An Azerbaijani soldier was reportedly killed on Thursday in fresh ceasefire violations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone that followed last week’s downing of an Armenian combat helicopter.
The Defense Ministry in Baku said the 19-year-old conscript, Rustam Azizov, was shot dead by Armenian forces while on frontline duty. It did not specify whether the “shootout with the enemy” took place on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border or “the line of contact” around Karabakh.
The conflicting parties suffer the vast majority of their combat casualties on the heavily militarized Karabakh frontline. Both sides say that truce violations there have intensified since Azerbaijani forces shot down the Armenian Mi-24 helicopter on November 12. With the Armenian side pledging retaliation, the incident heightened fears of a renewed war.
Later on Thursday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry rejected international mediators’ calls for Baku to allow the Armenian military to recover the bodies of the helicopter’s three crew members from its wreckage lying in the no man’s land east of Karabakh. The ministry protested against the use of the phrase “humanitarian access” in a statement that was issued by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on Wednesday.
“Wordings like ‘cease firing in that territory’ and ‘demine the area surrounding the site’ are baseless and serve the interests of the Armenian side,” read a ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies. “That will become possible only in one case: if the armed forces of Armenia are fully and unconditionally withdrawn from the occupied territories.”
Another senior Azerbaijani official, deputy parliament speaker Ziyafet Askerov, described the co-chairs’ appeal as “provocative” and “illogical.”
In Yerevan, meanwhile, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian did not rule out the possibility of Armenian military action to gain access to the helicopter’s wreckage reportedly located less than 200 meters from Azerbaijani army positions. He stressed at same the time that the Armenian side still hopes to “solve the issue through diplomatic means.”
“There are also other options. But for now we are concentrating on a diplomatic solution,” Ohanian told reporters.