At least 40 people have died in 24 hours in the separatist fighting between Armenia-backed Nagorny Karabakh and Azerbaijan, according to reports announced Monday, with clashes raising fears of open war between Baku and Yerevan.
All regional and world powers – Russia, United States, France, Iran, EU – except Turkey, Baku’s ally, have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the most serious since 2016.
The Karabakh Defense Ministry has acknowledged the deaths of 32 soldiers since Sunday morning and the start of clashes in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh, populated mostly by Armenians.
This territory has escaped Baku’s control since a war in the early 1990s which left 30,000 dead.
Six Azerbaijani civilians, one more than Sunday, and two Armenian civilians from Nagorno Karabakh also died.
Much heavier balance sheet?
Azerbaijan has not announced any military losses.
The toll could be much heavier, with both sides claiming to have inflicted hundreds of casualties on the opponent and broadcasting images of the fighting.
Baku claims to have killed 550 enemy soldiers, and Yerevan more than 200.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry said it had regained positions lost the day before, but Azerbaijan claimed it had made territorial gains, using “rockets, artillery and air force.”
This Caucasian country has spent lavishly on armaments in recent years thanks to its oil windfall.
Azerbaijani General Corn Barkhudarov has proclaimed that his troops are “ready to fight to the last drop of blood to annihilate the enemy”.
After weeks of war rhetoric, Azerbaijan said it launched a “counteroffensive” on Sunday after an Armenian “aggression”, using its artillery, tanks and aerial bombardment on the secessionist province.
These fighting, the deadliest since 2016, have provoked international concern, with Russia, France and the United States – the three mediators of the conflict within the Minsk Group – calling for a ceasefire and negotiations.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian accused his historic enemy of “declaring war on the Armenian people”. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev promised him to “win”.
The fighting fueled a patriotic fervor in the Armenian and Azerbaijani streets.
“The clashes must continue until we reclaim our lands. I am ready to go to the battlefield, ”says Vidadi Alekperov, a 39-year-old waiter in Baku.
“We will fight to the death and solve the problem once and for all,” said Artak Bagdassarian, a 36-year-old resident of Yerevan awaiting his military conscription.
Turkey has indicated its full support for Azerbaijan. Yerevan and the separatists accused Ankara of political and military interference.
“Turkey is fighting Nagorny Karabakh, not just Azerbaijan. There are Turkish helicopters, F-16s and troops and mercenaries from different countries, ”said the president of this self-proclaimed republic, Araïk Haroutiounian, on Sunday evening.
“No interference is acceptable” in this conflict, the escalation of which is “very worrying”, said a spokesperson for European foreign minister Josep Borrell.
Moscow maintains cordial relations with the two belligerents and represents the regional grand arbiter, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
His spokesperson repeated this message on Monday. “The fighting must end without delay,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russia remains closer to Armenia, the two countries belonging to the same military alliance dominated by Moscow.
All of the Minsk Group’s mediation efforts have failed to resolve this conflict, and outbreaks of violence occur regularly in Nagorno Karabakh, as in 2016.
Rarer, in July 2020, Armenians and Azerbaijanis clashed for several days on their northern border. These events bear witness to growing tensions for months.
The two states also declared martial law and Armenia general mobilization. Azerbaijan imposes a curfew in part of the country, including its capital.
An open war between the two countries raises fears of destabilization of the South Caucasus, in particular if Turkey and Russia, which have divergent interests, intervene in the conflict.