Armenia’s new PM angers Azerbaijan with visit to disputed region

Yerevan : Armenia’s new prime minister marked his first full day in office on Wednesday by visiting the disputed territory of occupied Karabakh, pledging to maintain security guarantees for a region that’s part of rival Azerbaijan.
Nikol Pashinyan’s visit was an effort to show continuity in his country’s security policies after the weeks of protests that catapulted him to office, a stunning power shift for the impoverished former Soviet republic.
Pashinyan, however, said he was ready for more talks with Azerbaijan but wanted the separatists to take part too.
The trip was also a provocative move toward Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan “seems to prefer political agitation instead of being engaged in addressing the daunting social-economic problems of Armenia and the Armenian people,” Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hikmat Hajiyev said.
“In order to disguise its direct responsibility for military aggression against Azerbaijan, Armenia distorts and misinterprets the principle of the people’s right to self-determination,” Hajiyev said.
Rasim Musabekov, member of Azerbaijan Parliament, said the visit was in violation of international law, but he hoped it could signal that Pashinyan is willing to resume negotiations with Azerbaijan on conflict settlement issues.
Armenia’s new leader faces several political and economic challenges as he starts his term in office.
Pashinyan calls for continued negotiations
Pashinyan reasserted Armenia’s commitment to occupied Karabakh, a part of neighbouring Azerbaijan that ethnic Armenian forces have controlled since a separatist war ended in 1994.
Pashinyan called for continued negotiations to end the conflict, but accused Azerbaijan of ratcheting up tensions. He said the self-declared government in occupied Karabakh should be included in talks.
“How can this negotiation format solve an issue when one of its key participants is missing from the negotiation table? This is not an issue to be approached with emotion but rather with pragmatism,” he said.
He expressed hope for “new momentum” in relations between Armenia and occupied Karabakh.
The territory’s de facto leader, Bako Sahakyan, welcomed Pashinyan’s visit and assurances for continued defence of the region.
Semi-isolated Armenia
Shooting frequently breaks out across a demilitarised zone that separates ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan’s soldiers.
The region’s unresolved status contributes to the economic problems that are a key issue for Pashinyan’s supporters.
Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have closed their borders with Armenia over the conflict, inhibiting trade and leaving Armenia in semi-isolation.