Offense Taken: Aliyev talks tough in Baku and Karabakh’s army rehearses attack strategies

As Azerbaijan’s newly re-elected President Ilham Aliyev was assuring his people at a swearing-in ceremony that his priority remained to win back Nagorno-Karabakh by all means, the military leadership of the breakaway Armenian region was practicing an offensive scenario for the first time as part of its regular war games.

The full-scale tactical military exercises on October 24-25 in Nagorno-Karabakh were also attended by Armenia’s President and Commander-in-Chief Serzh Sargsyan and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan.

Observers perceive the military drills held against the backdrop of a sharp escalation of tensions in the region in the context of the new realities after the war between Georgia and Russia in August.

Sargsyan did not make any significant statement while in Karabakh, but the strong messages sent by the Karabakh leadership to an increasingly aggressive Azerbaijan could not have been made without his knowledge.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Minister Movses Hakobyan said in his evaluation of the drills: “The peculiarity of the current exercises is that for the first time we worked out an offensive operation with all ensuing consequences. We want to prepare our troops for a situation in which we won’t wait for Azerbaijan’s attack, but proceeding from the situation will unfold our offensive actions to neutralize the threat to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.”

Nagorno-Karabakh President Bako Sahakyan highly evaluated the results of the exercises. He said: “Our armed forces once again have demonstrated a high combat readiness and we have once again made sure that the actions demonstrated today in training can be applied if Azerbaijan tries to resort to force to settle relations with us.

“If necessary, our units are ready not only to shift hostilities onto the enemy’s territory, but also deep into Azerbaijan territory.”

Asked about the fate of the currently Armenian-controlled territories outside Nagorno-Karabakh proper, the president of the unrecognized republic said: “These territories were liberated in the early 1990s and today the NKR Constitution defines them as a ‘security zone’.”

Sahakyan also said that Stepanakert is ready to start negotiations with Baku without any preconditions.

“Today’s delay in the resolution of the problem is conditioned by the fact that we are not a full party to the negotiations,” said Sahakyan, emphasizing that all matters should be solved with the participation of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh was originally a party to the international negotiations conducted through the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But Yerevan took over its representation after Robert Kocharyan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former president, became head of state in Armenia in 1998.

Diplomatic activity around Nagorno-Karabakh grew in recent months as international mediators have engaged in a fresh push for a peace plan. While visiting Yerevan last week Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev invited the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to come to Moscow for talks.

Foreign pressure on Armenia to make concessions over Karabakh has also been a major topic of discussion in Yerevan of late.

While in Stepanakert, Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan said: “The need for mutual concessions has always been accentuated in the process of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, there can be no concessions in anything just for nothing.”

Ohanyan, who led Karabakh’s defense department until transferring to a senior military position in Armenia in 2007, said that he has always advocated the participation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s representatives in the negotiating process as a full party.