Azerbaijani troops reportedly shelled a town and a village in northern Nagorno-Karabakh on the night from Monday to Tuesday in a fresh upsurge of truce violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around the territory.
The warring sides accused each other of resorting to the most serious violations since a Russian-brokered agreement stopped heavy fighting between them on April 5.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army said Azerbaijani forces fired more than 120 mortar and howitzer shells, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades overnight. It said two of its soldiers, Tigran Poghosian and Aram Arushanian, were killed as a result.
In a statement, the army said Azerbaijani artillery fire targeted not only Karabakh Armenian military positions but also residential areas in the northeastern Karabakh town of Martakert and the nearby village of Mataghis. It said its forces retaliated with “targeted strikes” on Azerbaijani positions that “caused a considerable loss of enemy personnel and military hardware.”
A senior official from the Martakert municipality, Sasun Harutiunian, confirmed the shelling, saying that it was “even more intensive” than during the April 2-5 hostilities. “There is a lot of devastation but, thank God, no casualties,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone.
Harutiunian said the shelling ended later in the morning. “There is no panic in the town. People are going about their business,” he said.
According to Gegham Aghajanian, the Mataghis school principal, around two dozen shells were fired towards the village located just a few kilometers from “the line of contact.” He too reported no casualties among local residents. “The shells mainly damaged electricity lines,” he said.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, for its part, accused the Armenian side of opening fire on its frontline troops and nearby Azerbaijani settlements from heavy artillery, tanks and multiple-launch rocket systems. A ministry statement said the heavy fire struck Terter, an Azerbaijani town just northeast of Karabakh, and the nearby village of Gapanli.
The ministry spokesman, Vagif Dargyakhli, told the APA news agency that 20 houses in Terter were damaged by Armenian artillery fire. Nobody was killed or wounded there, he said.
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov visited Terter later in the day. According to APA, he assured local residents that “the Armenians will answer for their crimes.”
The heavy exchange of artillery fire came hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents to discuss the situation in the conflict zone. Kerry already met the two leaders in Washington just days before Azerbaijan launched a military offensive in Karabakh on April 2.