Two Armenian and one Azerbaijani civilians were reportedly wounded on the night from Wednesday to Thursday in apparently intense exchanges of gunfire between rival troops deployed along the western section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Ceasefire violations in the area intensified dramatically earlier this week amid reports that Armenian forces shot dead an Azerbaijani soldier. A 40-year-old Armenian serviceman, Hayk Devoyan, was also killed there as the fighting escalated further on Wednesday night.
The Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, spoke of “unprecedented” tensions along the border section separating Armenia’s northern Tavush province and the Gazakh and Tovuz districts in western Azerbaijan. Hovannisian said that around 20 Armenian villages close to the heavily militarized frontier came under Azerbaijani fire overnight. “The enemy was silenced by our retaliatory fire,” he said.
Two residents of one of those villages, Koti -- a 43-year-old woman and her 23-year-old son -- were hospitalized after being wounded by cross-border fire. The village mayor, Felix Melikian, suggested that they were hit by a mortar shell. Hovannisian likewise claimed that the Azerbaijani forces fired on the Armenian villages from not only automatic weapons but also mortars.
The mayor of another Armenian village, Baghanis, posted on his Facebook page photographs of several local houses damaged by gunfire.
Azerbaijani news agencies reported, meanwhile, that a 63-year-old resident of a village in Tovuz, Alibeyli, was rushed to a local hospital with gunshot wounds sustained late on Wednesday. They said that “intensive” shooting from Armenian army positions also set fire to two village houses.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, for its part, alleged 174 instances of truce violation by Armenian forces over the past 24 hours. It said its troops carried out 236 “strikes” on enemy positions in response.
Andrzej Kasprzyk, the top official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring the ceasefire regime in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, was reported to express concern at the escalation when he met with Armenia’ First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan in Yerevan on Wednesday evening. Kasprzyk met with Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, in Stepanakert on Thursday.
Tensions along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh have also risen in recent weeks after a relative calm observed from April-July.
The latest escalation comes ahead of fresh talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers that are due to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York later this month. The talks will be part of broader efforts by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to arrange a meeting of Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s presidents. The mediators hope that the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit will break the current impasse in the Karabakh peace process.