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Large-Scale Fighting Breaks Out Around Karabakh


Nagorno-Karabakh - An Armenian soldier shoots during a military exercise, 20Nov2015.

Heavy fighting broke out around Nagorno-Karabakh early on Sunday, with Armenia accusing Azerbaijan of launching a large-scale offensive and shelling Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert and other settlements.

“The Defense Army [of Nagorno-Karabakh] is successfully repelling the attack,” Armenian Prime Minister Pashinian wrote in a Facebook post. He urged Armenians to trust only official sources and stay vigilant against “giving in to hostile information flows.”

“The enemy has launched an air and missile attack in the direction of Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Shushan Stepanian, a spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry.

“Azerbaijani forces’ offensives in several directions have been repelled,” Stepanian wrote on Facebook later in the morning. She said Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army side has destroyed three Azerbaijani tanks and shot down “two enemy helicopters and three unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Vahram Poghosian, a spokesman for Karabakh President Ara Harutiunian, likewise accused the Azerbaijani army of starting “active shelling along the entire line of contact.” “Civilian areas are also being shelled, including the capital Stepanakert. We call on the population to take shelter,” he said.

At the same time, Poghosian stressed that “the response will be proportionate, entire responsibility for the situation lies with the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan and personally with [Azerbaijani] President Ilham Aliyev.”

Shortly afterwards a uniform-clad Harutiunian met in Stepanakert with a group of Karabakh army reservists and volunteers. “They’ve declared war? They’ll get a war,” the Karabakh leader told them in televised remarks.

Harutiunian went on to declare martial law and a general mobilization of army reservists.

Karabakh television showed a column tanks, artillery systems and trucks carrying soldiers moving through a local town towards a nearby section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh.

According to Stepanian, thousands of volunteers across Armenia are visiting recruitment centers and expressing a desire to join the armed forces. “While highly appreciating the readiness of our compatriots, the Armenian Defense Ministry declares that there is no need for volunteers at the moment,” said the official.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said, meanwhile, that its frontline troops have launched a “counteroffensive operation along the entire frontline” in response to Armenian shelling of Azerbaijani towns of villages. It admitted losing one helicopter in the fighting.

“Today the Azerbaijani army is protecting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan on its own territory,” Aliyev said in a televised address to the nation.

“Armenia is an occupying state and we must and will put an end to that occupation,” he said. “We are on the just cause.”

Aliyev also again accused Yerevan of “disrupting” international efforts to the resolve the Karabakh conflict which have long been spearheaded by the United States, Russia and France.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications confirmed reports that it has “restricted” Azerbaijanis’ access to the Internet. According to the APA news agency, the ministry cited the need to to prevent “large-scale Armenian provocations.”

The Karabakh Armenian army reported at around 11 a.m. local time that Azerbaijani troops backed by tanks, artillery and attack drones are continuing to attack its positions at “various sections of the frontline.” “The Defense Army’s frontline units are successfully repelling all enemy attacks,” it said in a statement.

Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, Artak Beglarian, said at that at least two Karabakh Armenian civilians, a woman and a child, have been killed by Azerbaijani shelling of their homes. “There is large-scale damage to civilian infrastructure in many settlements,” Beglarian wrote on Facebook.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani governments blamed each other for what appears to be the worst escalation of the Karabakh conflict in years. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Baku will bear full responsibility for the “aggression unleashed by it.”

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