Washington, USA – Armenia’s leader seeks Trump’s help as conflict rages with Azerbaijan. Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s prime minister, said he was promised a call with President Trump over Turkey’s role in the intensifying conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Then Mr. Trump fell ill.
Mr. Pashinyan’s call to the US, followed an eruption of heavy fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a remote territory at the center of the most enduring and venomous of the “frozen conflicts” left by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.
The breakaway enclave, legally part of Azerbaijan but controlled by Armenians for the past three decades, has seen many military flare-ups over the years. But the current fighting, Mr. Pashinyan said in a telephone interview, has taken on a far more dangerous dimension because of Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan, its ethnic Turkic ally.
On Sunday, news reports said, the forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet republics, exchanged rocket fire, with missiles falling on Azerbaijan’s second largest city, Ganja, and on the Armenian-controlled capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Each side accused the other of targeting civilians while denying carrying out any attacks itself on residential areas.
That opportunity to rally the United States to Armenia’s side vanished just a few hours later when President Trump announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
But Mr. Trump’s health issues, analysts say, have only accentuated his administration’s disengagement from a conflict that offers no easy diplomatic victories. It has confounded decades of efforts to resolve a dispute that has left Armenians in control of not only Nagorno-Karabakh but large swathes of Azerbaijani territory outside the breakaway enclave.
Mr. Pashinyan declined to say whether Armenia might be ready to surrender any occupied Azerbaijani land as part of a possible peace settlement, insisting that this was not up to him but a matter for the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh, a nominally independent entity ruled by ethnic Armenians.
Turkey said on Sunday that Azerbaijani forces had retaken Jabrail, the latest in a series of villages previously occupied by Armenia now said to be back under Azerbaijani control as a result of fighting over the past week. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Azerbaijan, Mr. Pashinyan said, has long harbored hopes of recovering Nagorno-Karabakh by force but was “encouraged” by Turkey to launch its recent offensive against the Armenian-controlled enclave.
Turkey has denied Armenia’s accusations, It has instead attributed the spiraling violence to Armenia, with the Turkish foreign ministry saying on Sunday that “Armenia is the biggest barrier to peace and stability in the region.”
The conflict has clearly escalated beyond a local ethnic dispute into a bigger struggle as an increasingly assertive Turkey flexes its muscle in a region traditionally dominated by Russia.
Russia has a military base in Armenia and, with the United States standing back, Russia has taken the lead in diplomatic efforts, so far fruitless, to calm the fighting while avoiding a direct confrontation with Turkey, with which it is already fighting proxy wars in Syria and Libya.
Describing the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan as a “civilizational front line,” Mr. Pashinyan said the dispute “is not about territory” but involves far bigger and more important stakes.