Dirty Bomb Row: References to Armenia’s ‘nuke capability’ spark hysteria in Azerbaijan

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Allegations about Armenia’s “nuclear capabilities” and even possession of some kind of an “A-bomb”, which have been strongly denied at the state level in Yerevan, have recently led to a real anti-Armenian hysteria in Azerbaijan where at different levels calls have been made for the international community to deal with the matter.

The speculation about the possibility of Armenia having nuclear capabilities was fueled after recent remarks by opposition MP Hrant Bagratyan, who, rather out of the blue, said at a press conference in Yerevan late last month that Armenia was capable of creating a nuclear weapon.

“Armenia must create a nuclear weapon. Enough is enough, we must be able to defend ourselves,” Bagratyan stated later in parliament, giving vent to his emotions over the four-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in early April in which nearly a hundred Armenian soldiers were killed repulsing Azerbaijan’s aggression.

The heavy casualties sparked debate in Armenia about delayed arms deliveries from Russia and generally about the country’s reliance on outsiders for its security.

Unlike its regional neighbors, including Azerbaijan, Armenia has a nuclear power plant which was still built during the Soviet times to ensure sufficient electricity supply for the South Caucasus republic lacking vast energy resources.

Since the late 1970s when the Metsamor station was commissioned Armenia, in fact, has had a “peaceful nuclear” industry, which, however, has heavily relied on nuclear fuel supplies from Russia.

The presence of the nuclear station in Armenian soil has frequently been used by Azerbaijan and Turkey as an argument in favor of Armenia’s posing a “nuclear” threat to the region.

Successive governments in Yerevan, however, have dismissed the allegations, strongly committing themselves to the high safety standards of nuclear energy use and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Armenia has also been closely cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant issues.

Still, claims like those made recently by 1992-1994 Karabakh war hero Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, also known as Komandos, have stoked more fears in rival Azerbaijan.

A few days before the April 2-5 outburst of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, the retired major-general and former deputy defense minister said in an interview with Lragir.am that Armenia had some kind of a “secret weapon” that it would use “at the difficult moment”, leading to speculations in Azerbaijani media about Yerevan’s planning to use a so-called “dirty bomb”, a speculative radiological weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives.

And while there is no evidence whatsoever that would substantiate the “nuclear” claims of Ter-Tadevosyan and others, such statements have triggered a serious debate in Azerbaijan on whether Armenia’s scientific and industrial potential was enough to create a nuclear weapon.

Azerbaijan has even taken its “concerns” to international bodies, including the European Union. According to reports in Russian media, earlier this week, an official representative of EU diplomacy said the allegations made in Armenia needed to be “checked”.

It is remarkable that Bagratyan’s statement on Armenia’s nuclear capabilities was not disproved by lawmaker Armen Rustamyan, a representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation which currently has an agreement on political cooperation with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA).

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Rustamyan found it “quite possible” that Armenia may have had an A-bomb for a long time.

“In any case we were part of a nuclear superpower [the Soviet Union]. It is not known how it [its nuclear weapons] was distributed. There are quite a few dark stories on this account,” said Rustamyan, adding that “before raising a noise about it, Azerbaijan should first think about its own over-armament and its dangers.” The Armenian lawmaker also urged the international community to curb Turkey’s Azerbaijan’s aggressive actions.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who is a spokesman for the RPA, however, has dismissed all “nuclear” speculations, stressing that Armenia is using its nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes, for generating electricity, and that Armenian authorities have no intentions of developing nuclear weapons.

“No threat emanates from Armenia as we are a peace-loving nation. If someone is trying to find threats in the region, then they should look at Turkey and Azerbaijan and ISIS in the south,” he said on Wednesday, describing Bagratyan’s words as “a lawmaker’s personal opinion”.

Political analyst Sergey Minasyan, who is deputy head of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, believes that the statements of Bagratyan are not appropriate at this moment.

“There is an issue of political commentary and political responsibility. I don’t think that a situation that turns a country into a target of different allegations is suitable [for Armenia]. On the other hand, it is a free society and everyone is entitled to freedom of speech,” said Minasyan, adding that the Azerbaijani side will try to use in its own favor “every slip of the tongue”, every statement of the Armenian side that could be interpreted in an ambiguous way.

It is remarkable that during the past few days Azerbaijani media have been reporting allegations about the use by Armenians of white phosphorus munitions. They claim citing military officials that an unexploded projectile filled with this chemical substance was found in the Terter district of Azerbaijan near Karabakh. The Armenian side, however, has categorically denied using any WP stuff.