Armenia warned Azerbaijan of “severe consequences” on Monday after two Armenian soldiers were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh in what appears to be a renewed upsurge in fighting in the conflict zone.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army said that the servicemen, Artak Aghekian and Hayk Baroyan, were shot dead on Saturday in an Azerbaijani armed incursion in northeastern Karabakh. It reported no other details of the incident.
According to the Yerkir.am, a car carrying Aghekian, Baroyan and three other soldiers was ambushed by Azerbaijani special forces on “the line of contact” around the disputed territory. The news website said Aghekian had the military rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, Artsrun Hovannisian, said that the Karabakh Armenian army afterwards took “punitive” measures that left at least three Azerbaijani soldiers dead. Hovannisian identified one of them as Mehdi Mirzayev.
While alleging Armenian ceasefire violations, the Azerbaijani military has reported no combat casualties in recent days. It said on Monday one of its soldiers, Vijay Parvanayev, has died of “acute heart and lung failure” at his unit stationed in the western Azerbaijani city of Gyanja.
An independent Azerbaijani TV station Meydan reported another soldier death later in the day. Citing an unnamed Azerbaijani military source, it said that Razi Huseynov was shot and killed, allegedly by a fellow conscript, in the Gazakh district bordering Armenia’s northern Tavush province. The Defense Ministry in Baku did not immediately confirm that report.
The military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert claim that the Azerbaijani side has been grossly underreporting its combat casualties to avoid a domestic backlash against what they call a deliberate escalation of fighting along “the line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
According to Hovannisian, official Yerevan has told international mediators that Baku will be responsible for possible “severe consequences” of the latest escalation. “The Azerbaijani side has again resorted to provocations,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Truce violations in the conflict zone, blamed by the warring sides on each other, rose sharply in January, leading Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to threaten “asymmetric” retaliatory strikes against Azerbaijani military targets. The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group seemed to hold Baku primarily responsible for that upsurge in a joint statement issued later in January.
The mediators urged the conflicting parties to “strictly adhere to the ceasefire” after visiting Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan from February 16-19. A February 20 statement by them said Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev “agreed to consider proposals from the Co-Chairs that could strengthen the ceasefire.” It did not elaborate.
Tensions on the frontlines reportedly eased in the following days only to reignite on February 28.