BAKU / YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan were accused on Tuesday of firing directly into each other’s territory and rejecting pressure to hold peace talks as their conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave threatened a full-blown war.
Both said they fired from the other side across their common border, west of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, for which fierce fighting broke out between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces on Sunday.
The incidents signaled a further escalation of the conflict, despite urgent calls from Russia, the United States and others to stop it.
The conflict has raised concerns about stability in the South Caucasus region, a corridor for oil and gas pipelines to world markets.
In a conversation with Russian state television, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev categorically rejected any possibility of talks. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the same channel that they could not take place as long as the fighting continued.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region in Azerbaijan, but ruled by ethnic Armenians and backed by Armenia. It seceded from Azerbaijan during the war in the 1
Dozens of people were reported killed and hundreds injured after clashes broke out between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces on Sunday, threatening to attract neighbors, including Azerbaijan’s close ally Turkey.
Following a closed-door discussion on Tuesday, the 15-member UN Security Council “expressed concern” over the clashes, condemned the use of force and backed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an immediate end to the fighting.
Further escalating tensions between the two former Soviet republics, Armenia said a Turkish F-16 fighter shot down one of its fighter jets over Armenian airspace, killing the pilot.
He did not provide evidence of the incident. Turkey called the statement “absolutely untrue” and Azerbaijan also denied it.
“The international community must strongly condemn Azerbaijan’s aggression and Turkey’s actions and demand that Turkey get out of the region,” Pashinyan told Russian state television.
“Turkey’s military presence in the region … will bring further escalation and escalation of the conflict.”
Azerbaijani leader Aliyev has accused Armenia of fabricating the plane crash. “Turkey is not a party to the conflict, it is not involved in any way and there is no need for that,” he said.
Aliyev said Azerbaijan was calling in tens of thousands of reservists for a partial mobilization announced on Monday.
“We are able to punish the aggressor ourselves, so that he does not even dare to look in our direction,” he said.
Any engagement in a comprehensive war could threaten to drag not only Turkey but also Russia. Moscow has a defense alliance with Armenia, but also enjoys close relations with Azerbaijan.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had spoken to Pashinyan on the phone for the second time since the crisis began, and said all countries should take measures to de-escalate. It has not made public any contacts between Putin and Aliyev.
The Kremlin has said Moscow is in constant contact with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Any talk of providing military support to opposing sides would only add fuel to the fire, it said.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted: “With rapidly growing casualties in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, the Trump administration must call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan immediately to escalate the situation. It must also demand that others – such as Turkey – stay out of this conflict. “
Pashinyan told the BBC that Azerbaijani forces shelled villages and towns in Nagorno-Karabakh and inside Armenia itself on Tuesday.
“There are casualties among both the military and civilians. Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded, “he said.
The Azerbaijani prosecutor’s office says 12 Azerbaijani civilians have been killed and 35 wounded by Armenian fire so far. The Azerbaijani side has not revealed any military casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh has reported the loss of at least 84 troops.
“What can I say? This is a war. Several times a day we hear airstrikes and hide in bomb shelters,” Albert Voskanyan, a resident of the enclave’s capital, Stepanakert, told Reuters.
Earlier, Armenian authorities said a civilian had been killed in an Azerbaijani attack on the Armenian city of Vardenis, more than 20km from Nagorno-Karabakh. They said a bus caught fire in the city after being hit by an Azeri drone.
The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan stated that the Armenian army fired on the Dashkesan region of Azerbaijan from Vardenis. Armenia has denied the reports.
Additional reports by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Richham Alkousa in Berlin, Gabriel Tetro-Farber in Moscow and Etze Toksabay in Ankara; Screenplay by Mark Trevelyan and Tom Balmfort; Edited by Mark Heinrich and David Gregorio