Azeri defense ministry: 1,178 ceasefire violations this year
By Sara Rajabova
The ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia was violated 1,178 times over 10 months of 2012, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman said at a press conference in the frontline Terter region early last week.
Eldar Sabiroglu said both sides sustained casualties, and the Azerbaijani armed forces lost 12 servicemen in the 10-month period.
Armenian sources claimed the country's armed forces lost 32 people.
The ceasefire was violated mostly near Fuzuli, Terter and Agdam regions, he added.
Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a lengthy war that ended with the signing of a precarious cease-fire in 1994. Armenian armed forces have since occupied over 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory. Sporadic clashes on the frontline continue.
Sabiroglu said the most strained situation on the contact line of Azerbaijani and Armenian troops was observed in June when heavy fighting raged in all parts of the frontline. On June 5, an Armenian subversive group tried to attack the Azerbaijani armed forces' positions in Qazakh region and killed five soldiers.
The ceasefire violations target not only soldiers but also civilians. Life in the borderline villages has been nearly paralyzed. Local residents are always under fire. Because of heavy fighting the residents of those villages cannot plant their fields and graze cattle.
"Monitoring was conducted around 19 times on the contact line in September. It proceeded without incidents. Once monitoring stops, the Armenians violate the ceasefire regime," Sabiroglu said.
"We are soldiers, and our main duty is to liberate the occupied territories, even if it is by means of war. A second war will lead to a large fire in the region and end with the victory of Azerbaijani soldiers," Sabiroglu said.
Sabiroglu said over 10 months Azerbaijani military units conducted large-scale exercises under the command of Defense Minister Safar Abiyev. The army did well during the exercises.
"Sometimes we hear that the Armenians stage exercises in our occupied territories once or twice a week," he said. "However, this is not a simple task to prepare and conduct the exercises. It requires extensive training and considerable funds. The Armenians call appearing two or three tanks and one artillery weapon as [staging] exercises. This is nonsense. It will not affect Azerbaijan."
He said that the Azerbaijani armed forces have the most advanced weapons on the Line of Contact.
"Our main goal is to prevent aggression of the Armenian armed forces. I think that soon we will witness liberation of our lands," Sabiroglu said.
In the meantime, Azerbaijani Deputy Parliament Speaker Bahar Muradova praised the morale of soldiers after a meeting in the military headquarters in Terter.
A delegation comprising Bahar Muradova, MPs Musa Guliyev, Bakhtiyar Sadigov, Arif Rahimzade and Sahiba Gafarova visited the military headquarters, observed how the soldiers shoot from weapons of different calibers, and later reviewed the living conditions and the condition of soldiers serving on the front lines in the villages of Shikhli and Gapanli.
Muradova noted that Azerbaijan is developing economically and this development is seen in the modernization of the army.
According to her, Azerbaijan does not allocate huge funds to the armed forces in comparison with other countries' military budgets.
"Now what can you do if the government of Armenia holds its people and country in the grip of problems due to its non-constructive policy? There is no progress and the situation is getting worse day by day. The people's faith in the government is faltering there. Therefore, they [the Armenians] voice biased accusations against us."
Muradova added that if the commander-in-chief issues an order, the Azerbaijani army is ready to carry out its tasks.
Defense Ministry spokesman Sabiroglu also said Azerbaijan has recently done a lot to boost its army.
"We have purchased the most modern weapons," he said. "We can strike the enemy at any distance by using these weapons. Second, the morale of the personnel is at a high level."
Sabiroglu also noted that the entire staff structure of Azerbaijani armed forces has been brought into conformity with NATO standards.
"Azerbaijani officers in NATO headquarters serve as NATO officers and the number of these officers is growing," he said.
Sabiroglu said that Azerbaijan has its military attaches and representatives in 21 countries and cooperates with 53 countries in the military sphere.
"The High Military School in Azerbaijan is so developed that students from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan study there," he said, adding that several other countries have also applied to send their students.
The ministry spokesman also spoke about the activity of the mediating OSCE Minsk Group. He said the Minsk Group has undertaken the settlement of the conflict, but unfortunately, there are no specific results.
Since the signing of the ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France and the U.S. - have been mediating the peace negotiations. They have offered several options for a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, the conflict parties have not accepted these proposals. The efforts of the Minsk Group have been fruitless so far and the society has lost confidence in this organization's ability to broker a solution. Therefore, the Azerbaijani government often criticizes its mediation activity.
Executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party (YAP) Ali Ahmadov, speaking of the recent meeting between Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers, said a fair settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be found, and also cited the need for a change in the format of the Minsk Group.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Armenia's Edward Nalbandyan held a meeting on October 27 in Paris to seek ways to peacefully settle the two South Caucasus neighbors' bitter conflict, which has been unresolved for over two decades.
The Minsk Group co-chairs -- Robert Bradtke of the U.S., Jacques Faure of France and Igor Popov of Russia -- attended the meeting.
Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk participated in the meeting as well.
The mediators proposed their ideas on a working proposal to advance the peace process, says the statement of the co-chairs and the two ministers.
"The purpose of the negotiations within the Minsk Group is the practical help to resolve the conflict. The conflict has not been resolved over more than 20 years, and if some entity cannot fulfill its obligations for 20 years, I believe that we need to make serious changes to the format of the Minsk Group," Ahmadov said.
Ahmadov noted that Azerbaijan supports a peaceful settlement of the conflict.