Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani region ruled by ethnic Armenians, intensified Sunday, a week after clashes broke out in a territorial dispute that threatens to draw in regional powers, with Armenia and Azerbaijan offering starkly different versions of events on the ground.
New strikes followed by explosions hit Stepanakert, the main city and de facto capital of the breakaway territory on Sunday, AFP reported. Azerbaijani authorities said they took “retaliatory measures” following rocket fire by Armenian separatists from Stepanakert.
The sound of sirens broke out in Stepanakert at around 9:30am local time on Sunday followed by several explosions. Power in the city was out, the AFP team reported.
“Azerbaijani forces are shelling civilian targets in Stepanakert with rockets,” Armenian defence ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan told AFP.
The defence ministry in Baku said Armenian armed forces were firing rockets at the towns of Terter and Horadiz in the Fizuli region from Stepanakert.
On Saturday, Armenia’s defence ministry said separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh had repelled a massive attack by Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said its forces had “captured new footholds” with President Ilham Aliyev claiming his forces took the village of Madagiz, a strategic hamlet within firing range of an important northern road.
‘Different versions’ from Armenia and Azerbaijan
The fresh fighting came a day after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on the nation to unite at “a decisive moment” in the nation’s history.
“We are facing possibly the most decisive moment in our millennia-old history,” said Pashinyan. “We all must dedicate ourselves to a singular goal: victory.”
Armenia announced the deaths of 51 more separatist fighters, taking the number of fatalities on both sides above 240.
Reporting from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg said crowds were gathering at the military recruitment office on Saturday as reservists answered the call to arms.
“The flags of both Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh are very much in evidence across Yerevan, where the war dominates all conversations,” said Cragg.
Armenian reservists called to arms as fighting intensifies in Nagorno-Karabakh
Meanwhile in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent said authorities there were offering “a very different version from what we’re hearing on the Armenian side,” she noted, adding that the country’s chief prosecutor said Azerbaijan was opening 12 criminal investigations into what he called indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations in Azerbaijan.
“They’re accusing the Armenians of indiscriminate killings and war crimes, not mincing their words at all,” said Norris-Trent.
Azerbaijan officials give ‘very different version’ of events in Nagorno-Karabakh
Frozen conflict erupts again, threatenin region
Baku and Yerevan have for decades been locked in a simmering conflict over the enclave, which is recognised by the UN as part of Azerbaijan. Ethnic Armenian separatists broke away from Azerbaijan in a bitterly fought war in the 1990s and the landlocked enclave depends entirely on Armenia.
The latest fighting, which broke out on September 27, continued despite international calls for the neighbours to halt clashes and begin talks as fears grow that the fighting could expand into a multi-front war sucking in regional powers Turkey and Russia.
French President Emmanuel Macron has warned NATO member Turkey — which backs Azerbaijan — against the alleged deployment of militants from Syria to the Karabakh conflict.
Russia, France and the US — co-chairs of the Minsk mediation group – have called for an immediate ceasefire.
Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan sparked a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives, but it is still not recognised as independent by any country, including Armenia.
Talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)