At least four more Azerbaijani soldiers were killed near Nagorno-Karabakh early on Saturday in what military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert described as fresh Azerbaijani incursions that also left one Armenian soldier dead.
Armenia warned Azerbaijan to de-escalate the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone or face a “further toughening of punitive measures” taken against the Azerbaijani army.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported earlier in the day that four of its soldiers were killed overnight while fighting back an attack by an Armenian “reconnaissance and sabotage group” at a frontline section northeast of Karabakh. “Having suffered losses, the enemy was forced to retreat,” it said in a statement.
All four victims identified by the ministry were contract soldiers or warrant officers, suggesting that they might have served in special Azerbaijani army units.
The Baku-based ANS Press news agency put the Azerbaijani combat death toll at 5. It said 8 other Azerbaijani soldiers were wounded in the latest fighting in Karabakh. It released pictures that showed ambulances transporting them to military helicopters that flew them to Baku for urgent treatment.
Predictably, the Karabakh Armenian army came up with a diametrically opposite version of events, saying that its forces successfully repelled fresh Azerbaijani commando attacks on their frontline positions north and east of Karabakh. “Spotting the advancement of the enemy’s special detachments in a timely manner, the frontline units of the Defense Army, inflicting human and material losses on the enemy, cast it back to the original positions,” it said in a statement.
The Karabakh army said one of its servicemen, the 25-year-old Zorik Gevorgian, was killed in the firefight. It dismissed Azerbaijani claims that the Armenian side suffered more casualties.
The Defense Army further claimed to have seized large amounts of weapons and ammunition left by Azerbaijani forces on the battlefield. It posted on its website photographs of grenade launchers, hand grenades, assault rifles, anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines as well as blood-stained pieces of fabric.
Fighting was also reported from the volatile western section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) reported from Armenia’s northeastern Tavush province bordering western Azerbaijan that the situation there remains tense, with Armenian army positions regularly coming under fire. He heard intensive gunfire near the local village of Berkaber on Saturday afternoon.
The latest fatalities come the day after 9 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in fierce fighting around Karabakh. Two Armenian conscripts were shot dead there on Thursday.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday blamed Azerbaijan for the intensifying ceasefire violations and said they are threatening to degenerate into an all-out Armenian-Azerbaijani war. A ministry statement urged Baku to “refrain from steps further escalating the situation” and to respect the ceasefire regime.
“In case of the continuation of Azerbaijani actions heightening existing tensions, the Armenian military will have to further toughen punitive measures against manifestations of reckless vengeance ordered by the leadership of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry,” warned the statement.