Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian inspected Armenian troops deployed along “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday amid their continuing skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces.
Photographs released by the Armenian government showed a uniform-clad Abrahamian walking through a trench at a heavily fortified frontline section and speaking to soldiers serving there.
“The Armenian people are proud of you because thanks to your heroism … it was possible to stop the enemy offensive and strike back hard,” a government statement quoted him as telling a group of soldiers. “Your feat is invaluable,” he added.
Abrahamian referred to the April 2 outbreak of unusually heavy fighting in and around Karabakh that was sparked by an apparent Azerbaijani offensive. At least 170 soldiers from both sides died before Russia helped to largely stop the hostilities on April 5.
Both warring sides have continued report ceasefire violations, albeit on a much smaller scale, since then. Daily statements by Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army suggest that tension on the frontlines has decreased in the past week.
The army said on Monday morning that Azerbaijani troops fired on its frontline positions from automatic weapons, mortars and grenade launchers overnight. Armenia’s Defense Ministry reported “sporadic” Azerbaijani gunfire on its positions in the northern Tavush province bordering western Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, meanwhile, alleged 126 truce violations by the Armenian side in the same 24-hour period. It said that the Azerbaijani army carried out as many “strikes on enemy positions” in response.
The ministry also said that one Azerbaijani soldier was killed on Sunday in a shootout with Armenian forces. It did not specify whether the incident took place on the Karabakh frontline or the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Military authorities in Baku also said on Monday that another Azerbaijani serviceman, a captain identified as Nejmeddin Salavanov, has died of wounds sustained during “hostilities in the beginning of April.”
Abrahamian visited the frontline before attending Monday's official ceremonies in Karabakh that marked the 24th anniversary of the capture by Karabakh Armenian forces of Shushi (Shusha), the region’s second largest town overlooking Stepanakert. The May 1992 operation proved critical for the Armenian victory in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
“The liberation of Shushi was a matter of life or death for us,” President Serzh Sarkisian, who commanded Karabakh Armenian forces during the operation, said in a written address to the nation.
“Twenty-four years on, last month, the sons of the freedom fighters that liberated Shushi repeated their fathers’ feat,” added Sarkisian.