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Armenia-Azerbaijan Karabakh Conflict Escalates, Casualties Reported

Armenia and Azerbaijan reported that the Karabakh conflict is turning violent and accused each other of conducting offensive warfare.

Update Sunday 03/04/2016:

Azerbaijan announced on Sunday that it had halted combat operations in the sudden, bloody clashes with Armenia over the long-disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, but it laid the seeds for continued fighting by saying it would keep the slice of territory seized by its forces.

The Azeri Defense Ministry said in a statement posted on its website that Azerbaijan, taking into account appeals for a cease-fire from various international organizations, “has decided to unilaterally cease retaliatory military actions,” but that it would continue fighting if Armenia did not stop.

The statement also said Azerbaijan would “strengthen the defense of the liberated territories.”

Read: What’s Behind Nagorno-Karabakh Row Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994.

The Azeri defense ministry said on Saturday the army had “liberated strategic heights and settlements” in the region.

“Six Armenian tanks were destroyed (and) more than 100 Armenian servicemen were killed and injured,” it said in a statement, saying 12 Azeri servicemen had also been killed.

Armenia’s government denied the Azeri report on the number of casualties. Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan told a State Security Council meeting about 18 were killed and 35 injured. It was not immediately clear if the death toll included soldiers only.

Earlier on Saturday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s military said Armenian anti-aircraft forces had downed an Azeri helicopter. Baku admitted that its Mi-24 helicopter was shot down.

Both sides also reported civilian casualties and accused each other of violating a 1994 ceasefire, a sign that the two-decade-old conflict which has left some 30,000 people dead is far from a peaceful resolution. Similar violence was reported last month.

The violence has forced Russia, a key mediator in the conflict, to step up diplomatic efforts to quench it.

President Vladimir Putin urged the warring sides to immediately observe the ceasefire and “to exercise restraint so as to avert new human casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu have talked by phone with their Armenian and Azeri counterparts.

  • Separatist “Government’s” Twitter Account:


German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, meanwhile, called on both sides “to immediately stop fighting and to fully respect the ceasefire.”

Azerbaijan frequently threatens to take Nagorno-Karabakh back by force. Clashes around the region have fueled worries of a widening conflict breaking out in the region, which is crossed by oil and natural gas pipelines.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for “an ultimate resolution” of the conflict between during talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev at the State Department.

The self-styled Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Ministry said on Twitter that Azerbaijan attacked Karabakh villages and military units with artillery and air forces, killing a child and wounding two.

“Karabakh army conducts effective protection, causing serious losses to Azerbaijan. We shot down a helicopter attacking to our positions,” the Twitter account said.

The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry, quoted by Russian media, said in response that “the information about the downed helicopter was absolute lie and all vehicles were in place. It was another provocation on the part of Armenia”.

The ministry also said the fighting began when Armenian forces fired mortars and large-calibre artillery shells across the front line.

Maria Titzian, a lecturer at the American University of Armenia, told Al Jazeera: "For the past 20 months Azerbaijan has been escalating tensions in terms of truce violations."
She added that Azerbaijan was trying to "derail the peace process" as she called on the international community to do more. The violence, she also said, was at its worst since 1994.
"This corner of the world has been long ignored," she said. "I think it's time for the world to pay greater attention to the situation here. It will have a large influence on the greater region if this issue is not resolved peacefully."

Sources: Sputnik, RT.COM, HuffingtonPost, Aljazeera


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