Two Azerbaijani soldiers were shot dead in continuing ceasefire violations around Nagorno-Karabakh reported by Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry over the weekend.
Azerbaijani news agencies cited the ministry as saying that one of the soldiers, Farid Farajev, was shot in the throat by an Armenian sniper on Sunday at a volatile section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” lying northeast of the disputed territory.
The other soldier, identified as Rahman Mammadov, was reportedly killed by sniper fire at another frontline section late on Friday.
Military authorities in Armenia and Karabakh did not react to these reports. In a weekend statement, Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian Defense Army said only that there have been over 1,500 instances of small arms fire from Azerbaijani forces on its frontline positions from May 16-21.
The Azerbaijani military, for its part, accused the Armenians on Monday of continuing to violate the 1994 truce, which stopped the Karabakh war, on a daily basis.
The truce violations appear to have become more frequent since 2009, fuelling talk of a growing risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war. At least 13 soldiers from both warring sides are believed to have died in action this year.
Three Karabakh Armenian soldiers were killed in the space of two days earlier this month. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the deaths and accused Baku of torpedoing international efforts to bolster the shaky ceasefire regime in the conflict zone.
News reports citing unnamed military sources in Yerevan said shortly afterwards that the Armenian and Karabakh Armenian militaries have been ordered to launch retaliatory “punitive actions” against Azerbaijani army units. Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian indicated last week that they were instructed to retaliate against Azerbaijani sniper fire and are acting accordingly. He claimed that that Baku is underreporting its frontline casualties.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators seeking to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict are increasingly worried about such incidents. Visiting the region last month, the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group presented the parties with what they described as a “draft mechanism for investigation of incidents along the front lines with the participation of all sides.”
The mediators have also repeatedly urged both sides to withdraw all snipers from their frontline positions. The idea is backed by the Armenian side but rejected by Azerbaijan.
“Тhe Armenians are saying, ‘Pull back the snipers.’ These words are laughable,” Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was quoted by the ANS Press news agency as saying on Friday. “The snipers didn’t come on their own.” Mammadyarov said they can not be withdrawn as long as Armenian troops remain in the “occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”