A senior U.S. diplomat has expressed serious concern over the latest deadly ceasefire violation in Nagorno-Karabakh which the Armenian side says resulted from Azerbaijani commando raids on its frontline positions around the disputed territory.
“Violence and tensions along the Line of Contact undermine efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement. Regret today's death,” James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, wrote on his Twitter account on Monday evening.
Warlick referred to the fatal overnight shooting of an Armenian soldier, Sergeant Armen Hovannisian, in what the Armenian military says was an Azerbaijani incursion at a northeastern section of the “line of contact” around Karabakh. According to Karabakh’s Defense Army, another “sabotage group” attacked Armenian positions southeast of the territory.
The military authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan have portrayed the alleged Azerbaijani military operations as a failure, saying that the enemy did not manage to cross the frontline and retreated in disarray, apparently suffering casualties.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian commented on the skirmish that left Sergeant Hovannisian dead as he visited a Yerevan high school on Tuesday. “A 9-strong ordinary [Karabakh Armenian] unit holding the position repelled two groups of special Azerbaijani forces numbering around 30 soldiers,” he said. “Isn’t this heroism?”
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied on Monday any incursions by its forces. Accordingly, it claimed to have suffered no casualties in or around Karabakh.
Citing the ministry, Azerbaijani news agencies said that one Azerbaijani soldier was hospitalized after accidentally shooting himself in the leg, while three others were seriously injured in a car accident. Both incidents took place in “the frontline zone,” they said.
The latest truce violation came just days before fresh talks planned in Paris between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Warlick and fellow mediators from Russia and France. They are expected to try to build on progress reportedly made at an Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in November.
President Serzh Sarkisian discussed on Tuesday the deadly fighting in Karabakh with Philippe Lefort, the European Union’s outgoing special representative to the South Caucasus. Sarkisian was quoted by his press office as calling it a “serious obstacle to further progress in the negotiation process.”
Nevertheless, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced later in the day that the Paris talks will go ahead as planned on Friday.