The United States has criticized Armenia and Azerbaijan for the latest upsurge of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, saying that they both have used heavier weapons to shell each other’s villages along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
“We have received credible reports that Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have used mortars and other heavy weapons along the international border, resulting in civilian casualties and damage to villages,” John Kirby, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said in a statement released late on Thursday.
“We are deeply troubled by the escalation and condemn any military action that targets civilians,” he said. “We call for an immediate end to such violence, for the de-escalation of tensions, and, in the strongest possible terms, for the avoidance of civilian casualties.”
The statement referred to last week’s intensification of ceasefire violations that were mainly reported from the western section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Villages on both sides of the frontier were directly hit in mostly overnight skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops stationed in the area.
Several civilians were wounded as a result. The truce violations, which appear to have decreased since last Saturday, also caused serious damage to dozens of village houses.
The fighting also left several Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers dead and wounded. Azerbaijani new websites reported on Friday that another Azerbaijani soldier has been killed at the tense border section. The 18-year-old conscript, Balaahmed Rustamov, was reportedly shot dead in the Gazakh district in western Azerbaijan bordering Armenia’s northern Tavush province.
Each conflicting party has blamed the other for the escalation, which followed a relative calm that was observed on the border and the more militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh from April through the end of June.
Like many Armenian observers, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Thursday linked that lull with last June’s European Games in Baku, saying that the Azerbaijani leadership did not want to put them at risk. “The situation changed drastically immediately after the games, when Azerbaijan opted for a sharp rise in ceasefire violations,” he said, speaking at the British think-tank Chatham House during a visit to London.
Nalbandian also reaffirmed Armenia’s support for the idea of international inquiries into truce violations advanced by the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group. The Azerbaijani government has previously rejected the idea.
The renewed tensions on the frontlines come ahead of Nalbandian’s talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov expected on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month. The mediators hope that the talks will pave the way for a fresh meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents.
“We also remind the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan of their commitment to reach a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict working closely with the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group,” the State Department’s Kirby said on Thursday.