Melik Baghdasaryan / Melik Baghdasaryan / Photolure / TAS
On Sunday, fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area, in which both sides were killed and the Armenian government was asked to declare martial law and mobilize its military.
The conflict is the latest outbreak of violence in a decade-long dispute over the region, which lies within Azerbaijan’s borders but is controlled by Armenian armed forces. Both countries reported military and civilian deaths on Sunday afternoon.
Armenian officials said Azerbaijani armed forces launched a “missile and air strike” in the region on Sunday morning, targeting peaceful settlements and bombarding civil infrastructure, while the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said its armed forces responded to the shelling of Armenians.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a tweet that the aggression appeared to be pre-planned and “a large-scale provocation against regional peace and security”.
Recent aggressive statements by the Azerbaijani leadership, large-scale joint mil exercises with Turkey and the rejection of PRCiO surveillance requests from @osce clearly show that this aggression was planned in advance and constitutes a large-scale provocation against regional peace and security
– Nikol Pashinyan (@NikolPashinyan) September 27, 2020
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev countered that “the first fire, including artillery fire, was opened by Armenia and that the first victims were Azerbaijani soldiers”.
Officials in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh declared martial law and dispatched armed forces as tensions increased on Sunday morning.
The Nagorno-Karabakh human rights ombudsman said a woman and a child were killed and two civilians were injured in the Martuni region as a result of the shelling in Azerbaijan. The region’s deputy defense minister later said 16 Armenian forces were killed and more than 100 injured.
Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s President, said the enemy fire killed and wounded both soldiers and civilians and that “bloodshed will not go unpunished”.
“Armenia is an occupation state and an end to this occupation must and will be put in place,” added Aliyev.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose nation shares a border with Armenia, heightened his country’s support for longtime ally Azerbaijan in a series of tweets calling Armenia “the greatest threat to peace and tranquility in the region.”
“As always, the Turkish nation stands by its Azerbaijani brothers by all means,” he wrote.
In response, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan issued a statement calling on the international community “to use all their leverage to stop possible Turkish interference,” which would have devastating consequences for the region.
The renewed conflict threatens the stability of the South Caucasus, which is criss-crossed by numerous oil and gas pipelines.
#NATO is deeply concerned about reports of large-scale military hostilities along the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Statement by James Appathurai, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia. https://t.co/dkHk3ODnsR
– Oana Lungescu (@NATOpress) September 27, 2020
Reactions from the international community were received on Sunday, with foreign leaders calling on long-standing opponents to de-escalate the conflict and resume dialogue.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in the European Minsk Group, under the joint chairmanship of the United States, Russia and France, has been working since 1994 to permanently resolve the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Its leaders issued a joint statement expressing concern about reports of military action and condemnation of the use of force and “senseless loss of life”.
“The Co-Chairs call on the sides to take all necessary measures to stabilize the situation on the ground and to re-emphasize that there is no alternative to a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict,” they added.
Regardless, officials in Russia and France urged countries to stop firing and start negotiations immediately.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, also called for the military action to be halted and for the negotiations to be returned to “unconditional”.
Similar hopes were expressed in the Vatican, where Pope Francis urged leaders to find a solution “not through the use of force and arms, but through means of dialogue and negotiation”.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have argued regularly after the 1994 ceasefire that kept Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control. In particular, a wave of violence in 2016 killed at least 30 soldiers on both sides. More recently, at least 16 people were killed in fighting along the border in July.