President Serzh Sarkisian lavished praise on Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army on Tuesday, awarding medals to more than 30 of its soldiers that were involved in this month’s fierce clashes with Azerbaijani troops.
“You have once again showed everyone who the Armenian soldier is,” Sarkisian told them during an award ceremony held at a military base in Karabakh.
“I said years ago that if we are forced to go to war then today’s soldiers and officers will fight no less courageously than their fathers, grandfathers and senior comrades did. You have proved that you are much more combat-ready, brave and tough.”
“In those difficult days, not a single Armenian soldier or officer left his position, everyone fought to the end,” he added in reference to heavy fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact” that broke out on April 2 and lasted for about four days.
According to the Karabakh Defense Army, 77 Armenian soldiers and volunteers died in the worst escalation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute since 1994. According to independent Azerbaijani sources, the Armenian side killed at least 92 Azerbaijani soldiers.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s office announced on Tuesday that a large number of Azerbaijani soldiers involved in the fighting have been awarded medals and orders, some of them carrying the title of “national hero.” But unlike the Armenian side, it did not identify the decorated servicemen or even disclose their number.
The shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia on April 5 is still largely holding despite continuing, mainly overnight exchanges of gunfire reported from “the line of contact.” The Karabakh army said that one of its soldiers, Gevorg Gevorgian, was shot dead on Tuesday morning at a frontline section southeast of Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said, meanwhile, that one of its officers, a lieutenant-colonel, was killed in the same or nearby area on Monday. According to Azerbaijan’s independent news service Meydan TV, two other Azerbaijani officers were wounded in the same incident reportedly caused by a land mine explosion.
In his speech, Sarkisian paid tribute to the fallen Armenian soldiers and accused the Azerbaijani army of committing war crimes. He also visited a military hospital in Stepanakert on the second day of his trip to Karabakh clearly connected with the April 2 escalation.
Sarkisian met with the Karabakh Armenian army top brass late on Monday. His press office gave no details of the meeting.