The two-decade-long ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh has essentially come to an end, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday, pointing to increasingly serious skirmishes in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict zone.
“We don’t have a peace there. What we have is relative calm,” the ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, told reporters.
“This is a war, and I would ask you to use the term ‘war’ and not to use the phrase ‘ceasefire violation’ because, in effect, we don’t have a ceasefire anymore,” he said.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries have suffered this year the largest number of casualties since a Russian-brokered truce stopped their full-scale war for Karabakh in 1994. Exchanges of mortar fire on their main frontline around the disputed territory appear to have been a daily occurrence in recent months.
Fighting there intensified further on the eve of last Saturday’s meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents held in Bern, Switzerland. About a dozen soldiers from both sides have died over the past week. According to the Armenian military, the Azerbaijani side has started using tanks and howitzers for the first time since 1994.
Hovannisian described the Azerbaijani recourse to increasingly heavy artillery as a “desperate step” resulting from Baku’s failure to gain a strategic advantage over the Armenian side. “Why have they switched to tank and howitzer fire?” he said. “Because during previous incidents they killed one or two Armenian soldiers but got a tougher response. We didn’t let them do more. They failed to reach their overall objective.”
Hovannisian spoke after Karabakh’s Defense Army reported a sharp drop in the intensity of small arms and mortar fire from Azerbaijani army positions on the night from Monday to Tuesday. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed, by contrast, that Armenian truce violations intensified overnight. Neither side reported fresh casualties.