Dozens die in Nagorno-Karabakh

Dozens die in Nagorno-Karabakh

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Source: Wikimedia

Fighting has broken out in Nagorno-Karabakh, killing dozens and drawing international calls for a ceasefire to prevent violence spreading throughout the southern Caucasus.

Nagorno-Karabakh, inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians, has run its own affairs with substantial military and financial support from Armenia since its separatist war ended in 1994. The conflict broke out in the dying days of the Soviet Union, killing at least 20,000 and leaving more than a million displaced. Since then, it has become a key aspect of both Azerbaijan and Armenia’s foreign policy and domestic propaganda.

Baku’s defence ministry said its military had “liberated strategic heights and settlements”. “Six Armenian tanks were destroyed, more than 100 Armenian servicemen were killed and injured,” a statement said, adding that 12 of Azerbaijan’s personnel were killed.

Yerevan rejected Azerbaijan’s casualty estimate with President Serzh Sarksyan saying 18 people were killed and 35 injured. On Saturday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional forces said Armenian anti-aircraft forces had shot down an Azeri helicopter with Baku admitting one of its Mi-24 helicopters had crashed.

Both sides blamed the other for civilian casualties and violating the 1994 ceasefire. Similar violence was reported last month and outbreaks have been common since 1994.

The current outbreak comes against the backdrop of an economic crisis in Azerbaijan, which is set to fall into recession this year for the first time in 20 years as a result of plummeting oil prices. It also comes amid rising tension between Russia, Armenia’s main military and economic backer, and Turkey, which has close ties to Azerbaijan, over the shooting down of a Russian fighter last November.

Russia, a key mediator in the conflict, has stepped in with a diplomatic initiative.

President Vladimir Putin called for both sides to observe the ceasefire and “to exercise restraint so as to avert new human casualties”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said both sides should “immediately stop fighting and … fully respect the ceasefire”.

The region is crossed by oil and gas pipelines with the west fear the trouble spot could spark a wider, region war. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry asked both sides to establish “an ultimate resolution” to the conflict during talks with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Washington.

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