Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on Monday accused each other of firing mortar shells and claimed to have killed several enemy soldiers in the latest truce violations along “the line of contact” east of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed military said it took “retaliatory actions” at the weekend after its frontline troops came under mortar fire from Azerbaijani army positions. Citing unspecified “reliable sources,” it claimed to have killed at least four Azerbaijani soldiers and wounded 15 others. A statement by the Defense Army did not specify the type of weapons used by its soldiers in “the exchange of fire.”
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said its troops hit back strongly after the Armenians violated the truce with live rounds fired from heavy machine guns and 60-milimeter and 80-milimeter mortars. A ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies claimed that five Armenian soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in the “massive artillery strike.”
The statement also said that the Azerbaijani side suffered no casualties and that three of its soldiers were only lightly injured in the fighting.
Officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan denied any Armenian casualties. “The Azerbaijani side always disseminates such false information and we are not sure what they try to achieve,” said Davit Babayan, a senior Karabakh official. “They thereby do not minimize the actual number of their casualties or gain any advantage.”
The Azerbaijani government strictly limited the spread of information about Azerbaijan’s combat deaths in September 2014 following a serious upsurge in ceasefire violations in the Karabakh conflict zone. It has rarely reported or confirmed such deaths since then.
The conflicting parties reported few deadly truce violations along “the line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border from April through June 2015. Observers in Armenia attributed that relative calm to the European Games in Baku. They suggested that Azerbaijan de-escalated the situation in order to ensure that deadly fighting does not scare away foreign athletes participating in the games.
Both sides have reported more frequent armed incidents since the beginning of July. The U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group expressed concern at rising tensions in the conflict zone when they visited Yerevan and Baku in late July. They said they urged the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents to “avoid a deadly escalation of violence and take all measures to adhere strictly to the ceasefire.”