Conflict escalates in Karabakh crisis area, fighting underway along whole line of contact
BAKU/YEREVAN. Sept 28 (Interfax) – The situation in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalated dramatically in the morning of September 27 and an intensive firing from both Armenian and Azerbaijani sides has been reported of the contact line.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Sunday that a military operation had been launched on the line of contact in the Karabakh crisis zone. "The counteroffensive operation" is underway in retaliation to Armenia's provocations, the ministry said.
"On September 27, the Armenian Armed Forces again blatantly violated the ceasefire, carrying out a strike on the positions of Azerbaijan near the line of contact. They launched an artillery attack on Azerbaijan. The political and military leadership of Armenia is fully responsible for the situation," the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.
In turn, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Azerbaijan had attacked the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Armenia and the NKR declared martial law and mobilization.
The situation in the Karabakh crisis area remains tense, fighting is underway along the whole line of contact, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Sunday.
"The Nagorno-Karabakh Army of Defense is engaged in fighting along the whole line of contact, in particular, in the north, northeast, and in the southeast. The situation is tense. There are casualties among troops and civilians," Pashinyan said at an extraordinary parliamentary meeting on Sunday.
The Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) said on Monday that a number of positions lost in clashes with the Azerbaijani Armed Forces on Sunday had been regained.
"Intensive hostilities continued all through the night in the northern, northeastern and southern sectors of the frontline. As a result of the counteroffensive launched by units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, the Azerbaijani side suffered heavy casualties and lost many hardware. The Defense Army regained a number of positions lost earlier," the ministry said on Monday and posted a relevant video.
Azerbaijan reported taking over several populated localities, and Armenia denied those reports.
Milli Mejlis, Azerbaijan's parliament, on Sunday decided to introduce a martial law, a curfew will be imposed in a number of regions, according to Azerbaijani media reports.
The parliament decided that the curfew would be declared in Baku, Ganja, Yevlakh, Goygol and in a number of other Azerbaijani cities.
On Monday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev declared partial mobilization on Monday. Aliyev's order was published on the presidential website. The president tasked the Azerbaijani State Service for Mobilization and Conscription with drafting servicemen in accordance with the approved plan.
More than 550 Armenian servicemen were killed in Sunday clashes on the contact line in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Monday.
"According to intelligence, the Armenian Armed Forces sustained heavy losses as a result of the Sunday hostilities. For instance, the Azerbaijani army destroyed 22 tanks and other heavy armored vehicles, 15 Osa air defense missile systems, 18 drones, eight artillery systems, and three arms depots. Besides, more than 550 servicemen were killed," the ministry told Interfax.
For its part, the Armenian Defense Ministry reported Azerbaijani casualties.
"According to our information, about 200 Azerbaijani servicemen were killed," Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said at a press briefing on Sunday.
"Updated information indicates that [...] four helicopters, 27 drones, including attack UAVs, 33 tanks and armored personnel carriers, as well as two armored engineering vehicles were destroyed," the press service of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's Defense Ministry said.
Dozens of civilians have been injured and two have been killed in Karabakh as a result of Azerbaijan's attacks, Vagram Pogosyan, spokesman for the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), said on Sunday.
"There are dozens of injured civilians. The adversary used artillery to hit populated localities in most cases. Unfortunately, we have two victims: a woman and a child," Pogosyan told the local press.
The number of civilian casualties caused by artillery firing by Armenian forces at the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone grew on Sunday, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General's Office said on Monday.
"The number of civilians who have been injured has reached 26 now. They have been placed in hospitals with various injuries," it said.
The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General's Office has published a list of civilians injured by shelling in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday.
According to the Prosecutor General's Office, "as a result of Armenia's armed provocation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan," six people sustained injuries of various severity, including Royal Gasanov, resident of the Tartar district born in 1987, Fizuli Mamedov (born in 1960) and Vyusal Guliyev (born in 1995), both residents of the Fizuli district, Dzhalal Zalov, resident of the Dashkasan district born in 1982, and Agdam district residents Beikishi Zeynalov (1961) and Eshgin Allakhyarov (1997).
