Yerevan, Baku: Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijan forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh continued on Monday with the deployment of heavy artillery on both sides, their representatives said.
The Armenian Defence Ministry reported fighting throughout the night, while Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said Armenian forces were shelling the town of Terter.
Nagorno-Karabakh representatives said on Monday that 15 more of its servicemen had been killed in fighting with Azerbaijan’s forces. At least 16 military and several civilians were killed on Sunday in the heaviest clashes between the two countries since 2016, reigniting concern about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
The clashes between the two former Soviet republics, which fought a war in the 1990s, are the latest flare-up of a long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that sits is in and is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians as the self-declared Republic of Artsakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s representatives said 16 of its serviceman had been killed and more than 100 wounded after Azerbaijan launched an air and artillery attack early on Sunday. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh declared martial law and mobilised the male population in response.
Azerbaijan, which also declared martial law, said its forces responded to Armenian shelling and that five members of one family had been killed, the Azerbaijan’s prosecutor’s office said. President Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree declaring partial military mobilisation on Monday.
It also said its forces had seized control of up to seven villages. Nagorno-Karabakh initially denied this but later acknowledged losing “some positions” and said it had suffered a number of civilian casualties, without giving details.
The clashes prompted a flurry of diplomacy to reduce the new tensions in a decades-old conflict between majority Christian Armenia and mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, with Russia calling for an immediate ceasefire and another regional power, Turkey, saying it would support Azerbaijan.
Pipelines shipping Caspian oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan to the world pass close to Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia also warned about security risks in the region in July after Azerbaijan threatened to attack Armenia’s nuclear power plant as possible retaliation.
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, after thousands of people were killed and many more displaced, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.
In Sunday’s clashes, Armenian right activists said an ethnic Armenian woman and child had also been killed.
Armenia said Azeri forces had attacked civilian targets including Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, and promised a “proportionate response”.
“We stay strong next to our army to protect our motherland from Azeri invasion,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Twitter.
Azerbaijan denied an Armenian Defence Ministry statement saying Azeri helicopters and tanks had been destroyed, and accused Armenian forces of launching “deliberate and targeted” attacks along the front line.
“We defend our territory, our cause is right!” Aliyev said in an address to the nation on Sunday.
Turkey said it was talking to members of the Minsk group, which mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia, France and the United States are co-presidents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone to Pashinyan but no details of the conversation were available, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Aliyev.
Erdogan, promising support for traditional ally Azerbaijan, said Armenia was “the biggest threat to peace in the region” and called on “the entire world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty.”
Pashinyan hit back, urged the international community to ensure Turkey does not get involved in the conflict.
Later the Armenian ambassador to Russia said Turkey had sent approximately 4000 fighters from northern Syria to Azerbaijan.
The European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged both sides to stop military actions and return to negotiations, as did Pope Francis.
At least 200 people were killed in a flare-up of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016. At least 16 people were killed in clashes in July.