YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has killed about 100 troops as attacks on both sides Tuesday fed fears of broader hostilities breaking out between the longtime adversaries.
Armenia said at least 49 of its soldiers were killed; Azerbaijan said it lost 50.
The fighting erupted minutes after midnight with Azerbaijani forces unleashing an artillery barrage and drone attacks in many sections of Armenian territory, according to Armenia’s Defense Ministry.
The ministry said fighting continued during the day despite Russia’s attempt to broker a quick cease-fire. Shelling grew less intense but Azerbaijani troops still were trying to advance into Armenian territory, it said.
It added that the Azerbaijani shelling damaged civilian infrastructure and wounded an unspecified number of people.
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said it was responding to a “large-scale provocation” by Armenia late Monday and early Tuesday. It said Armenian troops planted mines and fired on Azerbaijani military positions.
The two countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week war in 2020 that killed more than 6,600 people and ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal. Moscow, which deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under the deal, has sought to maintain friendly ties with both ex-Soviet nations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry urged both parties “to refrain from further escalation and show restraint.” Moscow has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining strong economic and security ties with Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, while also developing close cooperation with oil-rich Azerbaijan.
As the fighting raged overnight Tuesday, Pashinyan quickly called Russian President Vladimir Putin and later also had calls with French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the hostilities.
Blinken also spoke with Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said.
Speaking in parliament early Tuesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected the Azerbaijani claim that it was responding to Armenian provocations. He said his recent European Union-brokered talks with Aliyev in Brussels had revealed what he described as Azerbaijan’s uncompromising stand.
On Facebook, Aliyev expressed condolences “to the families and relatives of our servicemen who died on September 13 while preventing large-scale provocations committed by the Armenian armed forces in the direction of the Kalbajar, Lachin, Dashkasan and Zangilan regions of Azerbaijan.”
Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, also placed the blame for the violence on Armenia. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for Yerevan to halt its “provocations,” and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar condemned “Armenia’s aggressive attitude and provocative actions.”
The governor of Gegharkunik province, one of the regions that came under Azerbaijani shelling, said there was a 40-minute lull in the fighting, apparently reflecting Moscow’s attempt to negotiate a truce, before it later resumed.
The governor, Karen Sarkisyan, said that four Armenian troops in his region were killed and another 43 were wounded by the shelling.
The Armenian government said it would officially ask Russia for assistance under a friendship treaty between the countries and also appeal to the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations that includes Armenia.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said top officials from the security grouping held a meeting to discuss the fighting. Armenia's representative there emphasized that Yerevan expects its allies to take “efficient collective steps to ensure security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment on Armenia’s request but added during a conference call with reporters that Putin was “taking every effort to help de-escalate tensions.”
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
Avet Demourian, The Associated Press