Armenia and Azerbaijan reported on Tuesday fierce fighting between their forces stationed northeast of Nagorno-Karabakh, blaming each other for what appears to be the most serious ceasefire violation in months.
News reports from Baku said at least two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in the clashes. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry declined to confirm or deny the information.
The Armenian side said fighting broke out there early in the morning when Azerbaijani troops attacked and temporarily capture a Karabakh Armenian army outpost in the area. According to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Armenian forces went on a counteroffensive and recaptured the position in the afternoon after the Azerbaijanis refused to pull back.
“As of now, that position is under our control and the enemy has fled leaving many corpses behind,” Sarkisian told journalists in the evening.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan issued a similar statement earlier in the day, saying that Karabakh Armenian soldiers killed several Azerbaijani servicemen and suffered no casualties.
The Azerbaijani military came up with a diametrically opposite version of events, accusing the Armenians of attacking its positions north-east of Karabakh’s Mardakert district. “The Azerbaijani army is giving the Armenians a worthy response and we are fully capable of defending the independence of our country,” the army chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Nejmeddin Sadygov, said, according to the Day.az news services.
Both Sadygov and a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Khazar Ibrahim, linked the fighting with the post-election tensions in Armenia. "This is a clear provocation by Armenia," Ibrahim told RFE/RL. "They are trying to use the situation which is taking place in Yerevan after the elections and are trying to divert the attention of their citizens and population from the internal and domestic issues in order to seek an external enemy."
But according to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, it is Baku which is striking at a moment when Yerevan is particularly vulnerable. "We condemn this challenge, and we think that this is an attempt by the Azerbaijani side to exploit the current situation in Armenia," Oskanian said. "Perhaps they thought we had focused all of our attention on our internal situation, and that this could provide them with a psychological advantage, but this hasn't proved the case."