Heavy fighting continued on Saturday between Armenians and Azerbaijanis across most of the front in Nagorno Karabakh, with Armenia acknowledging heavy losses among the separatists.
Armenia is facing “perhaps the most decisive moment in its history,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said in a televised address on Saturday, referring to the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, where Yerevan-backed separatists are fighting Azerbaijani soldiers.
On the seventh day of hostilities in the region that Azerbaijan is seeking to recapture, the Armenian Defense Ministry assured that separatist troops had repelled a massive attack.
The soldiers of Nagorno Karabakh “destroyed a large military grouping”, announced an Armenian military spokeswoman, Chouchan Stepanian.
But Yerevan also made official the deaths of 51 additional soldiers from the Nagorno-Karabakh army, bringing the official toll of the clashes to more than 240.
In this conflict in which the two camps are claiming to inflict heavy losses on each other, each time denied by the other, Azerbaijan said on Saturday that it had “captured new positions” Armenian.
In Stepanakert, the separatist capital regularly flown over by Azerbaijani drones and targeted by heavy artillery fire – a first – on Friday, 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 vehicles, went towards the zone of the combat to evacuate these families driven out by the bombardments, noted an AFP journalist.
“We are helping our country as best we can,” said one of these volunteers, Ani.
Nagorny Karabakh, mostly populated by Armenians, 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.
“Fix now” the conflict
For the president of the separatist territory, Arayik Haroutiounian, the “last battle” for Nagorno Karabakh has begun. In uniform, he announced that he was joining the front lines to fight with his troops.
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev reiterated his call for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the “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 stressed.
Since the start of hostilities on September 27, partial reports have reported 242 dead: 209 Karabakh soldiers, 14 Armenian civilians, and 19 Azerbaijani civilians, Baku not communicating its military losses.
The toll could be much higher, as Yerevan claims 3,000 Azerbaijani soldiers have died, and Baku claims to have killed 2,300 Armenian soldiers.
Iranian villages hit
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.
A neighboring country to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran on Saturday warned against “intrusion” into its territory after mortars hit Iranian villages along the border.
Another Caucasian country, Georgia has temporarily suspended the overflight of its territory for military cargo planes from Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Another area of concern is the deployment of pro-Turkish fighters from Syria in support of Azerbaijani troops. Ankara is a staunch ally of Baku, 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 have been deployed but the subject was raised on Friday by Vladimir Putin, whose country is very involved in the region. The Russian president expressed his “deep concern” without mentioning Turkey by name.
French President Emmanuel Macron had previously claimed that 300 “jihadist” fighters had left Syria to join Azerbaijan.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), at least 28 pro-Ankara fighters have died in Nagorny Karabakh since the start of hostilities.