YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Tuesday he believed that only a change in Turkey’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh could prompt Azerbaijan to halt military action over the tiny region.
But, in his first interview since a ceasefire deal was agreed in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was agreed in Moscow on Saturday, he gave no indication to Reuters that he saw any sign of Ankara shifting its position.
Since fighting flared on Sept. 27, Turkey has backed Azerbaijan strongly and said Armenian forces must leave the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.
Turkey said on Tuesday it should play a role in international discussions on the conflict, something Yerevan opposes. The ceasefire, brokered by Russia, is already badly frayed, with both sides accusing the other of attacks and crimes against civilians. [nL8N2H43VS] [nL8N2H42BL]
Speaking at his official residence, a huge Soviet-era building in the centre of the Armenian capital Yerevan, Pashinyan accused Turkey of sabotaging the ceasefire and of trying to muscle its way into the wider South Caucasus region to further what he called its expansionist ambitions.
“I’m convinced that for as long as Turkey’s position remains unchanged, Azerbaijan will not stop fighting,” Pashinyan said.
Azerbaijan says it is open to the temporary humanitarian ceasefire agreed in Moscow to exchange prisoners and bodies of those killed in the fighting, but accuses Armenian forces of breaching it. Yerevan denies this.
Azerbaijan has said it envisages further fighting after the truce to capture more territory.
Pashinyan said Turkey had stated publicly, before the ceasefire talks, that it believed Azerbaijan should keep fighting, and that Turkey’s foreign minister had phoned the Azeri foreign minister after the deal.
Pashinyan suggested the purpose of the Turkish post-ceasefire call “was really an instruction not to dare under any circumstance to stop fighting”.
The Turkish foreign ministry said on the day of the call that the ceasefire would not be a lasting solution, and has since said Armenian forces should withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Turkey has come to the South Caucasus to continue the policy it is carrying out in the Mediterranean against Greece and Cyprus, or in Libya, or in Syria, or in Iraq. It is an expansionist policy,” Pashinyan said.
“And the problem is that Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last remaining obstacle on its path to implement that expansionist policy.”
The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war over the territory that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed, and killed about 30,000. It is being closely watched abroad, partly because of its proximity to Azeri energy pipelines to Europe and because of fears that Russia and Turkey could be drawn in.
Pashinyan reiterated accusations – denied by Ankara – that Turkey is carrying on the policies of the Ottoman Empire at the start of the 20th century, something he called a continuation of “the Armenian genocide”.
The Armenian genocide refers to the killing of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.
If left unchecked in the region, Pashinyan warned that Turkish influence could poison the South Caucasus.
“The whole of the South Caucasus will become Syria and that fire would spread to the north and to the south rapidly,” he said.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Timothy Heritage)