Saturday, May 18, 2024

Tensions mount as Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces fight for fourth day

An ethnic Armenian soldier fires an artillery piece during fighting with Azerbaijan's forces in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in this handout picture released September 29, 2020. Defence Ministry of Armenia/Handout via REUTERS

YERVAN/BAKU, September 30: NATO allies France and Turkey traded angry recriminations on Wednesday as international tensions mounted over the fiercest clashes between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces since the mid1990s.
On the fourth day of fighting, Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh accused each other of shelling along the line of contact that divides them.
Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded in fighting since Sunday that has spread far beyond the enclave’s borders, threatening to spill over into all-out war between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The skirmishes have raised concerns about stability in the South Caucasus region, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets, and raised fears that regional powers Russia and Turkey could be drawn in.
Some of Turkey’s NATO allies are increasingly alarmed by Ankara’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region inside Turkey’s close ally Azerbaijan that is run by ethnic Armenians but is not recognised by any country as an
independent republic.
Echoing remarks by President Tayyip Erdogan, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday Turkey would “do what is necessary” when asked whether Ankara would offer military support if Azerbaijan requested it.
Cavusoglu also said French solidarity with Armenia amounted to supporting Armenian occupation in Azerbaijan.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is home to many people of Armenian ancestry, hit back during a visit to Latvia. He said France was extremely concerned by “warlike messages” from Turkey “which essentially remove any of Azerbaijan’s inhibitions in reconquering Nagorno-Karabakh”.
“And that we won’t accept,” he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave, broke away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s in a war that killed an estimated 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
In Wednesday’s clashes, the latest in decades of conflict, Armenian media said three civilians had been killed and several wounded by shelling in the town of Martakert in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan said 14 Azeri civilians had been killed since fighting began on Sunday, and released footage showing grey smoke rising from inside Nagorno-Karabakh as it was pounded by Azeri artillery. Photographs taken in the Azeri town of Terter showed people taking cover in dug-outs, and damaged buildings which residents said had been hit by Armenian shells.
Azerbaijan said ethnic Armenian forces attempted to recover lost ground by launching counter-attacks in the direction of Madagiz, but Azeri forces repelled the attack.
Armenia said the Azeri army had been shelling the whole front line during the night and two Azeri drones were shot down over Stepanakert, NagornoKarabakh’s administrative centre. It was not possible to independently confirm the report.
In the latest telephone diplomacy, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country shares borders with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Rouhani expressed concern about the rising tensions, the Armenian government said, but gave no further details.
Pashinyan said he was not considering asking for Russia’s help at this point under a post-Soviet security treaty, but did not rule out doing so.
He said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had not discussed the possibility of Russian military intervention when they spoke by telephone on Tuesday.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday Russia’s military was closely following developments.
Armenia’s unified information centre, an online governmental platform, posted pictures of the wreckage of what it said was a SU-25 warplane shot down by a Turkish fighter jet on Tuesday.
Turkey denied downing the plane. A senior Azeri official accused Armenia of lying, and said two Armenian SU-25s had crashed into a mountain. (Reuters)