Baku, Azerbaijan – Long-simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have flared up in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, with both sides accusing each other of attacking civilians amid reports of casualties.
The neighboring former Soviet republics have long been at odds over the territory — which is situated within the borders of Azerbaijan — and fought a war over it that finished in 1994.
Despite the conflict ending with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, military skirmishes between the two sides are not uncommon.
While Armenia said it was responding to missile attacks launched by its neighbor Sunday, Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for the clashes.
In response to the alleged firing of projectiles by Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that his country had “shot down 2 helicopters & 3 UAVs, destroyed 3 tanks.”
As a result of the escalating tensions, the Armenian government has decided to impose martial law and to order “general mobilization,” Pashinyan said in a later tweet.
Armenia earlier claimed that its neighbor had targeted civilians in peaceful areas, including in the region’s capital Stepanakert.
Artak Beglaryan, an official from the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent Armenian state not recognized internationally and which controls the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, said in a tweet that a mother and child had been killed.
Beglaryan also said dozens of people had been wounded and large infrastructural damage had been caused, adding: “Azerbaijan is intentionally targeting civilian objects.”
Servicemen are gathered in Yerevan, Armenia, on Sunday, the day the Armenian government imposed martial law and general mobilization after clashes with Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev speaks to the nation from the capital, Baku.
However, Azerbaijan suggested Armenia was accountable for the latest flare-up between the two countries.
Hikmet Hajiyev, assistant of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and head of the Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the presidential administration, tweeted Sunday: “There are reports of dead and wounded among civilians and military servicemen. Extensive damage has been inflicted on many homes and civilian infrastructure.”
Accusing Armenia of “an act of aggression and use of force,” Hajiyev added that the “political-military leadership of Armenia bears full responsibility.”
At least 14 civilians were injured in villages along the border due to artillery and tank fire from the breakaway Armenian enclave.
“Currently, the Azerbaijan Army is taking retaliatory actions and our troops fully control the operational situation,” Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Sunday.
But Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “We strongly condemn the aggression of the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan.”
“The military political leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the consequences of their aggression,” the statement added.
Fighting between the two sides has been increasing in recent months.
In 2016, dozens of soldiers from both countries died during clashes. Two years earlier, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to “commit themselves to immediate de-escalation and continuing dialogue” after reports of violence and casualties along the border.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is governed by a majority group of ethnic Armenians.
Azerbaijan – Armenia conflict: Putin calls for end to fighting as ‘civilians killed’ in Nagorno-Karabakh clashes
The separatist, mainly ethnic Armenian region within Azerbaijan has declared martial law and ordered a full military mobilisation.
Vladimir Putin has called for an end to fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan around the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, amid reports of civilians being killed in the violence.
Armenia says it has shot down two Azerbaijani helicopters and destroyed three tanks in clashes between the two countries.
The breakaway region’s defence ministry also claimed it had destroyed four Azeri helicopters, 15 drones and 10 tanks during clashes early on Sunday.
But the Kremlin said Russia’s President Mr Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan discussed the situation in a phone call on Sunday.
A statement said the conversation noted that it was important not to allow further escalation of the conflict the need to halt all military action.
And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “is conducting intensive contacts in order to induce the parties to cease fire and start negotiations to stabilise the situation”, a spokeswoman for the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s general prosecution office said five members of the same family had been killed by shelling from Armenia’s forces, the first civilian casualties from Baku in the flair up.
Armenia’s defence ministry said the latest conflict began with an Azerbaijani attack – while Azerbaijan said the Armenian side attacked first and that they had launched a counter-offensive.
Both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilisation. However, Azerbaijan’s army said there was no need for them to do this as they are fully staffed.
People greet Azerbaijani service members in military vehicles in Baku on Sunday
The Armenian defence ministry has released video footage that shows the attack on the vehicles, it says.
It said its troops had acted in response to an attack on civilian targets including Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert.
“Our response will be proportionate, and the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the situation,” it said in a statement.
Both sides have reported civilian deaths.
Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Twitter: “We stay strong next to our army to protect our motherland from Azeri invasion.”
Hikmet Hajiyev, senior adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, accused Armenian forces of launching “deliberate and targeted” attacks.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenia had attacked civilian settlements and military positions along the “contact line,” a heavily-mined no-man’s-land that separates the Armenian-backed forces from Azeri troops in the region.
It said some civilians had been killed “as a result of the intensive shelling” by Armenia, and that Azerbaijan had taken retaliatory measures.
The ministry said Azerbaijan’s army launched a “counter-offensive operation along the entire front to suppress the combat activity of the armed forces of Armenia and ensure the safety of the civilian population”.
Turkey has demanded Armenia cease “hostilities”, saying it risks plunging the region “into fire”, while France has urged both sides to stop fighting and restart dialogue.
The two countries have long been at odds over the breakaway region, a conflict that has flared up again in recent months.
Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around the area and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.