The Armenian military suffered two more casualties and claimed to have killed at least three Azerbaijani soldiers early on Friday in what appears to be a further escalation of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
The upsurge in truce violations prompted serious concern from James Warlick, the chief U.S. negotiator in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. In a Twitter post, Warlick urged the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “stop the violence along the Line of Contact and commit to negotiations.”
Armenia’s Defense Ministry said the two soldiers, Lieutenant Karen Galstian and Private Artak Sargsian, were shot dead and another serviceman, Hovannes Avanesian, seriously wounded in an Azerbaijani attack on its positions in the northern Tavush province bordering western Azerbaijan. It said that Azerbaijani forces failed to seize any of those outposts and were forced to retreat.
The Azerbaijani military denied launching any commando raids in that area, saying that the Armenian forces deployed there themselves attempted a cross-border attack.
The killed soldiers manned an Armenian army post near the border village of Movses. “The post is operating,” said Ararat Avalian, the village mayor. “I’ve just visited it.”
“There is tension in our villagers’ minds but our school and kindergarten keep functioning,” Avalian told RFE/RL/Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone.
Deadly fighting was also reported from the more militarized “line of contact” around Karabakh. The Karabakh Armenian army said its forces killed three Azerbaijani soldiers and suffered no casualties as they thwarted overnight commando raids on its frontline positions east of the disputed territory.
Artsrun Hovannisian, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Yerevan, claimed that three more Azerbaijani servicemen were shot dead near Karabakh later on Friday.
The latest ceasefire violations raised to 10 the total number of Armenian soldiers reportedly killed on the Azerbaijani border and the Karabakh frontline so far this month. By contrast, Azerbaijani Defense Ministry has reported no combat casualties in January, fuelling Armenian suggestions that Baku is hiding its losses to avoid a domestic backlash against its apparent policy of escalation.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Hovannisian cited a September 2014 decree by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev which tightened government control over information coming from the frontlines. The decree followed an August upsurge in fighting around Karabakh, which left at least 15 Azerbaijani soldiers dead. A Baku-based non-governmental organization monitoring army deaths, Doktrina, reportedly stopped issuing its regular reports at around the same time.
The Azerbaijani news website Qafkazinfo.az reported on Friday on the funeral of an Azerbaijani contract soldier who ostensibly shot and killed himself by accident. Photographs of the funeral attended by senior military officers show that Nizami Babashov received full military honors.
“The Armenian side’s actions will now be more merciless and it will not be possible to hide their consequences with any restrictions,” Hovannisian, the Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, wrote on Facebook.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian already ordered the Armenian military last week to step up “preventive” offensive operations in response to Azerbaijani attacks.