A U.S. State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, said late on Thursday that the violence “undermines the progress made” by the two sides during recent peace talks, notably last week’s meetings between their foreign ministers held outside Washington.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev are scheduled meet to Brussels this Sunday in a bid to build on that progress.
“We call on the leaders of both of these countries that when they convene in Brussels on [May] 14th to a – that these two parties agree to distance their forces along the border, as discussed by Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken during their participation of these negotiations that we hosted here in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of May,” Patel told a news briefing.
The Armenian government has consistently advocated the idea of troop disengagement, also backed by the European Union, for the last two years. Baku does not support it.
Pashinian accused Baku of trying to derail the peace process shortly after the fighting involving artillery fire erupted near the Armenian border village of Sotk on Thursday morning, leaving one Azerbaijani soldier dead and four Armenian servicemen wounded.
Each side accused the other of shelling its military positions in the mountainous area. The intensity of the clashes decreased in the following hours, and no major truce violations were reported on the night from Thursday to Friday.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said that two more Armenian soldiers were wounded on Friday morning in an Azerbaijani drone attack on their position outside Sotk. It said that the situation at that section of the volatile border was “relatively stable” in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
A source on the ground told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that another Azerbaijani combat drone was shot down near Sotk at around the same time.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said, for its part, that Armenian forces carried out drone attacks on its positions in the same area in the morning. “The Armenian side is again escalating the situation,” it claimed.
The two sides accused each other of resuming cross-border automatic and mortar fire on Friday evening. They did not report further casualties. The Armenian military said the skirmishes spread to its positions outside Kut, another village in Armenia’s Gegharkunik province bordering the Kelbajar district just west of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Despite the fighting, Armenian authorities did not evacuate civilians from either border village. Still, military police stepped up security at the entrance to them.
Gevorg Sargsian, a Sotk resident, said local farmers continued cultivating their land and tending livestock even during Thursday’s heavy fighting.
“Whether they like it or not, the villagers have to do their daily work to be able to live and survive,” he explained.
Sotk sustained heavy damage during more large-scale clashes that broke out at this and other border sections last September.
In Yerevan, Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovannisian linked the latest escalation to the upcoming Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
“I have been in the diplomatic service since 1995 and I don't remember a single round of negotiations without such [Azerbaijani] provocations either before or after a meeting,” he said. “Unfortunately, this has become a tradition.”
Pashinian’s meeting with Aliyev will be hosted by Charles Michel, the European Union’s top official. A senior European diplomat told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the two leaders are unlikely to sign an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord on Sunday.
“That will take a long time and work,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.