The most recent casualties suffered by the Azerbaijani army around Nagorno-Karabakh are the result of “retaliatory” actions taken by Armenian troops, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
“That happened as a result of the Armenian side’s actions aimed at punishing and liquidating Azerbaijani snipers,” the ministry spokesman, Davit Karapetian, said, referring to the deaths of two Azerbaijani soldiers reported over the weekend.
“In recent days, the Azerbaijani side has stepped up military actions along the line of contact,” Karapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “As a result of that, hundreds of sporadic and sniper gunshots have been fired at the Armenian side. The Armenian side has silenced those firing positions with retaliatory actions.”
The two Azerbaijani soldiers were reportedly shot dead at different sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” east of Karabakh, in what the Azerbaijani military called a ceasefire violation by the Armenians.
The incidents occurred less than a month after three Karabakh Armenian soldiers and a civilian man were killed by sniper fire from Azerbaijani army positions. Military officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert accused Baku of deliberately heightening tensions along the heavily fortified frontline. Azerbaijani officials dismissed the accusations.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian last week effectively confirmed reports that Karabakh Armenian army units have been instructed to give a “tough riposte” to the enemy.
“Those [Azerbaijani] actions are answered with a use of disproportionate force. That means they are punished with much bigger casualties,” Ohanian told journalists. He claimed that the Azerbaijani military is underreporting its losses.
“Responsibility for the Azerbaijani losses fully falls upon the Azerbaijani side,” said Karapetian.
The deadly skirmishes continue despite international efforts to bolster the shaky ceasefire regime in the Karabakh conflict zone which has been in effect since 1994. The United States and the European Union seem increasingly worried that the sniper warfare could degenerate into anther all-out war for the Armenian-controlled territory.
The foreign ministers of EU member states discussed the Karabakh dispute at a regular meeting in Brussels on Monday. “We are very worried about the fatal incidents last week and in Nagorno-Karabakh over the weekend,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said after the meeting.