MOSCOW – On Sunday, fierce fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which quickly escalated. Both sides called for action with artillery, helicopters and tanks along a disputed border.
The military action focused on the breakaway province of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area north of Turkey and Iran where ethnic tensions and historical grievances have led to conflict for decades.
However, Sunday’s fighting was reportedly more severe than the typical regular border skirmishes, and both governments used military language describing events as a war. The last major escalation in 2016 was before Sunday. Each side accused the other of using artillery against civilians.
“The enemy launched an attack on the Karabakh region,” said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in a post on Facebook.
Mr Pashinyan said the military in the Karabkah region, an Armenian enclave that claims to be an independent state but is largely unrecognized, repelled the attack.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense then issued a statement saying it had started a “counterattack” with tanks, helicopters and missile artillery.
In a statement from Russian news agencies, Azerbaijan said the military operation had destroyed “troops, military objects and equipment of the Armenian Armed Forces” near the border and deeper in the country. It said it destroyed 12 short-range air defense systems in Armenia.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said its forces destroyed three tanks and shot down two helicopters, Reuters reported.
In the past, both sides have exaggerated their achievements and the extent of their enemies’ violations of ceasefire agreements, even though the potential for greater war has always been clear. The Karabakh region maintains a system that allows almost the entire male population to be accessed as minutemen. This mobilization was announced on Sunday morning.
The fighting in and around the Karabakh region, which Armenia calls Artsakh, was among the worst of the early post-Soviet conflicts. A truce was declared in 1994, but violence has often flared up since then.
Moscow sells arms to both sides and has ceasefire agreements. Russia has a military base in Armenia. The Armenian diaspora in France and the United States has provided assistance to the Karabakh region, including funding the construction of a strategic mountain access road.