Two Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers and one Armenian civilian have been killed in fresh ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh reported over the past day.
Vanik Ghukasian, a 60-year resident of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, was shot dead late on Thursday after his border village in Armenia’s northern Tavush province came under fire from nearby Azerbaijani army positions. Many local residents reportedly spent the night in their basements.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said Azerbaijani forces also opened “intensive” fire overnight on virtually all other Tavush villages close to the Azerbaijani border. Artsrun Hovannisian, the ministry spokesman, said on Friday that the Armenian troops stationed in the area shot back.
“If we don’t respond to every Azerbaijani ceasefire violation then we will start suffering defeats,” Hovannisian told a news conference in Yerevan. “But unlike them, we are not at war with civilians. We know our enemy well: it’s the [Azerbaijani] soldier in the trenches.”
News reports from Baku spoke of heavy Armenian gunfire targeting Alibeyli, an Azerbaijani village located just several kilometers northeast of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur. The APA news agency said a 32-year-old Azerbaijani woman living there was wounded in the arm and hospitalized. It quoted the village mayor as saying that dozens of Alibeyli houses were damaged by the cross-border gunshots.
An 80-year-year-old Armenian shepherd from another Tavush village was shot and killed late last month amid the latest upsurge in violence in the Karabakh conflict zone, which has prompted serious concern from international mediating powers.
Earlier on Thursday Karabakh’s Armenian backed army said that one of its soldiers was killed by Azerbaijani forces deployed east of the disputed territory. According to the Defense Ministry in Baku, an Azerbaijani serviceman died in a “shootout with the enemy” at around the same time. The ministry did not specify the site of his death.
Davit Babayan, a senior official in Stepanakert, said on Friday that Karabakh Armenian forces launched a retaliatory operation immediately after their latest combat casualty. “We have taken different types of punitive actions,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The enemy has suffered many casualties but they won’t admit that.”
Karabakh’s Defense Ministry claimed to have destroyed two Azerbaijani army posts in “punitive” raids carried out on Saturday. The Azerbaijani military denied those claims. But it did admit that one Azerbaijani soldier died in action on that day.
The conflicting parties have accused each other of heightening tensions on the frontlines since the beginning of January. Armenian leaders claim that Baku is thus trying to clinch more Armenian concessions in peace talks mediated by the United States, Russia and France. President Serzh Sarkisian warned on January 26 that the Armenian side could step up retaliatory strikes against Azerbaijani forces to prevent fresh truce violations.
The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group appeared to have held Azerbaijan primarily responsible for the latest escalation when they met with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Poland the following the day. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, they urged Baku to “observe its commitments to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”
The mediators held talks with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian in Munich on Thursday. James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair, tweeted afterwards that the diplomats welcome Nalbandian’s “commitment to reducing tensions.”
Later on Friday, the co-chairs issued another joint statement saying that they discussed with Nalbandian “proposed measures to reduce the likelihood” of truce violations. They did not disclose those proposals.
“The violence and tensions between the sides underscore the necessity of starting comprehensive negotiations as soon as possible to reach a lasting settlement,” they said. “We urged the Minister to show more flexibility so such negotiations can begin.”
The mediating troika also called on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to hold fresh face-to-face talks “at the earliest opportunity.”
In a statement on the Munich meeting, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian accused the Azerbaijani leadership of continuing to escalate the situation with its “adventurist policy and provocative actions.” Baku was quick to rebut the claims as “demagogic.”