One Armenian and two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed near Nagorno-Karabakh early on Wednesday in fresh overnight fighting which the conflicting parties blamed on each other.
Citing the Defense Ministry in Baku, Azerbaijani news agencies said Captain Fikret Mammadov and Warrant Officer Khudaverdi Abilov died while repelling an Armenian commando raid on an Azerbaijani army outpost southeast of Karabakh. Another Azerbaijani soldier was reportedly wounded at the same section of “the line of contact” on Tuesday.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army said that Azerbaijani troops themselves attacked its frontline positions in the area close to Iran. It said one of its soldiers, Corporal Erik Gasparian, was shot dead as a result.
The deadly incident was reported three days after the fatal shooting of Karabakh Armenian Lieutenant Colonel Garik Balayan in the same area. General Movses Hakobian, the commander of the Karabakh Defense Army, pledged to avenge the officer’s killing afterwards.
“Rest assured that the Defense Army will not leave the enemy unpunished,” Hakobian told Armenia’s GALA television on Tuesday. “Just wait a little, follow enemy reports. You’ll learn from Azerbaijani media reports.”
Hakobian also reiterated his recent statement that he ordered Karabakh Armenian forces last month to respond to Azerbaijani truce violations with offensive retaliatory operations. The general made that statement on May 13 following increased skirmishes along the frontline passing through the Fizuli district southeast of Karabakh.
Most of the Azerbaijani district bordering Iran has been controlled by the Karabakh Armenians since 1993. Until last April, deadly fighting there was generally less frequent than at other frontline sections.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators trying to broker a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict deplored continuing ceasefire breaches as they wrapped up their latest tour of the conflict zone on May 19. “The absence of a mechanism for investigating these ceasefire violations allows the sides to put the blame on each other,” they said in a joint statement.
The mediators have also proposed in the past that both sides withdraw snipers from their frontline positions in order to bolster the ceasefire. The idea was accepted by the Armenian side but effectively rejected by Azerbaijan.
“We keep hearing from the mediating countries about confidence-building measures,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a speech on Tuesday. “The best confidence-building measure is the withdrawal of the Armenian occupation forces from Azerbaijani lands. There can be no other confidence-building measure.”
“As long as our lands remain under occupation the war cannot be deemed finished,” added Aliyev. “I have repeatedly said that the war is continuing.”
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed later on Wednesday that its troops are holding “regular exercises” near unspecified parts of the Karabakh “line of contact.” It said Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov is personally leading the drills.