"All the injured have been hospitalized," the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General's Office said.
There also fatalities among civilians and servicemen, it said without elaborating on their numbers.
Russia has expressed concern about the escalation along the line of contact with the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh, calling on the opposing sides to immediately stop hostilities.
"We are calling on the sides to immediately cease fire and begin negotiations to stabilize the situation," the ministry said in a statement published on its website on Sunday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is currently engaged in contacts amid the escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh to encourage Azerbaijan and Armenia to stop firing and come to the negotiating table, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.
"In view of the escalating situation around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Lavrov is conducting intensive contacts in a bid to encourage the sides to cease fire and begin negotiations to stabilize the situation," Zakharova told reporters on Sunday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu exchanged views in a phone conversation on Sunday about the situation unfolding in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area.
"The sides emphasized the need to swiftly establish ceasefire and stabilize the situation around the contact line. They offered condolences to the families and friends of those killed," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website on Sunday.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called on the international community to use all available levers "to keep Turkey from meddling in the [Karabakh] conflict, which would absolutely destabilize the situation."
"Turkey's aggressive conduct gives serious cause for concern. This stance is fraught with disastrous effects for the South Caucasus and neighboring regions," Pashinyan said, addressing the nation on Sunday.
"The international community must prevent the dangerous scenario. We are facing a serious threat, and it requires vigilance. Our victory depends on our united effort. And we will win," Pashinyan said.
Armenia has certain information that mercenaries are taking part in the battles against the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) on the side of Azerbaijan, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisyan said.
"There is specified information about mercenaries, Turkey's interference, and about the use of Turkish weapons," Hovhannisyan said, when asked as to whether there is some information about Syrian mercenaries taking part in the battles against the NKR.
"These are already unquestionable facts. I am not fully confident to say that there are some mercenaries, but relevant information is being gathered and studied," he said.
Amid the escalation of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey has relocated some 4,000 militants from northern districts of Syria to Azerbaijan, Armenian Ambassador to Russia Vardan Toghanyan said on Monday.
"This is the relocation of mercenaries. Military intelligence has repeatedly stated that they have arrived at the Naxcivan airport of Azerbaijan on charter flights. It's some 4,000 militants from the territories in northern Syria occupied by Turkey," Toghanyan said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and French President Emmanuel Macron had a phone conversation on Sunday, the press service for the Armenian government said. Macron said he is concerned about a tense situation in the Karabakh crisis zone, the statement said.
"He found it necessary to undertake every measure to stop hostilities and defuse the tension. Macron also said that it is important to step up the effort of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to reach peace in the region," the Armenian government said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has also expressed regret over the beginning of hostilities in Karabakh during a phone call with Azerbaijani President llham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani presidential press service said on Monday. According to the press service, the phone call was initiated by the French side.
"In the course of the conversation, Macron expressed regret over the armed confrontation on the contact li ne and noted the importance of settling the conflict through negotiations," the press service said.
Moldovan President Igor Dodon has urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop the hostilities.
"The escalation of the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh is disquieting. We are friends with both countries and maintain good relations with the administrations of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. We urge both sides to cease fire and to restore peace," Dodon said on Monday morning after a traditional meeting with the prime minister and the parliament speaker.
He also addressed ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis residing in Moldova.
"We are asking these communities not to bring the conflict over to Moldova. We are a peaceful country, where hundreds of nationalities peacefully coexist. Moldova must remain tranquil, so I am asking you to abstain from protests and to keep peace and accord on our land," Dodon said.
In the early 1990s, Azerbaijan lost control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven districts as a result of the armed conflict with the region's Armenian population and Armenia.
The ceasefire between Armenia and the unrecognized NKR on one side and Azerbaijan on the other was established in May 1994.
Currently, negotiations are being brokered by the OSCE Minsk Group, which was set up in 1992 in the search for ways to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The OSCE Minsk Group comprises Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland and Turkey. Russia, France and the United States are co-chairing the group.
Azerbaijan does not regard the self-proclaimed NKR as a party to the conflict and refuses to negotiate with it.