In one of its worst military setbacks since the 1991-1994 war for Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan reported the death of 8 Azerbaijani soldiers on Friday one day after being accused by Karabakh Armenian forces of launching yet another incursion.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said that they were killed “as a result of three-day fighting” at various sections of “the line of contact” around Karabakh. “Sabotage and reconnaissance groups of the Armenian army attempted to cross the Line of Contact along the entire frontline,” said a ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies. Those attempts ended in failure, it said.
The Azerbaijani media identified 9 soldiers killed by the Armenians since Thursday. The death of one of those soldiers was announced by the Defense Ministry in Baku on Thursday just hours after two Armenian servicemen were shot dead in what the military authorities in Stepanakert called a failed Azerbaijani commando raid on northern Karabakh. The Karabakh Defense Army said the enemy suffered “numerous casualties” and left large amounts of “special weapons and equipment” on the battlefield while being repelled by its troops.
The Armenian-backed army released on Friday photographs purportedly showing some of those weapons, including grenade launchers and radios. Voskanapat.info, a news website close to the Armenian military, claimed that at least 14 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and up to 30 others wounded in the last two days. It said the Karabakh army believes that five of them died during Thursday’s failed raid.
The publication cited an unnamed senior Karabakh officer as saying that the other Azerbaijanis lost their lives in an overnight Armenian ambush aimed at thwarting a fresh incursion.
Artsturn Hovannisian, the spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry, likewise claimed that the Azerbaijani army underreported its losses. He also insisted that Armenian forces did not attack Azerbaijani frontline positions in recent days.
“This is the result of their short-sighted actions and provocations,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “When they carried out sabotage attacks … they should have realized that they will pay the consequences.”
The Armenian side has repeatedly alleged an upsurge in Azerbaijani cross-border attacks this year. Baku denies this, blaming Yerevan for the increased ceasefire violations along on the Karabakh frontline as well as the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
The official Azerbaijani version of events was questioned by some pundits in Baku. “How come the attacking side [Armenians] suffered fewer casualties?” Uzeir Jafarov, a military analyst, told the ANS Press news agency. “The war rules are such that the attacker usually suffers more casualties.”
“It looks like our soldiers went on offensive but came under enemy crossfire,” wrote a commentator for Haqqin.az, a pro-government publication. “Even a person lacking elementary knowledge of the art of warfare knows that the attacking side suffers more losses than the opposite side.”
The Azerbaijani army acknowledged 13 combat casualties in the first half of 2014, compared with at least 11 soldiers reportedly killed by the Armenians in all of 2013. The official Armenian combat death toll also stood at 13 in the January-June 2014, up from 7 in 2013.
The latest fighting marked one of the most serious ceasefire violations since the Armenian-Azerbaijani war was stopped by a Russian-mediated truce in 1994. Not surprisingly, the United States was quick to express concern through its chief Karabakh negotiator, James Warlick.
“We are seriously concerned about the recent upsurge in violence along the Line Of Contact. The ceasefire needs to be respected,” Warlick wrote on his Twitter page.