Azerbaijani forces have used a battle tank in fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh for the first time since a Russian-brokered truce stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in 1994, the Armenian military said on Wednesday.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army said an Azerbaijani tank fired live rounds on its frontline positions southeast of the disputed territory.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian condemned the reported incident as a further escalation of fighting along “the line of contact” in an emergency phone call with Andrzej Kasprzyk, the chief OSCE official monitoring the ceasefire regime in the Karabakh conflict.
Ohanian was quoted by his press office as saying that the Armenian side is responding by “forcibly restraining” the Azerbaijani army. He said international mediators acting under aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group should openly hold Baku responsible for the latest truce violations in order to help ease tensions on the Karabakh frontline and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
A senior Karabakh Armenian official, Davit Babayan, also condemned the alleged tank shelling. “There is no logical explanation for such actions because they don’t change the military balance in any way,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry did not respond to the Armenian claims as of Wednesday evening. In a statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies, it said its troops have carried out massive “mortar strikes” over the past day in response to “Armenia’s deliberate escalation of the situation.”
The Karabakh Defense Army said the Azerbaijani side fired more than 300 mortar shells and 27 rockets towards its frontline positions on the night from Tuesday to Wednesday. It also said that one of its soldiers, Garik Avanesian, was killed by an Azerbaijani sniper on Tuesday evening.
“The enemy’s destabilizing actions will not go unpunished, and the consequences of this situation will be severe and irreversible,” it added in a statement.
Fighting in the conflict zone appears have again escalated last week after several weeks of relative calm on the frontlines. Another Armenian soldier was shot dead in Karabakh on December 4 just hours after United States, Russia and France urged the conflicting parties “in the strongest possible terms” to observe the ceasefire. An Azerbaijani army officer was killed and two Azerbaijani soldiers wounded in the following days.
Karen Mirzoyan, the foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, discussed on Tuesday the latest upsurge in fighting with James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, during a visit to the United States. According to Mirzoyan’s office, the two men stressed the need for “steps to reduce the tensions on the Line of Contact.”
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are due to meet later this month for talks which Warlick and his fellow co-chairs from Russia and France hope will help to revive the peace process.