Fighting along “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh reportedly continued unabated after Saturday’s Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Switzerland which international mediators hoped will deescalate the Karabakh conflict.
Karabakh’s Defense Army said on Monday that Azerbaijani forces fired on its frontline positions from not only mortars and rocket systems but also tanks and 122-milimeter howitzers over the weekend. It said its troops suffered no fresh casualties and responded with unspecified “punitive actions.”
According to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, one Azerbaijani soldier was killed on Saturday. The ministry alleged 88 instances of Armenian ceasefire violations on the following night involving mortars and heavy machine guns. It said the Azerbaijani army carried out 97 “strikes” in response.
Fighting in the conflict zone intensified several days before Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev met in Switzerland’s capital Bern for the first time in over a year. At least 5 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed from December 13-19 alone.
The Armenian military has suffered 7 combat deaths so far this month. The Armenian parliament observed on Monday a minute of silence in memory of those soldiers.
“If things continue like this, then punitive and coercive actions by the Defense Army will become tougher,” Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told Karabakh television after inspecting Armenian frontline positions at the weekend. He said Karabakh Armenian forces are already taking “preemptive measures” against the enemy.
“I can see that the Defense Army personnel are in a combative mood today in order to show the opposite side that punishment will be inevitable if they don’t behave themselves,” said Ohanian. “Our people can rest assured that the situation is under control.”
Both Ohanian and Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), reiterated Yerevan’s claims that Baku deliberately heightened tensions in a bid to clinch more Armenian concessions at the Bern summit.
“I think that the [U.S., Russian and French] co-chairs of the Minsk Group must state that Azerbaijan is rejecting the negotiation process and the agreements which they announced after the Bern meeting,” Sharmazanov told reporters.
For his part, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that the Armenians are taking “provocative actions” on the frontlines in order to keep the Karabakh conflict unresolved. Still, Mammadyarov described the latest Aliyev-Sarkisian talks as “positive.”
In a joint statement released after the summit, the U.S., Russian and French mediators did not report major progress towards the conflict’s resolution. They said only that Aliyev and Sarkisian backed their “ongoing work on proposals regarding measures to reduce the risk of violence along the Line of Contact.”
Those proposals include a mechanism for third-party investigations of ceasefire violations that would be conducted by OSCE representatives. The idea has been backed by the Armenian side but rejected by Baku until now.
Mammadyarov insisted on Monday that Armenia wants to use such investigations to “reinforce the occupation of Azerbaijani lands and maintain the status quo.” “The mechanism for investigating armed incidents must be an integral part of Armenian troop withdrawal from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” he told the official AzerTag news agency.