Baku and Yerevan are on a war footing after heavy fighting broke out between Azerbaijani and Armenian separatists on Sunday, claiming military and civilian casualties on both sides, including at least one child.
The worst clashes since 2016 have raised the specter of a new war between the great enemies of Azerbaijan and Armenia, who have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, backed by the ‘Armenia.
A major confrontation between the former neighbors of the Soviet Caucasus would attract the major regional players Moscow and Ankara.
Russia, France, Germany and the EU quickly called for an “immediate ceasefire”, while Pope Francis prayed for peace.
Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said heavy fighting continued along the Karabakh frontline on Sunday afternoon.
Azerbaijan has said it has captured seven of its Armenian-controlled villages, a claim denied by Yerevan.
In a televised address to the nation earlier today, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pledged victory over the Armenian forces.
“Our cause is just and we will win,” Aliyev said, repeating a famous quote from the speech of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin at the outbreak of World War II in Russia.
“Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” he said.
Armenia and the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh have declared martial law and military mobilization.
“Prepare to defend our sacred homeland,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook.
Armenia said earlier on Sunday that Azerbaijan had attacked civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the main town of Stepanakert.
Azerbaijan accused Armenian forces of violating a ceasefire, claiming to have launched a counteroffensive to “ensure the safety of the population”, using tanks, artillery missiles, fighter planes and drones.
“There are reports of deaths and injuries among civilians and soldiers,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said. “Considerable damage has been inflicted on numerous homes and civilian infrastructure.”
Karabakh rights ombudsperson Artak Beglaryan referred to “civilian casualties”, while Armenia said a woman and child were killed.
Russia, EU call for ceasefire
Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Baku in a 1990s war that left 30,000 dead.
Talks to resolve one of the worst conflicts to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 have largely been stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
France, Russia and the United States negotiated the peace efforts as the “Minsk Group,” but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.
Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, blamed Yerevan for the outbreak and pledged Baku “full support”.
“We strongly condemn Armenia’s attack on Azerbaijan,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter.
Russian Lavrov spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Moscow said, stressing “the need to stop the fire as soon as possible”.
The two discussed “Armenia’s aggression,” a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Pope Francis told crowds in St. Peter’s Square that he was praying for peace and called for “concrete gestures of goodwill and brotherhood” from the belligerents.
Political observers have said world powers should step up talks to end the conflict.
“We are on the brink of a full-scale war,” Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group told AFP.
“One of the main reasons for the current escalation is the lack of proactive international mediation between the parties for weeks,” she added.
“The war is resuming. It is time for Russia, France and the United States, individually and jointly, to stop it,” tweeted Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Karabakh separatist leader Arayik Harutyunyan accused Ankara of sending mercenaries to Azerbaijan.
“We have information that mercenaries from Turkey and other countries were airlifted to Azerbaijan,” he said.
“The Turkish army is already in Azerbaijan, under the guise of military exercises,” he said.
On Sunday morning, Azerbaijan launched an “active bombardment” along the Karabakh front line, including civilian targets and in the main town of Stepanakert, the Karabakh presidency said.
The rebel Defense Ministry said its troops shot down four Azerbaijani helicopters and 15 drones, while Baku denied the allegations.
Aliyev accused Armenia on Friday of undermining the Karabakh peace talks.
In July, violent clashes along the common border of the two countries – hundreds of kilometers from Karabakh – claimed the lives of at least 17 soldiers on both sides.
Raising the stakes, Azerbaijan at the time threatened to strike the Armenian nuclear power plant if Yerevan attacked strategic facilities.
In the worst recent clashes in April 2016, around 110 people were killed.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)