The Azerbaijani military said on Thursday that one of its officers has been shot dead at a section of the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline where an Armenian soldier was killed earlier this week in what the Armenian side insists was a failed Azerbaijani commando raid.
The Defense Ministry in Baku reported the casualty following what both parties to the Karabakh conflict have described as an upsurge in ceasefire violations on “the line of contact” around Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry said Armenian frontline positions as well as several border villages in the northeastern Tavush province came under unusually intense fire from Azerbaijani positions overnight. It claimed to have registered around 300 instances of shooting, ten times their usual number. No casualties were reported.
The mayor of one of those villages, Movses, said the shooting damaged a local gas pipeline, causing a brief fire. Ararat Avalian denied media reports that some village residents were evacuated at night. “It’s not that people are not worried … but there is no panic,” Avalian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone.
Nagorno-Karabakh -- An Armenian soldier on frontline duty in northeastern Karabakh, 20Jul2012
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian commented on the situation at a weekly session of Armenia’s government. “We do not respond to sporadic gunfire,” he said. “We only respond to targeted and sniper fire.”
Ohanian assured fellow cabinet members that “the situation is under control.” “Our frontline troops accomplish their task with vigilance, and our people must have no concerns,” he said.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry also reported intense skirmishes around Karabakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier. It said Armenian troops shot at its forces for 138 times over the past 24 hours.
According to Azerbaijani news agencies, the ministry also said that an Azerbaijani army captain, Elnur Jafarov, was killed by sniper fire from Armenian positions near a village in northeastern Karabakh.
An Armenian soldier serving there, Armen Hovannisian, was shot dead early on Monday during what the military authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan say was an incursion by Azerbaijani special forces. They say that the attackers suffered casualties, a claim denied by the Azerbaijani side. The latter also denies having attacked the Karabakh Armenian outpost.
Armenian military officials may now claim that Jafarov was in fact killed in the alleged commando raid. They have already accused Baku of hiding its combat casualties.
The Azerbaijani army said on Tuesday that four of its soldiers were seriously injured in non-combat incidents “in the frontline zone.” It announced the following day that another Azerbaijani soldier died of heart failure.
Azerbaijan - President Ilham Aliyev (R) awards soldiers serving in Geranboy district, 21Jan2012.
Armenia’s Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan insisted earlier on Thursday that Azerbaijani troops left behind weapons and ammunition after being repelled by a small Karabakh army unit. Tonoyan said the Armenian side is ready to share their “samples” with international mediators.
The latest incidents come ahead of fresh Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks planned by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The latter are scheduled to meet with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Paris on Friday.
Official Yerevan insisted on Thursday that Baku deliberately escalated tensions to undermine the Karabakh peace process. “Azerbaijan constantly moans about the status quo but is doing everything to maintain it,” Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian told journalists.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry brushed aside such allegations on Wednesday.