Azerbaijan’s leader says no end to fighting until Armenia sets pullout timetable

NAILIA BAGIVORA and NVARD HOVHANNISYAN

AZERBAIJAN’S President Ilham Aliyev has demanded that Armenia set a timetable for withdrawing from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azeri territories, and said Azerbaijan would not cease military action until that happened.

In a televised address to the nation, Aliyev said Azeri forces were advancing in a week-long offensive to retake lands that they lost to ethnic Armenians in the 1990s.

“The Azeri soldier is chasing them like a dog, the Azeri soldier is standing at their posts, we have taken their weaponry, we are carrying out the mission of liberation,” he declared.

The content and tone of Aliyev’s message made clear that Azerbaijan would not entertain calls for an immediate ceasefire, as Russia, the United States and European Union have repeatedly urged.

“Azerbaijan has one condition, and that is the liberation of its territories,” he said. “Nagorno-Karabakh is the territory of Azerbaijan. We must return and we shall return.”

Hundreds of people have been killed in the past week of fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces, including more than 40 civilians.

The clashes are the worst since the 1990s, when some 30,000 people were killed. They have raised international concern about stability in the South Caucasus, where pipelines carry Azeri oil and gas to world markets.

The conflict threatens to drag in other regional powers as Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey, while Armenia has a defence pact with Russia.

Earlier on Sunday, Azerbaijan said Armenian forces had fired rockets at its second city of Ganja, killing one civilian and wounding 32, and threatened to retaliate by destroying military targets inside Armenia.

Armenia denied it had directed fire “of any kind” towards Azerbaijan. The leader of Nagorno-Karabakh said his forces had targeted a military airbase in Ganja but later stopped firing in order to avoid civilian casualties. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.