Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian has ordered the Armenian military to launch “preventive” offensive operations in response to what the authorities in Yerevan say is the latest upsurge in Azerbaijani armed incursions, which reportedly left one Armenian civilian dead on Sunday.
“We must fight against [Azerbaijani] sabotage and reconnaissance actions, carry out training exercises for enhancing the combat readiness of all army detachments, punish the enemy during its sabotage and reconnaissance actions and, in some cases, attack without waiting for the enemy to act first,” he told senior military officials at a meeting in Yerevan on Monday.
Ohanian said that troops deployed along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan and the more militarized “line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh must be constantly prepared for “punitive” or “preventive” measures. To that end, he said, the commanders of army battalions and even companies must now be allowed to take such action on their own.
“I am calling on everyone to give the commanders that freedom,” he added.
The extraordinary order was issued one day after what Armenia’s Defense Ministry called an Azerbaijani commando raid on the northern Tavush province. In a statement, the ministry said that an 80-year-resident of a local Armenian village, Hrant Sargsian, was shot dead as Armenian troops stationed nearby repelled the cross-border attack.
The Baghanis village mayor, Narek Sahakian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) the elderly man accidentally came across the retreating Azerbaijani soldiers as he grazed sheep in the border area. “They killed him,” said Sahakian.
The ministry claimed that one Azerbaijani soldier was also killed in the incident. Its spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, said on Monday that the Armenian military promptly allowed Azerbaijani troops to recover the soldier’s body from no-man’s land separating the two warring sides.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army, meanwhile, claimed that its forces took “preventive measures” later on Sunday to thwart similar raids which it said were attempted by the Azerbaijani army at two sections of “the line of contact.” No Karabakh Armenian soldiers were killed or wounded in the firefights, it said.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry strongly denied the reported incidents. It insisted that its troops did not kill the Armenian villager or suffer any casualties on Sunday. “Our armed forces are in full control of the situation along the entire frontline,” it said.
The ministry earlier denied similar Azerbaijan attacks which were alleged by the Armenian side in the past week. Two Armenian soldiers were shot dead in one such incident reported on January 3.
That tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone have increased since then was acknowledged by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on Monday. However, the ministry blamed “Armenia’s systematic provocative actions” for the escalation, according to the APA news agency.
The military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert already reported a drastic increase in Azerbaijani incursions throughout last year. They say this is the main reason why combat casualties suffered by both sides rose sharply in 2014.
Tension on the frontlines ran particularly high in early August. At least 14 Azerbaijani and 5 Armenian soldiers were killed in that upsurge of violence, which led Russian President Vladimir Putin to host an emergency summit of his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts. Armenian-Azerbaijani truce violations decreased markedly in the following weeks. But they intensified again following the November 12 shooting down by Azerbaijani forces of an Armenian combat helicopter near Karabakh.