Armen Sarkissian said Turkey’s military and diplomatic support to Azerbaijan in its conflict with the Armenian-backed enclave had distanced Moscow from its traditional balancing role between the two sides. He called on Russia, the United States and NATO to contain Ankara, describing it as “the region’s bully”.
“If we don’t act internationally now, stop Turkey. . . with a view to making this region a new Syria. . . then everyone will be affected, ”he told the Financial Times in an interview.
Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands of civilians displaced by nearly two weeks of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an enclave inside Azerbaijan populated by Armenians strain.
It is the most serious conflict since a war that ended in 1994 with a fragile ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia, France and the United States that left the region under Armenian control.
Since then, Russia, as a regional hegemony, has intervened to prevent sporadic military clashes between the two former members of the Soviet Union from turning into full conflict. But Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan and military support in the form of armored drones and militants from Syria have called into question Moscow’s role as supreme arbiter.
“We need more efforts to stop this,” Sarkisian said. “And efforts should be focused on Turkey. By the time Turkey is out of the equation, we will be closer to a ceasefire and return to the negotiating table.
Russia has a military base in Armenia near the Turkish border and a mutual defense pact with the country, which excludes Nagorno-Karabakh. President Vladimir Putin said this week that Russia would join this treaty if Armenia itself was attacked – 11 days after the fighting started. Moscow’s independent approach to the conflict has raised questions about its appetite for military intervention.
Moscow also has close ties with Azerbaijan and important trade and defense relations with Turkey. He sought to remain neutral in the conflict, leaving Armenia without strong external support.
“We need more pressure from Russia. I hope there will be more pressure from Russia and the United States, ”Sarkissian added. “Being a member of NATO. . . means you have to hold back. You don’t get a green card to get involved in conflicts with third parties. ”
“What is a NATO member state in Azerbaijan doing to help fight Nagorno-Karabakh? Explain it to me, ”he said. “It completely redefines the role of NATO.”
The conflict is the latest flashpoint between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, and Mr. Putin, who is already backing opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Libya. Mr Erdogan also angered EU members with maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean and upset the United States and other NATO members by purchasing a Russian missile defense system.
“We have had a ceasefire for over 20 years. . . but now we have a full war, ”Sarkisian said, describing Turkey as a“ 360 degree bully ”. “This presence destroys the balance. When there was no Turkey, the mechanism worked, ”he added.
Baku has denied that militants, who came from Syria via Turkey, reinforced their regular troops. But an intermediary in Syria told the FT he was hired to recruit hundreds of fighters who arrived in Azerbaijan late last month.
“When the fighting ends, the [militants] stay, ”Sarkissian asked. “It is a threat not only to Armenia but to the whole Caucasus, and it is a threat to Russia. . . they can have a dramatic impact on Central Asian countries and a dramatic impact on northern Iran. ”
Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, told Russian state television on Wednesday that Armenia was “the aggressor” and that “an immediate, unconditional and complete return to the occupied territories” was needed for lasting peace. .
Mr. Erdogan publicly rejected the demands of France, Russia and the United States for a ceasefire and said Turkey supports its “Azerbaijani brothers”.
“We are striving day and night for our country to take its deserved place in the world order,” he said last week. “We support the oppressed everywhere, from Syria to Libya, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Caucasus.”
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said Thursday that Armenian forces shelled a number of Azeri villages, injuring civilians. The conflict in the mountainous region has been marked by repeated blockades against civilian areas on both sides.
“There is a full-scale war,” Sarkisian said. “Maybe today, yesterday or the day before, civilians were hit by Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, but who started it? Who started beating the civilians? It was on the Azeri side.
Azerbaijan and Turkey’s approach, Sarkissian said, “means ethnic cleansing. Clean it up. . . they want this piece of land.
“For Armenians around the world. . . it reminds us of the genocide on Armenian soil, ”he said, referring to the murder of around 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1923.“ It is a struggle against the genocide. ”
He said Armenia would never give up Nagorno-Karabakh and that “thousands” of ethnic Armenians living in other countries were already trying to return to fight for the territory.
“These are the grandsons of the people who suffered from the genocide,” he said. “Millions of Armenians from all over the world will come to fight for Nagorno-Karabakh because they will not allow Turkey to finish what it has started.”
Additional reporting by Asmaa al-Omar in Istanbul