By Gevorg Stamboltsian
An Armenian army officer was shot dead last week in a fierce cross-border firefight with Azerbaijani forces in the northern Tavush region which heightened military tension in the area, the Armenian military revealed on Tuesday.
It also emerged that the fighting prompted urgent intervention from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which has been monitoring the decade-long regime of ceasefire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier and the line of contact east of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, chief of staff of Armenia’s Armed Forces, said skirmishes erupted after Azerbaijani troops occupied a hill in a no-man’s land near the regional town of Ijevan which overlooks a local water reservoir. He said Armenian forces responded by moving their positions forward in order to defend a nearby facility that pumps irrigation water to five local villages.
Harutiunian said the slain Armenian officer had the rank of lieutenant but refused to disclose his identity. He also claimed that the Azerbaijani side suffered more casualties. “It’s hard for me to give a number, but we do know that many died on their side,” he told reporters.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said in a separate statement that OSCE officials began an urgent monitoring of the situation in the area at the weekend and are trying to defuse the tensions. Harutiunian said his troops will not pull pack to their previous positions unless the Azerbaijanis withdraw from the hill. “Once they leave the hill and ensure the safe work of the pump station we will make a corresponding decision,” he said.
The incident highlighted the shaky nature of the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire, the tenth anniversary of which was marked last month. Although the truce has largely held, hundreds of soldiers from both sides are believed to have died in skirmishes periodically reported from the line of contact. The most serious of them occur on the Karabakh frontline which has the heaviest troop concentration.