Armenian, Azerbaijani forces in deadly clashes
YEREVAN / BAKU – Agence France-Presse
A picture taken on April 2, 2016 and obtained from the Nagorno Karabakh Republic Defence Ministry's official website on April 2, 2016, reportedly shows the remains of the downed Azerbaijan's Mi-24 helicopter in a field in Armenian-seized Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh after clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces. AFP PhotoFierce clashes left at least 30 Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers dead April 2 in the disputed as Russia and the West urged an immediate ceasefire after a major escalation in violence over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan said 18 Armenian troops were killed and some 35 wounded in the “largest-scale hostilities” since a 1994 truce ended a war that saw Armenian-backed fighters seize the territory from Azerbaijan.
Earlier in the day, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said that 12 of its soldiers were killed in the clashes and a military helicopter shot down.
The surge in fighting over the disputed territory reportedly also claimed the lives of one Armenian and one Azeri civilian after the arch foes accused each other of unleashing heavy weaponry across the volatile front line.
Armenia accused Azerbaijan of launching a “massive attack along the Karabakh front line using tanks, artillery, and helicopters” on the night of April 1.
Azerbaijan, however, insisted it had counter-attacked after coming under fire from “large-caliber artillery and grenade-launchers.”
Sarkisian said that clashes were continuing on the evening of April 2 “in the north and south” of the front line but insisted the “armed forces of Karabakh are in control of the situation.”
Ethnic Armenians backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet period, during a war the early 1990s which claimed the lives of some 30,000 people.
A 1994 ceasefire failed to lead to a peace deal, with clashes erupting regularly and the two countries remaining on a war footing.
The region is still internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and the two sides frequently exchange fire across the front, but the latest episode marked a surge in violence and sparked frantic appeals for peace from international powers.
Azeri forces claimed that they had taken control of several strategic heights and a village in the Armenian-controlled territory, but Yerevan denied the claim as “disinformation.”
Erdoğan backs Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev also spoke by phone to ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which the Turkish leader expressed “solidarity” with Azerbaijan, Aliyev’s press office said.
Erdoğan has vowed to back Azerbaijan “to the end” in its conflict with Armenia.
“We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes with the least casualties,” the presidency on April 3 quoted Erdoğan telling an Azerbaijani reporter while on a visit to the United States.
“We will support Azerbaijan to the end,” he added.
Erdoğan also blasted the longstanding failure of the Minsk Group - which spearheads efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to find peace under the chairmanship of France, Russia and the United States - to resolve the conflict.
“We are faced with such incidents because the Minsk Group underestimated the situation,” Erdoğan said.
“If the Minsk Group had taken fair and decisive steps over this, such incidents would not have happened. However, the weaknesses of the Minsk Group unfortunately led the situation to this point.”
Turkish Foreign Ministry also condemned the attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We condemn artillery fire and attacks which were started by Armenia against Azerbaijan on the night of April 1 along the contact line and [which] affected civil society,” the ministry said in a statement on April 2.
“We call upon Armenia to stick to the ceasefire and end to the clashes as soon as possible,” the ministry added.
Putin calls for ‘immediate end to fighting’
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an immediate end to fighting along the front line, the Kremlin said.
“President Putin calls on the parties in the conflict to observe an immediate ceasefire and exercise restraint in order to prevent further casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held phone talks with their counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan to urge a de-escalation in the fighting.
Meanwhile, mediators from a group made up of representatives from Russia, the United States, France and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been trying to negotiation a settlement, expressed “grave concern.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the reports of heavy fighting were “deeply worrying” and called on all sides to “avoid any further actions or statements that could result in escalation.”