Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian has toured “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh as part of what military authorities in Stepanakert described on Tuesday as Armenian efforts to neutralize increased ceasefire violations by Azerbaijani troops.
The Karabakh Defense Army reported the trip in a statement posted on its website. It said that Ohanian as well as the army commander, General Movses Hakobian, on Sunday inspected Armenian positions at various sections of the frontline and assessed an ongoing reinforcement of their defense fortifications.
“In connection with the enemy’s recent attempts to become more active, the defense ministers gave methodical instructions and set corresponding tasks for military personnel,” the statement added without elaborating.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry issued no statements on Ohanian’s trip.
Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides have reported this year an upsurge in ceasefire violations along “the line of contact” as well as the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Each party blames the other for these incidents. In particular, the closely integrated Armenian and Karabakh militaries have accused Azerbaijani forces of dramatically increasing cross-border commando raids.
As recently as on Saturday, an Armenian soldier serving in northern Karabakh, Khachatur Badasian, was shot dead a result one of such reported incursion.
According to Razm.info, a Yerevan-based defense news website closely monitoring official casualty data, 13 other Armenian soldiers were killed in action in the first half of this year. The Armenian combat death toll stood at only 7 in the entire year 2013.
The Azerbaijani APA news agency reported earlier this month that the Azerbaijani army suffered 13 combat casualties in the first half of 2014, compared with at least 11 soldiers reportedly killed by the Armenians in 2013.
Hakobian stated in May that he has ordered his forces to respond to Azerbaijani ceasefire violations with not only sniper fire but also offensive retaliatory operations.
The escalating fighting on the frontlines is prompting growing concern from international mediators trying to broker a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In a joint statement issued last week, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group urged the conflicting parties to “defuse tensions and adhere to the terms of the ceasefire.” They also said they are continuing to explore “possible security confidence building measures.”
The mediators have previously proposed that both sides withdraw snipers from their frontline positions. The idea was accepted by the Armenian side but effectively rejected by Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev strongly criticized the mediating powers late last month, saying that are keen to prevent another Armenian-Azerbaijani war, rather than “restore justice.” “Unfortunately, the mediators dealing with this issue, the OSCE Minsk Group, are doing more to step up confidence-building measures than to resolve the conflict peacefully,” Aliyev said during an Azerbaijani military exercise.