Armenians and Azerbaijanis have remained deaf to further calls for a truce, exchanging fire overnight across the front line in Nagorny Karabakh, a separatist Azerbaijani territory supported by Yerevan.
Stepanakert, the capital of this self-proclaimed republic, remained in the dark to make himself as invisible as possible to the Azerbaijani drones that had struck the city on Sunday. Located about twenty kilometers from the fighting, two explosions sounded there during the night from Wednesday to Thursday.
On the eve of a fifth day of clashes, neither side seemed to have gained a decisive advantage over the other. However, Azerbaijani forces have said for several days that they have taken Armenian positions that had been held for nearly 30 years.
Nagorny Karabakh, mostly populated by Armenians, seceded from Azerbaijan, leading to a war in the early 1990s that left 30,000 dead. The front has been almost frozen since then, despite regular clashes, especially in 2016.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said Thursday “that all night devastating artillery fire targeted the Armenian forces.”
The Karabakh army claims to have prevented Azerbaijan “from regrouping its troops”, adding that “the tactical situation has not changed”.
Since the start of hostilities on Sunday, only partial reports have been communicated, reporting a total of 127 dead.
On the Armenian side, 104 soldiers and 8 civilians have been announced killed, while Baku refuses to communicate military reports, but announced the death of 15 civilians.
Both sides claim to have inflicted hundreds of lives on the other. And everyone is showing videos to that effect, like the one on Wednesday of an Azerbaijani drone hitting an armored personnel carrier loading soldiers, or the Armenian ones showing many bodies lying in line in enemy uniforms.
Calls for a truce multiplied until late at night from Wednesday to Thursday, like Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and French Presidents Emmanuel Macron, two of the three co-chairs with the United States of the OSCE Minsk Group who , since 1992, is the mediator in Nagorno Karabakh.
The two leaders demand to “cease fire completely and, as soon as possible, to lower tensions”, according to a statement of the Kremlin.
Earlier, Moscow had offered to host “a meeting of the heads of diplomacy of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia”.
But on Wednesday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian reaffirmed their determination to fight.
In their respective capitals, there was fervor in front of military mobilization centers, where men of fighting age crowded to the front lines.
Russia, a regional power which maintains cordial relations with the two ex-Soviet republics, has shown itself to be increasingly concerned about the role of Turkey, a geopolitical competitor, but with whom it has pragmatic relations.
Moscow thus criticized Ankara for “adding fuel to the fire” by encouraging Baku in its offensive.
And Wednesday evening, without pointing the finger directly at Turkey, Russian diplomacy said it was “very concerned” about the deployment in the Karabakh conflict of “foreign terrorists and mercenaries” from “Syria and Libya”, two areas where Ankara is active militarily with its local allies.
Armenia had previously accused Turkey, which supports Baku, of sending “mercenaries” to Karabakh. Azerbaijan and Turkey denied, turning the accusation against Yerevan.
For the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, Araïk Haroutiounian, the ongoing hostilities differ from previous years, owing to Turkish involvement in the conflict.
Ankara’s military interference is not established, with only Armenia so far asserting it, accusing Turkey of deploying its F-16 planes, of providing drone pilots and military specialists.
“Turkey is going to be disappointed and fail. Our people are heroic and our youth are ready to sacrifice themselves to protect the motherland, ”Haroutiounian said, predicting“ a long war ”.
A direct Turkish military intervention would constitute a major turning point and an internationalization of the conflict, a possible disaster scenario, in a region where many powers are in competition.