Yerevan – Despite the second ceasefire attempt, Armenia and Azerbaijan traded accusations on Sunday of violating the new armistice in their devastating struggle over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The latest truce, which was announced on Saturday and came into effect at midnight, was the second attempt at a ceasefire since heavy fighting broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno Karabakh on September 27th. The fighting and bombing have killed hundreds of people – fighters and civilians alike – and marks the largest escalation of the decades-long conflict for the region in more than a quarter of a century.
The recent fighting, which included heavy artillery, missiles and drones, continued despite repeated calls for a cessation of hostilities from around the world. The escalation of the fighting raises the specter of a wider conflict that could attract Russia and Turkey and threaten Caspian energy exports.
Armenian military officials on Sunday reported artillery shelling and missile strikes by Azerbaijani forces in the conflict zone overnight. “The enemy launched an attack in the southern direction in the morning,” said Shushan Stepanyan, a spokeswoman for the Armenian Defense Ministry. “There were both dead and wounded on both sides.”
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, in turn, confirmed that Armenian forces used mortar and artillery shells in the conflict zone during the night despite the ceasefire, and in the morning they tried to launch attacks in several directions. The ministry accused Armenia of using heavy-caliber weapons to attack the Azerbaijani army positions in two regions of northern Nagorno Karabakh along the border between the two countries, which Armenian military officials denied.
The Azerbaijani army also said that it shot down an Armenian Su-25 warplane “that was trying to direct air strikes at the Azerbaijani army positions in the direction of Gabriel,” but Stepanyan denied the statement as incorrect.
Nagorny Karabakh is located inside Azerbaijan but has been under the control of Armenian ethnic forces backed by Armenia since the war there ended in 1994.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 673 of their soldiers were killed in the renewed fighting. Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military losses, but says that 60 civilians have so far been killed and 270 injured.
Turkey has openly supported the oil-rich Azerbaijan in the conflict and pledged to help it regain its territory.
Russia, which struck a security pact with Armenia but established friendly relations with Azerbaijan, hosted high-ranking diplomats from both countries last week for more than 10 hours of talks that ended with an initial ceasefire agreement. But the agreement faltered immediately after the truce entered into force last Saturday, as both sides blamed the other for violating it.
The new ceasefire agreement was announced a week later on Saturday, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s calls with his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which he strongly urged them to abide by the Moscow agreement.
However, several hours after the truce took effect at midnight, the two sides began accusing each other of violating the agreement.
Later on Sunday, Armenia and Azerbaijan reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire in statements from their foreign ministries, blaming the breaches.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said, “It reserves the right to take counter measures to protect civilians and situations.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said that Yerevan “will continue to take all necessary measures to impose peace on Azerbaijan and establish a ceasefire regime that requires accurate and effective mechanisms to preserve and verify it.”
Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed.
Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.