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September 28, 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh issue: Azerbaijan, Armenia clash leaves 23 dead

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September 28, 2020

YEREVAN: Arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday accused each other of initiating deadly clashes that claimed at least 23 lives over a decades-long territorial dispute and threatened to draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey.

The worst clashes since 2016 have raised the spectre of a fresh war between long-standing rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia, which have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the Armenia-backed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, a mountainous and heavily-forested patch of land, is at the heart of a decades-long armed standoff between neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan. But the ethnic Armenians who make up the vast majority of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been running their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s forces were pushed out in a war in the 1990s.

Azerbaijan has taken back control of seven villages in counter-offense operation, Azeri Defence Minister Zakir Hasanov said while addressing the Security Council meeting Sunday.

According to the Defense Ministry's official information, Garakhanbeyli, Garvend, Kend Horadiz, Yukhari Abdulrahmanli villages of Fizuli district, Boyuk Marjanli, and Nuzgar villages of Jabrayil district were liberated.

Moreover, the positions of the Armenian armed forces were destroyed in the direction of the Agdere district and Murovdag, important heights were taken under control, the Azerbaijan defence ministry said.

Sixteen Armenian separatist fighters were killed and more than 100 wounded in fighting, rebel officials said. Azerbaijan accused Armenian forces of violating a ceasefire, saying it had launched a counter-offensive to "ensure the safety of the population."

The residents of a village in an area of western Azerbaijan under attack by Armenia has asked for international help to end their suffering.

Israil Haciyev, who lives in the village of Kapanli in the city of Tartar, said they are frequently fired upon by Armenia with heavy weapons.

“Women, the elderly, children, all are leaving their homes,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“Let the whole world hear us … such torment cannot be tolerated,” said Ibrahim Zamin, another local. “What is the world doing?”

Both sides also reported casualties including at least one Armenian woman and child. Baku said that an Azerbaijani family of five were killed in shelling launched by Armenian separatists.

A major confrontation between Muslim Azerbaijan and majority Christian Armenia threatened to embroil regional players Moscow and Ankara.

Turkey has sharply criticised Armenia, saying Yerevan was an obstacle to peace and vowing to continue its support for Azerbaijan.

In a statement on Twitter following a phone call with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on Armenian people to stand against leaders who he said were “dragging them to catastrophe”, adding that Ankara’s solidarity with Baku would “increasingly continue”.

“Armenia, which has added another to its attacks against Azerbaijan, has shown once again that it is the biggest threat to peace in the region,” Erdogan said, and added that international reaction to the conflict had been insufficient.

Turkey calls on “the entire world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty,” Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s parliament has declared a state of war in some of its cities and regions following.

In a meeting, the National Assembly passed a measure partially and temporarily restricting the constitutional and property rights and freedoms of Azerbaijani citizens and foreigners in the country as long as the war situation continues.

Under the decision, a curfew may also be declared at certain times in some regions.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has vowed victory over Armenian forces in a televised address to the nation.

Aliyev says “there are losses among the Azerbaijani forces and the civilian population as a result of the Armenian bombardment”.

“Our cause is just and we will win,” Aliyev said, repeating a famous quote from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s address at the outbreak of World War II in Russia. “[The] Azerbaijani army is fighting on its territory,” he added.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on his people to defend their “homeland”.

“Get ready to defend our sacred homeland,” he wrote on Facebook, adding “the government has decided to declare martial law and a total mobilisation”.

"We are on the brink of a full-scale war in the South Caucasus," Pashinyan warned.

Azerbaijan´s "authoritarian regime has once again declared war on the Armenian people", he added.

Armenia said that Azerbaijan attacked civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh including the main city Stepanakert.

A spokesman for the Azerbaijan presidency told Al Jazeera his country’s goal is to retake all Azerbaijani territory controlled by Armenian forces.

Hikmet Haciyev, assistant to the president of Azerbaijan and the head of foreign policy department, added that Armenia must withdraw from the territory it has occupied for the conflict to end.

“Thirty years, we are suffering from Armenia’s occupation and aggression, and our civilians are becoming targets of the Armenian armed forces,” Haciyev said from Baku.

“We have one million ethnically cleansed Azerbaijanis from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Therefore, Azerbaijan armed forces are taking counter actions and counter attacks to repel Armenia’s provocations and further acts of aggression against Azerbaijan.”

France, Germany and the EU swiftly urged an "immediate ceasefire," while Pope Francis prayed for peace.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the military flareup with Pashinyan and called for "an end to hostilities".

"The Russian side expressed serious concern over the resumption of large-scale clashes," the Kremlin said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan expressed "deep concern" on the deteriorating security situation in Nagorno-Karabakh region after Armenian forces' intensive shelling over the weekend on the civilian population of Azerbaijan.

The Armenian forces have attacked the villages of Terter, Aghdam, Fizuli and Jabrayil region and Pakistan considers it reprehensible and most unfortunate, a statement from the Foreign Office said.

"This could compromise peace and security of the entire region. Armenia must stop its military action to avoid further escalation," it demanded.

"Pakistan stands with the brotherly nation of Azerbaijan and supports its right of self-defence," the FO said.

We support Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is in line with the several unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions, the statement added.

Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Baku in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.

Talks to resolve one of the worst conflicts to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union have been largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.

France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the "Minsk Group" but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.

Pope Francis told crowds on Saint Peter´s Square he was praying for peace and called for "concrete gestures of good will and fraternity" from the warring sides.

Political observers said global powers should intensify talks to stop the conflict.

"We are a step away from a large-scale war," Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

"One of the main reasons for the current escalation is a lack of any proactive international mediation between the sides for weeks," she added.

"War is resuming. Time for Russia, France and US, individually and jointly, to stop it," tweeted Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre. – News Desk/ Agencies