The Armenian military pledged on Monday to respond “disproportionately” to the deaths of two Armenian soldiers in skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces reported in Nagorno-Karabakh over the weekend.
Karabakh’s Armenia-backed army said the 19-year-old conscripts, Aren Simonian and Mihran Markarian, were shot dead by Azerbaijani snipers in separate incidents on Saturday and Sunday. It said the shootings occurred at sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” southeast of the disputed territory.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry did not immediately comment on the information.
In a written statement, the Karabakh Defense Army accused Baku of deliberately violating the ceasefire to torpedo international efforts to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. It said its forces will react to such violations with “tougher” actions from now on.
A separate statement issued by Armenia’s Defense Ministry said, “Since Azerbaijan’s political and military leadership does not care about the lives of its own soldiers, we have to remind Azerbaijan’s population that as was the case before, the Armenian side’s response to the death of every Armenian soldier will be disproportionate.”
The ministry spokesman, Davit Karapetian, spoke of “punitive actions” to be taken against Azerbaijani troops. “That is going to be our natural and legitimate reaction,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “And if the Azerbaijani side suffers casualties as a result of that, it will be fully responsible for them.”
Armenian and Karabakh forces were already ordered to launch such retaliatory operations following the killing of three Armenian soldiers near Karabakh in May.
“Unfortunately, the Azerbaijani side hasn’t learned lessons from previous adventures as a result of which it suffered much greater casualties,” said Karapetian. “This testifies to their irresponsible attitude.”
Defense Ministry sources in Yerevan claim that 42 Azerbaijani troops have been killed on the Karabakh frontline and along Armenia’s long border with Azerbaijan so far this year.
The Azerbaijani military has not yet released any casualty data for 2011. Earlier this month, the Baku daily “Zerkalo” quoted an independent military expert, Uzeir Jafarov, as saying that 13 Azerbaijani soldiers were shot dead by the Armenians while 76 others died in non-combat circumstances in 2011.
“Our losses during the less than 11 months of this year surpassed those of the previous two years,” Jafarov said. “This is frightening.”
The military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert are likewise reluctant to publicize the Armenian combat death toll. Armenian human rights groups estimated before the latest deadly fighting in Karabakh that 9 Armenian soldiers have died in action since December 2010.
The skirmishes highlight the lingering threat of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war which is prompting growing concern from the world community. They came less than a month after U.S., Russian and French mediators said the conflicting parties have agreed in principle to a “draft mechanism to investigate incidents along the front lines.”
The three co-chairs announced that following yet another visit to Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert. Armenian and Azerbaijani officials made no statements to that effect.