Three Armenian soldiers and one Azerbaijani army officer have been shot dead in separate incidents reported by the military authorities in Yerevan and Baku on Friday.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said the soldiers were fatally wounded when a car carrying them came under fire near a western section of Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan in the early hours of Friday. It said the car belonging to one of them was found riddled with bullets on a road connecting two border villages in the northeastern Tavush region.
Andranik Aydinian, the mayor of one of those villages, Aygepar, said he heard gunfire coming from Azerbaijani army positions in the area shortly after midnight. “The Azerbaijani positions are close to the road,” he said by phone.
Aydinian cut short the phone interview, alleging renewed Azerbaijani gunfire and saying that he needs to tell villagers to take cover.
In a statement, the Defense Ministry did not say whether it thinks the three servicemen were shot and killed by Azerbaijani troops. It said only that military investigators have launched an inquiry.
But President Serzh Sarkisian did implicitly blame Azerbaijan for the deaths and pledge retaliation later in the day. “Our territory continues to be shot at from Azerbaijani positions these days,” Sarkisian said during an election campaign trip to another northern province, Lori.
“You are aware of the latest incidents,” he told local residents. “First a kindergarten [in Tavush] came under fire, then an ambulance, and last night we lost three contracted soldiers in Tavush.”
“I don’t think anyone in our country doubts the inevitability of our appropriate reaction,” he said. “I don’t think anyone doubts the power of our defense forces.”
Sarkisian seemed to accuse Azerbaijan of trying to capitalize on the parliamentary election campaign going on in Armenia. “Let nobody think that they can take advantage of processes taking place in our country and that it’s election time here and we are distracted by it.”
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, reported that an Azerbaijani army lieutenant was killed by Armenian forces deployed east of Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday. Azerbaijani news agencies cited the ministry as saying that the 24-year-old Vagif Abdullayev died as a result of an Armenian ceasefire violation.
There was no immediate reaction to the report from the military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army on Thursday accused the Azerbaijani armed forces of intensifying truce violations in recent days. It said two Karabakh Armenian soldiers were wounded on Tuesday.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group expressed serious concern over the latest shootings. “Such senseless acts violate the commitment of the parties to refrain from the use of force and to seek a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and contradict the spirit of the January 23, 2012, joint statement of Presidents [Ilham] Aliyev, Sarkisian, and [Dmitry] Medvedev,” they said in a joint statement.
“The Co-Chairs strongly condemn any loss of life, and reiterate that there is no alternative to a peacefully negotiated settlement of the conflict. The Co-Chairs urge all sides to respect the 1994 ceasefire and to abstain from retaliatory measures that would lead to further escalation,” added the mediators.