VIJAY SHAH via ASSOCIATED PRESS & MASHABLE
At least 30 people have been reported killed in a border clash between bitter enemies and Caucasus neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, Mashable UK reported today.
Heavy fighting over the landlocked region, which lies in the south Caucasus between Lower Karabakh and Zangezur, and which is governed autonomously by Armenia and claimed by Azerbaijan, erupted this Saturday. Most of the deaths were military, but one boy was also reported killed.
Nagorno Karabakh was the scene of a devastating war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which began shortly after the two countries separated from the USSR in the early 1990s. That war ended in 1994, but minor clashes between the Armenian and Azeri armies as well as strong nationalist rhetoric from both sides over Nagorno still continues.
Both sides held each other accountable for the Saturday incident. The Azerbaijani defence ministry did release a statement on the battle, where it claimed 12 of its soldiers were ‘martyred’ and that the Azeri army also killed 100 Armenian forces, destroyed six tanks and 15 artillery positions, meanwhile losing one helicopter, however this has not been confirmed by outside observers.
President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, is said to have informed the Armenian national security council that 18 Armenian soldiers were killed and 35 wounded. Armenia in turn, disputed Azerbaijani claims over its death toll from Saturday’s clashes, sating earlier that it had inflicted ‘heavy damage’ on Azerbaijani forces, while the Nagorno Karabakh defence ministry stated that 200 Azeri soldiers had died. No official outside confirmation of any of these figures has come though yet.
The Armenian defence ministry also said that Azerbaijan attempted to invade the territory with aircraft, tanks and munitions and that “Azerbaijani authorities bear all responsibility for the unprecedentedly supercharged situation.”
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry meanwhile claimed that the fighting this weekend began when Armenian forces fired heavy shells and mortars across the front line, provoking the Azeris. Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargyakhly told The Associated Press that more than 120 shots were fired, some of which hit civilian residential areas.
“This is the most wide-scale military action that Azerbaijan has tried to carry out since the establishment of the 1994 cease-fire regime,” Sargsyan said.
David Babayan, a spokesperson for the President’s office in Nagorno Karabakh, stated that one child was killed and two injured after a Azerbaijani military unit set off a barrage of Grad missiles in the disputed region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has been accused of meddling in the conflict urged all sides to cease firing and “show restraint,” Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. Russia’s foreign and defense ministers contacted their Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts in hopes of calming the conflict, the ministries said.
“The situation along the entire length of the line of opposition between Karabakhi and Azerbaijani armed forces continues to be extremely difficult,” Armenian defense ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan told The Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying that the United States “condemns in the strongest terms the large scale ceasefire violations” along the Nagorno-Karabakh buffer zone, which separates the warring parties.
“We urge the sides to show restraint, avoid further escalation, and strictly adhere to the ceasefire,” Kerry said.
The Nagorno Karabakh area is technically under a ceasefire brokered by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and major world powers. There are now worries among observers that this weekend’s clash could unravel efforts to keep the peace in the Caucasus.