The Azerbaijani military on Saturday acknowledged that it went on offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and said 12 of its soldiers died and an Azerbaijani attack helicopter was shot down by the Armenians as a result.
In a statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies, the Defense Ministry in Baku said its frontline troops launched the morning offensive in response to Armenian shelling of Azerbaijani positions and villages close to “the line of contact” around Karabakh.
The armed forces of Armenia and Karabakh insisted earlier in the day that the Azerbaijani attacks were unprovoked and ended in failure. The Karabakh Defense Army claimed to have destroyed three tanks shot down two Azerbaijani helicopter gunships in the heavy fighting.
President Serzh Sarkisian reported on Saturday evening that 18 Armenian soldiers were killed and 35 others wounded in what was the heaviest fighting in the conflict zone since 1994.
The Karabakh Armenian military claimed to have killed more than 100 Azerbaijani soldiers, among them dozens of members of a commando unit which it said was liquidated in northeastern Karabakh. It released photographs of the bodies of three Azerbaijani soldiers apparently lying in Armenian-controlled territory.
On Saturday morning, an 11-year-old Karabakh Armenian boy was killed and two other children wounded when Azerbaijani rockets hit their village in Karabakh’s southeastern Martuni district. The wounded boys were rushed to a hospital in Stepanakert and underwent surgery there. Doctors said their life is no longer at risk.
“They were on their way to school [when they rocket fire began,]” the mother of the 11-year-old Vartan Andreasian, one of the wounded schoolboys , told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
News reports from Baku, said one resident of an Azerbaijani village just northeast of Karabakh was killed and another wounded by Armenian artillery fire.
“Within a very short period of time, we managed to break through enemy lines at some sections of the frontline which Armenian forces have fortified for many years,” said the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry statement cited by the pro-government website Haqqin.az. It claimed that the Azerbaijani army occupied one Karabakh village and hilltops overlooking another.
A senior Karabakh official, Artur Aghabekian, flatly denied that claim. “That is definitely disinformation,” Aghabekian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Forced to admit its losses, the enemy is simply trying to justify them in the eyes of the Azerbaijani public,” said the spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry, Artsrun Hovannisian.
Hundreds of Karabakh Armenians, many of them veterans of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, reportedly gathered in Stepanakert to offer to join the troops fighting Azerbaijani forces. The Karabakh Defense Army was in no rush to mobilize them, however, saying that its units are successfully defending their positions.
Hovannisian said that Yerevan is also not planning a general mobilization.