Violent border clashes erupted between the former Soviet states last weekend, sparking fears of a bloody new conflict in the volatile region with NATO member Turkey poised to intervene. Defence officials in Baku, Azerbaijan, have threatened to attack the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant near Armenian capital Yerevan in retaliation.
Defence Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargahli said: “The Armenian side must not forget that state-of-the-art missile systems of our army allow us to strike the Metsamor nuclear plant with precision, which could lead to a great catastrophe for Armenia.”
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said threatening to attack the nuclear plant “is indicative of the level of desperation and the crisis of the mind of the political-military leadership of Azerbaijan”.
A spokesman said: “Baku’s actions are a menace to all the people of the region, including its own population.
“We strongly condemn the nuclear threats voiced by Azerbaijan, which demonstrate absolute absence of responsibility and sound judgement from this particular member of the international community.”
Fears of Turkish involvement grew when Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Armenia would “definitely pay” for its actions following talks in Ankara with Azerbaijan’s Deputy Defence Minister Ramiz Tahirov.
Mr Akar said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in touch with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and that the Turkish leader was “following developments very closely”.
He said: “The pain of the Azerbaijani Turk is our pain.
“We want you to know that any kind of difficulties that you feel in Azerbaijan are felt here in Turkey very deeply.
“The blood of our Azerbaijani brothers will not remain unavenged.”
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Azerbaijan has blamed Armenia for the violence in the Tavush region, the worst hostilities since April 2016 when scores were killed in four days of fierce fighting.
But Armenian Defence Ministry spokesman Sushan Stepanyan said Azerbaijani forces had shelled Armenian villages with mortars and howitzers and were using Azerbaijani villagers as “human shields.”
The clashes appear to have flared up as tensions over bitter, decades-long dispute over the predominantly Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh boiled over.
The feud began soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the mountainous region fell to Iran-backed Armenia. Turkey backed Azerbaijan while Russia supplied weapons to both sides.
Some regional security analysts said the comments from Ankara suggest newly-assertive Turkey – which has been flexing its muscles in Syria and Libya – might intervene on the side of Azerbaijan again.
The two countries have very close ties bound by a web of energy deals and taking a hardline stance against Armenia plays to Mr Erdogan’s nationalist base as he seeks to revive slump in popularity amid Turkey’s worst economic downturn since his Justice and Development Party came to power 18 years ago.