Fierce fighting involving tanks, aircraft and artillery broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces on Sunday in the latest flare-up of a decades-long conflict over disputed land.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said it launched a “counterattack” after accusing Armenians of firing on its military positions and on civilian settlements near the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia said Azerbaijan started bombarding along the contact line separating the two forces and shelled civilians including in the region’s capital, Stepanakert.
Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan declared martial law and ordered a general mobilisation, after accusing Azerbaijan of “pre-planned aggression.” Azeri president Ilham Aliyev said in a state TV address that “we’ll win as our cause is just”.
Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has broken out repeatedly since Armenians took control of the territory and seven surrounding districts from Azerbaijan in a war after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Hundreds were killed in a five-day war in 2016 before Russia pressured both sides to resume a ceasefire that was first brokered in 1994. Despite decades of mediation by the Unite States, France and Russia, no peace agreement has been signed.
Russia called on both sides to halt fighting immediately and return to negotiations to ease tensions, said the foreign ministry in Moscow.
An Azeri armoured vehicle ablaze in Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed region that boders Armenia and Azerbaijan. Photograph: EPA
An Azeri armourd detachment comes under fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Photograph: EPA
The Azeri army is using tanks, artillery, missile systems and aircraft against Armenian positions near the front line and deeper into Armenian-held territory, according to the defense ministry in Baku. As many as 12 Armenian anti-aircraft systems have been destroyed and one Azeri helicopter was shot down, it said.
Armenian forces hit two Azeri helicopters, three tanks and 14 drones, said Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan.
Civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have been urged to go into shelters after Azerbaijan shelled Stepanakert, according to Vahram Poghosyan, presidential spokesman in the unrecognised republic. “Our response will be proportional, and full responsibility is on the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” he said.
About 10 Armenian servicemen have been killed in the fighting, said Samvel Babayan, secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh security council, according to Radio Liberty.
The conflict comes after tensions between the two sides rose sharply last week, when Mr Aliyev alleged that Armenia was massing forces near Nagorno-Karabakh for another war. Armenia dismissed the claim as groundless and accused Mr Aliyev of preparing for a war.
As the fighting raged, social media appeared blocked in Azerbaijan and internet access was slow in some areas.
“Armenia is occupying our territory,” said Aliyev in his speech. “We’ll put an end to this occupation.” – Bloomberg