EADaily’s correspondent in Yerevan has addressed a number of questions to First Deputy Minister of Defense Artak Zakaryan about the current military and political situation in the South Caucasus.
Mr. Zakaryan, what is your assessment of current situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Line of Contact of Azerbaijani and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) troops?
Normally, the situation is relatively stable though Azerbaijan regularly makes the situation on the border tense by violating the ceasefire, using small arms and large-caliber weapons. Nevertheless, the Armenian Armed Forces fully control the situation on the border and on the Line of Contact.
How probable is a large-scale armed attack by Baku in the Karabakh conflict zone?
Although Azerbaijan is well aware that the political resolution of the Karabakh conflict is inevitable, it constantly makes inflammatory statements. Sometimes, such statements are intended for the Azerbaijani people, sometimes they are stipulated by certain political consideration.
Nevertheless, despite Baku’s motives, the world community should assess its policy adequately. Despite Baku’s plans and statements, the Armenian Armed Forces are ready to repel any actions of Azerbaijan at any scale and in all forms.
I’d like to reiterate that despite Baku’s aspiration to settle the Karabakh conflict by use of force, the conflict must be settled politically. The Armenian side will not tolerate any other scenario.
You have said there is no alternative to peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict, but the talks of the last 30 years have not proved successful yet. What are your forecasts for the conflict’s resolution in such case?
Settlement of the Karabakh conflict is possible only through implementation of the peoples’ right to self-determination and the Karabakh people have a full right to it.
It has been repeatedly mentioned that the Karabakh conflict should be settled through mutual concessions, which implies also discussion of the territories controlled by Artsakh. However, Stepanakert does insist that return of these territories would threaten the security of Artsakh. What do you think about this?
No concession is admissible to the Armenian side if it affects security of Armenia or Artsakh or is made at the expense of that component.
After the April war, much was done to modernize infrastructure on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and on the frontline. At what stage is that process?
Much has changed since the April war. Works are carried out to upgrade defense capacity of the Karabakh border with Azerbaijan. This is a comprehensive work, but it is carried out quite intensively.
Mr. Zakaryan, how does the Defense Ministry of Armenia respond to arms supplies to Azerbaijan by various countries amid permanent threats by Baku?
The Defense Ministry is currently modernizing the country’s armed forces and actively cooperates with its foreign partners to that end, irrespective of Azerbaijan’s actions. This is a linchpin of security and peace in the region. Of course, active militarization of Azerbaijan cannot but arouse concern of Armenia and other countries in the region, since it is a headache for everyone. In this light, no matter which country sells arms to Azerbaijan.
The Defense Ministry has set a strategic goal to modernize the Armed Forces of Armenia. Have you made any success in that area?
The Defense Ministry has developed a 7-year program of armed forces modernization and submitted it to the president’s approval. We will be consistent in its implementation. This is a comprehensive program embracing all the areas of the country’s armed forces, starting from armament up to military and political cooperation.
The Government of Armenia has announced that the defense industry should become a driving force of the Armenian economy. Have you made any achievements in that area?
Development of the defense industry is in the focus of the government’s attention. The development phases and potential have been defined and there are quite tangible achievements as well. Such upward trends will make the defense industry a driving force of Armenia’s economy, as it includes various fields: from industry up to research and educational capacity and innovations.
Do you implement any foreign investment projects in that field?
We focus on our own capacity here and cooperate with our foreign partners at the same time.
Mr. Zakaryan, corruption in the army has become a very acute issue recently… Do you think the situation is so alarming? How does the Defense Ministry combat corruption in the army?
Neither the Defense Ministry nor any other agency is insured against such phenomena. What I can say is that any display of corruption or other lawlessness needs to be deeply analyzed and prevented and eliminated through specific steps and measures. We examine such cases carefully and seriously fight that evil to minimize it, at least, to a level too insignificant for the people to worry about it.
And the final question… in social media people actively discuss fund raising for army needs. Doesn’t it damage the image of the Armenian Armed Forces? Does army really need funds so acutely?
Well, public support to army is a very good link between the Armed Forces and the people. This should not be regarded negatively. At the same time, this does not mean that army is in severe need. Such initiatives are welcomed, but they should not grow into a PR-campaign. The true heroes are not those behind these campaigns, but the men standing on the border and defending our country.