YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Despite another ceasefire attempt, Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday pleaded guilty to violating the new ceasefire in their destructive conflict over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The latest ceasefire, announced on Saturday and coming into force at midnight, was the second attempt to establish a ceasefire since fierce fighting broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh on 27 September. The fighting and shelling have killed hundreds of people – both combatants and civilians – and mark the largest escalation of a decades-old conflict over the region in more than a quarter of a century.
The fighting, which involves heavy artillery, rockets and drones, continues despite repeated calls for an end to hostilities from around the world. It also raises the specter of a broader conflict that could drag Russia and Turkey and threaten the Caspian Sea̵
Armenian military officials on Sunday reported artillery shelling and missile attacks by Azerbaijani forces in the conflict zone overnight. In the morning, “the enemy launched an attack in the southern direction,” and there were “wounded and wounded on both sides,” said Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, in turn, maintained that Armenian forces used mortar and artillery in the conflict zone overnight despite the ceasefire and in the morning attempted attacks in several directions. The ministry accused Armenia of using large-scale weapons to attack the positions of the Azerbaijani army in two regions north of Nagorno-Karabakh along the border, a claim that Armenian military officials denied.
The Azerbaijani military also said it sank an Armenian Su-25 fighter jet “attempting to inflict air strikes on the positions of the Azerbaijani army in the Jabrayil direction”, but Stepanian dismissed the statement as untrue.
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of Armenian ethnic forces supported by Armenia since a war that ended in 1994.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 673 of their soldiers have been killed in the renewed fighting. Azerbaijan has not revealed its military losses, but says 60 civilians have died so far and 270 have been wounded.
Turkey has publicly supported oil-rich Azerbaijan in the conflict and promised to help it regain its territory.
Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but has cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan, hosted top diplomats from both countries last week in more than ten hours of talks that ended with the original ceasefire agreement. But the deal frayed immediately after the ceasefire went into effect last Saturday, with both sides blaming each other for violating it.
The new ceasefire agreement was announced a week later on Saturday following calls by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for his colleagues from Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which he strongly urged them to abide by the Moscow agreement.
But hours after the ceasefire took effect at midnight, both sides began blaming each other for violating the agreement.
Later Sunday, Armenia and Azerbaijan reiterated their ceasefire commitments in statements from their foreign ministries, blaming each other for the violations.
Azerbaijan “reserves the right to take countermeasures to protect its civilians and attitudes,” the country’s foreign ministry said.
Yerevan “will continue to take all necessary measures to impose peace on Azerbaijan and establish a ceasefire regime that will provide precise and effective mechanisms for maintaining and verifying it,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said.
In a separate statement, Armenia said the Baku Azerbaijani government “categorically rejected” an attempt to reach an agreement on the withdrawal of wounded soldiers from the battlefield through mediation by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Azerbaijani authorities said they were ready to hand over the bodies of some Armenian soldiers to Armenia through mediation by the ICRC and an agreed border corridor “in the direction of the Tovuz region.” Officials did not clarify how many bodies it entailed.
Associated Press authors Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed.