International pressure on Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop fighting increased after at least 24 people were killed on Sunday in the worst clashes between the two countries since 2016.
The clashes between the two former Soviet republics that waged war in the 1990s were the latest flare-up in a long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region within Azerbaijan, but led by ethnic Armenians.
17 Armenian separatists were killed and more than 100 injured in the fighting, Karabakh President Araik Harutyunyan said, admitting that his armed forces had “lost positions”. Both sides also reported civilian casualties.
“We are fed up with Azerbaijan’s threats, we will fight to the death to solve the problem once and for all,” 36-year-old Artak Bagdasaryan told AFP in Yerevan, adding that he is waiting to be drafted into the army to become.
Karabakh separatists said an Armenian woman and child were killed, while Baku said an Azerbaijani family of five died in shelling by Armenian separatists.
Azerbaijan claimed it captured a strategic mountain in Karabakh that helps control transportation communications between Yerevan and the enclave.
The clashes sparked a flurry of diplomacy to alleviate tensions in a decade-long conflict between Christian-majority Armenia and mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, amid fears the violence could get out of hand.
“We are one step away from a major war,” Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group told AFP.
“One of the main reasons for the current escalation is the lack of proactive international mediation between the sides for weeks,” she added.
President Donald Trump said Sunday the United States would try to end the violence.
“We see it very strongly,” he told a press conference. “We have a lot of good relationships in this area. We’ll see if we can stop it. “
The State Department issued a statement condemning the violence, calling for an immediate halt to hostilities and any rhetoric or other action that could aggravate the situation.
US Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that hostilities could escalate into greater conflict, calling on the Trump administration to call for more monitors along the ceasefire line and Russia “to stop cynical arms supply to both sides.” “.
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 after fighting that killed 30,000 people and forced many more from their homes.
Although a ceasefire was reached in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azerbaijani-Armenian border.
Armenia said the Azerbaijani armed forces had attacked civilian targets like the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, and promised an “appropriate response”.
“We remain strong alongside our army to protect our motherland from the invasion of Azerbaijan,” wrote Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Twitter.
Azerbaijan denied a statement by the Armenian Defense Ministry that Azerbaijani helicopters and tanks had been destroyed, and accused the Armenian armed forces of “deliberate and targeted” attacks along the front line.
“We are defending our territory, our cause is right!” The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, said in an address to the nation, repeating the words of Joseph Stalin at the outbreak of World War II in Russia. “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” he said.
Both Armenia and Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilization. Azerbaijan imposed military rule and curfew in major cities.
#NagornoKarabakh: No more ceasefire violations or border incidents. The war continues. Time for Russia, France and the US, individually and collectively, to stop this.
– Dmitri Trenin (@DmitriTrenin) September 27, 2020
Turkey said it spoke with members of the Minsk group, which mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia, France and the USA are co-presidents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Pashinyan by phone, but details of the conversation were not known, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Aliyev.
Erdogan, who pledged support for traditional ally Azerbaijan, said Armenia was “the greatest threat to peace in the region” and urged “the whole world to stand with Azerbaijan in the fight against invasion and cruelty”.
Pashinyan hit back, accusing Turkey of “dangerous behavior” and calling on the international community to ensure that Turkey does not become involved in the conflict.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “extremely concerned” and urged the sides to stop fighting and return to talks.
The European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Pope Francis called on both sides to stop military action and return to negotiations.
At least 200 people were killed when the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared up in April 2016. At least 16 people were killed in clashes in July.
Azerbaijan has pledged to retake the territory by force if necessary, while Armenia has announced that it will do everything it can to defend the area.