Azerbaijan must "immediately end (its) aggression towards Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia," Pashinyan said. "We all perceive this as an existential threat to our nation, we basically perceive it as a war that was declared to the Armenian people, and our people are now simply forced to use the right for self-defence." Since Sunday, the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Ministry reported 84 servicemen were killed. Aliyev said 11 civilians were killed on its side, although he didn't detail the country's military casualties. Both countries accused each other of firing into their territory outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh area on Tuesday.
The separatist region of about 4,400 square kilometres is 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Armenian border. Soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some Azerbaijani territory outside the region. Armenia also alleged that Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan, was involved. "Turkey, according to our information, looks for an excuse for a broader involvement in this conflict," Pashinyan said.
The Armenian military said an SU-25 from its air force was shot down in Armenian airspace by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet that took off from Azerbaijan, and the pilot was killed.
The allegation of downing the jet was "absolutely untrue," said Fahrettin Altun, communications director for Turkey's president. Azerbaijani officials called it "another fantasy of the Armenian military propaganda machine."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Armenia to withdraw immediately from the separatist region, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey is "by Azerbaijan's side on the field and at the (negotiating) table."
On Wednesday morning, after being asked in an interview whether Turkey would provide military support, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey will "do what is necessary" if Azerbaijan requests support from Ankara. (AP/Reuters)