After weeks of strong denial of Azerbaijani combat casualties in the latest escalation of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijani military said on Monday that three of its soldiers have been killed by Armenian forces.
Azerbaijani news agencies cited the Defense Ministry in Baku as saying that they died while repelling an Armenian commando attack. The ministry did not specify when and where the incident took place. Nor did it identify any of the three servicemen, saying only that they were posthumously awarded medals by Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov.
The victims’ names -- Elshan Efendiyev, Sanan Isayev and Vugar Gasimov -- were publicized instead by Azerbaijani media outlets citing information from online social networks. According to Haqqin.az, two other Azerbaijani soldiers, including an army captain, were wounded in the same incident. The pro-government publication said it occurred in the western Kedabek district bordering Armenia’s Gegharkunik and Tavush provinces.
“We do not hide that we carried out preventive operations,” the Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, said in reference to the Azerbaijani reports. Hovannisian claimed that at least 15 Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed at this and other sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border since Friday’s death of two Armenian soldiers.
The latter died in what the Armenian military called an Azerbaijani attack on their border post in Tavush. The military said on Saturday that an Azerbaijani commando unit was “almost fully liquidated” in that area. For its part, Karabakh’s Armenian-backed armed forces claimed to have killed at least 14 Azerbaijani troops last week in retaliatory strikes along “the line of contact” east and north of Karabakh.
The ceasefire violations incidents were part of a fresh escalation of tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone observed in recent weeks. Ten Armenian soldiers have been killed on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier and the Karabakh frontline so far this month. The Azerbaijani side reported no combat casualties until Monday, denying figures cited by the Armenians.
“They have confirmed the three casualties probably because they simply had no choice,” Davit Babayan, a senior Karabakh Armenian official, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Echoing statements by Armenian officials, Babayan accused Baku of deliberately hiding its combat casualties to avoid a domestic backlash.
The military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert cite a September 2014 decree by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev which tightened government control over information coming from the frontlines.
According to the APA news agency, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry insisted on Monday that “we are not concealing the truth from our people.” “Armenian media allegations about our numerous losses are absolutely false,” the ministry said, adding that the Armenians themselves are underreporting their casualties.
On Friday, the Azerbaijani news website Qafkazinfo.az reported 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 the soldier received full military honors, a fact which lead Armenian observers to claim that he was actually killed in action.