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The fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region took another turn on Sunday, with the two countries accusing each other of violating the latest ceasefire just minutes after it came into force.
The small region of the South Caucasus has been the site of hundreds of military and civilian deaths, significant property destruction and inflamed tensions since violence erupted between the two countries in late September, intensifying a decades-long conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is ruled by ethnic Armenians as a de facto independent state.
A humanitarian ceasefire, mediated by Russia, originally entered into force on October 10 and was met almost immediately by accusations of ceasefire violations on both sides: Azerbaijan accused Armenia of trying to attack its petroleum pipelines, while Armenians opposed Azerbaijan’s still trying to seize the disputed territory.
Exactly one week later, Armenia and Azerbaijan issued identical declarations accepting a “humanitarian ceasefire” that took effect on October 18 at midnight local time.
They said the decision was based on statements by the presidents of France, Russia and the United States, which make up the OSCE Minsk group, which has been working to resolve the conflict since 1992.
Both sides say the new ceasefire did not last long.
A spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry tweeted that Azerbaijan had violated the agreement after four minutes by firing artillery shells to the north and rockets to the south.
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Armenian forces began firing on the Jabrayil region two minutes after the ceasefire was due to take effect, and continued its attacks during the morning.
“Azerbaijan remains committed to the humanitarian ceasefire, however, Azerbaijan reserves the right to take countermeasures to protect its civilians and attitudes,” the statement said.
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s foreign minister, later said Azerbaijan had launched a “large-scale offensive operation” starting at
“Tearing up its own obligations shows Baku dishonest corrupt regime methods,” he said. Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan.
The spokesman for the Armenian Ministry of Defense also said Baku rejected an attempt to reach an agreement to retrieve wounded soldiers from the battlefield, adding, “apparently the reason was Azerbaijan’s planned offensive.”
In a statement released on Sunday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s Foreign Ministry said international recognition of the territory was “the only way to stop the Azerbaijani – Turkish ardent behavior that undermines the efforts and authority of international mediators.”
Turkey has openly supported Azerbaijan and accused Armenia of the renewed struggle.
Fighting between the two nations has already caused significant damage in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh.
The Republic of Artsakh’s human rights ombudsman accused “Azerbaijan aggression” of damaging thousands of homes and hundreds of cars in the past few weeks.
The ombudsman reported that 36 civilians were killed and 115 wounded per. October 16.
And with reference to the Russian news agency Interfax, Reuters reported that the Ministry of Defense in Nagorno-Karabakh announced 37 military deaths on Sunday, bringing the total number to 710 since the fighting broke out in late September.
According to Azerbaijani officials, an October 16 missile attack by Armenia killed 13 people, including three minors, and wounded 52.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said afterwards that Armenia would be held accountable.
“Our revenge is happening on the battlefield,” he tweeted.
A spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General condemned the October 16 attack, as well as “all attacks on populated areas affected by the conflict,” in a statement issued Sunday.
The spokesman said the Secretary-General regretted that both sides had ignored repeated calls from the international community to stop the fighting and that both sides were obliged under international humanitarian law “to constantly take care to save and protect civil and civilian infrastructures in in connection with military operations. ”