“The vast majority of our people agree that we will not deviate from our right to self-determination and independence, and that means we are going to deal with various developments and situations soon,” Arayik Harutiunian, the Karabakh president, told an emergency meeting with other officials in Stepanakert.
Three of the victims were Karabakh police officers. According to the authorities in Stepanakert, a car carrying them was ambushed by an Azerbaijani sabotage group that was then repelled by Karabakh soldiers deployed nearby.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry claimed that the shootout broke out after Azerbaijani troops tried to search the car allegedly smuggling weapons from Armenia. The Armenian side strongly denied that, releasing a video of the shooting and its aftermath.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on Monday that the Azerbaijani forces were the first to open fire at the Karabakh police vehicle and that two of them were killed in the ensuing firefight which it said was stopped by Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh.
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” at the incident but did not blame either party for it.
“We strongly urge the sides to show restraint and take steps to de-escalate the situation,” said Maria Zakharova, the ministry spokeswoman.
Echoing a weekend statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian condemned the shootings as an act of “terrorism” which is part of Baku’s efforts to drive the Karabakh Armenians out of their homeland.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov accused Armenia of continuing to resort to “provocations” in the conflict zone despite Azerbaijan’s “peace efforts.”
Speaking during the Stepanakert meeting, Harutiunian warned that Baku could provoke more such violence in a bird to force the Karabakh Armenians into submission.
“We must keep fighting for a long time and there will be such situations during that struggle,” he said. “We need to be conscious of that and take preventive steps.”
The Karabakh leader linked Sunday’s bloodshed to the March 1 meeting between Azerbaijani and Karabakh officials which was mediated by the commander of the Russian peacekeepers. He said during that meeting his representatives refused to discuss Karabakh’s “integration” into Azerbaijan.
In his words, the Azerbaijani side warned afterwards that if Stepanakert persists in opposing the restoration of Azerbaijani rule Baku will not only continue to block Karabakh’s land link with Armenia but also take “tougher and more drastic steps.”
It was not clear whether the Russian peacekeepers are planning more talks between the two sides.