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Armenia and Azerbaijan trade blame for clashes that killed 155

The two countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict (Armenian Defence Ministry via AP)
The two countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict (Armenian Defence Ministry via AP)

Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of instigating new rounds of shelling across their borders on Wednesday and reported that 155 troops from the two countries have died since hostilities reignited between the longtime adversaries this week.

Armenia’s Defence Ministry accused Azerbaijani forces of launching combat drones in the direction of the Armenian resort town of Jermuk overnight and renewing shelling with artillery and mortars in the morning in the direction of Jermuk and the village of Verin Shorzha.

The Azerbaijani military, in turn, charged that Armenian forces shelled its positions in the Kalbajar and Lachin districts of Azerbaijan, near the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said 105 of his country’s troops have been killed since fighting erupted early on Tuesday, while Azerbaijan said it lost 50 troops.

Azerbaijani authorities said they were ready to unilaterally hand over the bodies of up to 100 Armenian soldiers.

The ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

Armenia Azerbaijan
Armenian Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal. Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under the deal.

Russia moved quickly on Tuesday to negotiate an end to the latest hostilities, but a cease-fire it sought to broker has failed to hold. The governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia traded blame for violations of the cease-fire, while the international community urged calm.

“Despite the appeals of the international community and the reached cease-fire agreement, Armenian armed forces continue attacks and provocations in the state border using artillery and other heavy weapons,” Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

It said two Azerbaijani civilians were injured by the Armenian shelling of the Kalbajar and Lachin districts.

The ministry rejected as an “absolute lie” Armenia’s claim that Azerbaijani troops had fired on a Russian military outpost in Armenia. It alleged Armenia was making such assertions in an attempt to turn a Moscow-dominated security alliance “into a tool for its dirty deeds”.

Mr Pashinyan said on Wednesday that his government has asked Russia for military support under a friendship treaty between the countries, and also requested assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO)

“Our allies are Russia and the CSTO,” Mr Pashinyan said, adding that the collective security pact states that an aggression against one member is an aggression against all.

“We don’t see military intervention as the only possibility, because there are also political and diplomatic options,” Mr Pashinyan said, speaking in his nation’s parliament.

He told legislators that Armenia is ready to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in a future peace treaty, provided that it relinquishes control of areas in Armenia its forces have seized.

Some in the opposition saw the statement as a sign of Mr Pashinyan’s readiness to make concessions to Azerbaijan. Thousands of angry protesters quickly descended on the government’s headquarters, accusing Mr Pashinyan of treason and demanding he step down.

Mr Pashinyan angrily denied reports alleging that he had signed a deal accepting Azerbaijani demands as an “information attack”.

Arayik Harutyunyan, the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, reacted to the uproar by saying that the region will not agree to come into the Azerbaijani fold and will continue pushing for its independence.

Moscow has engaged in a delicate balancing act in seeking to maintain friendly ties with both nations. It has strong economic and security ties with Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, but also maintains close cooperation with oil-rich Azerbaijan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of other CSTO members discussed the situation in a call late on Tuesday, urging a quick cessation of hostilities. They agreed to send a mission of top officials from the security alliance to the area.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the mission will deliver a report assessing the developments to the leaders of CSTO member states. “The situation has remained tense,” Mr Peskov said in Wednesday’s conference call with reporters.