Seven days of fighting, and tension is mounting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Heavy clashes continued between Armenians and Azerbaijanis on Saturday (October 3rd) across most of the front in the region.
Armenia has made official the new deaths of 51 Nagorno-Karabakh army soldiers, bringing the official toll of the clashes to more than 240. In this conflict where the two camps ensure that they inflict heavy losses on each other, each time denied by the other, Azerbaijan has for its part assured to have “Captured new positions” Armenian.
Armenia faces “At perhaps the most decisive moment in its history”Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said in a televised address on Saturday, referring to the conflict in the region that Azerbaijan is seeking to reclaim. The Armenian defense ministry said the separatist troops repelled a massive attack. Nagorno Karabakh soldiers “Destroyed a large military group”, also announced a military spokesperson, Chouchan Stepanian.
Majority Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan after the fall of the USSR, leading to a war in the early 1990s that left 30,000 dead. The front has been almost frozen since, despite regular clashes.
The “last battle”
For the president of the separatist territory, Arayik Haroutiounian, the “Last battle” for Nagorno Karabakh has started. In uniform, he announced he was joining the front lines to fight with his troops.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev reiterated his call for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from “Occupied territories”. “We are going to take back our territories, it is our legitimate right and our historical objective”, he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television station. “The Karabakh conflict must be settled now”, he insisted.
Since the start of hostilities on September 27, partial reports have reported 242 dead: 209 soldiers from Karabakh, 14 Armenian civilians and 19 Azerbaijani civilians, Baku not communicating its military losses. But the toll could be much higher, as Yerevan claims 3,000 Azerbaijani soldiers are dead, and Baku claims to have killed 2,300 Armenian soldiers.
In Stepanakert, the separatist capital regularly flown over by Azerbaijani drones and targeted by heavy artillery fire on Friday – a first – new explosions were heard on Saturday. In Armenia, on the road leading from Yerevan to Goris, a locality bordering Nagorno Karabakh, public transport buses transported displaced families to the Armenian capital where their reception is organized, in hotels or with families. In the opposite direction, volunteers, ordinary citizens at the wheel of their vehicle, went towards the combat zone to evacuate these families driven out by the bombardments.
Both sides have largely ignored calls from the international community to silence the guns. Moscow, Washington and Paris, capitals of the three countries involved in mediating the conflict under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have also called for an unsuccessful ceasefire.
Georgia, another Caucasian country, has temporarily suspended the overflight of its territory for military cargo planes from Armenia and Azerbaijan. Neighboring the two nations, Iran also warned on Saturday against any “Intrusion” in its territory, after mortars hit Iranian villages along the border.
Another area of concern is the deployment of pro-Turkish fighters from Syria in support of Azerbaijani troops. Turkey is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly reminded us that only the departure of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh can bring peace.
Baku denies that fighters from Syria were deployed but the subject was raised on Friday by Vladimir Putin, who expressed his “Deep concern”, without mentioning Turkey by name. French President Emmanuel Macron has also previously claimed that 300 “jihadist” fighters have left Syria to join Azerbaijan.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), 1,200 Syrians who had fought against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime were sent by Turkey to fight alongside Azerbaijani forces against Yerevan-backed separatists. At least 64 of them were reportedly killed.