Armenia may recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as independent state
YEREVAN – Agence France-Presse
An Azeri serviceman stands guard at the frontline with the self-defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, April 29, 2016 - REUTERS photoArmenia said May 5 that it may consider formally recognizing the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, in a move that would increase tensions with Azerbaijan just a month after clashes over the disputed territory claimed 110 lives.
Armenia said it would debate a law that would recognize Karabakh as an independent country “in the event of fresh Azerbaijani aggression,” according to a statement on the government’s official website.
At least 110 people died last month in the worst violence to hit Karabakh since an inconclusive cease-fire deal in 1994 halted a war that left some 30,000 people dead.
The two sides never signed a definitive peace deal after Armenian separatists seized the territory from Azerbaijan, and have been rearming heavily in recent years.
Karabakh has declared itself independent but has not been officially recognized by any country, including its main backer Armenia.
Azerbaijan called Armenia’s move “yet another insult to the negotiations process.”
If Armenia recognizes the separatist regime in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, the Minsk Group (of mediators co-chaired by the United States, France, and Russia) “will lose its mandate,” Azerbaijan said in a statement.
Key regional player Russia said it was “following very closely all decisions” and warned against any moves that could increase tensions between Baku and Yerevan.
Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force.
But Moscow-backed Armenia has vowed to crush any military offensive.
Meanwhile, residents of from Karabakh told Reuters that despite a cease-fire, gunfire and shelling still echoed nightly and people were still being killed.
The latest outbreak of violence was brief - intense fighting lasted only four days - and dozens rather than thousands were killed.
But locals said the cease-fire agreement, reached on April 5, is violated almost daily by shelling and fatalities.
“We are very afraid as shooting from rocket launchers and shelling has not stopped since the cease-fire,” Maral Abdullayeva, an English language teacher in the village of Sarijaly in Azerbaijan, told Reuters.
“Our school was destroyed on April 4. It has been partly restored since then, but the kids are still afraid to go out,” said Abdullayeva, a slim woman in her mid-40s, pointing to cracks in the walls of her small house.
At least eight soldiers, from both sides, have been killed in exchanges of fire since the cease-fire was declared, according to statements from Azerbaijan and the separatists. Locals say gunfire is particularly common at night.
The situation is a worry for European countries who fear another flare-up could deepen instability in the South Caucasus, a region that serves as a corridor for pipelines taking oil and gas to world markets.