Azerbaijan and Armenia accuse each other of violating a freshly-clinched ceasefire between the two sides following nearly two weeks of intense fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The contested region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it has been under the control of Armenian-backed separatists since the early 1990s.
The recent clashes – the worst in decades – erupted on September 27, with both Yerevan and Baku accusing each other of provocation. Since the onset of the clashes, hundreds of people have reportedly been killed, including many civilians.
On Friday evening, a temporary ceasefire, brokered by Russia, was achieved in Moscow after 11-hour talks between Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, his Azeri counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as the host.
The shaky truce, which mainly aims to allow for the exchange of prisoners and the recovery of dead bodies in the flashpoint region, came into force at 12 p.m. local time (10:00 CET) on Saturday.
No information was given for the duration of the truce in the landlocked region in the South Caucasus, and the International Committee of the Red Cross will act as an intermediary during the humanitarian operation, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.
Later on Saturday, however, the Azerbaijani defense ministry said that a number of populated areas were purportedly “under artillery fire by the Armenian armed forces.”
“Despite the agreement … the Armenian army tried to attack in the direction of Aghdara-Tartar and Fizuli-Jabrail. At the same time, a number of our settlements are under artillery fire by the Armenian armed forces,” it further said.
The ministry added that all the purported attacks had been “successfully prevented” by Azari forces, vowing that “adequate response measures are being taken against the Armenian army.”
Shushan Stepanyan, a spokeswoman for the Armenian defense ministry, for her part, accused “Azerbaijani units” for launching “an assault on an area called ‘Karakhambeyli’ at 12:05.”
She added that units of the “Artsakh defense army take appropriate measures to halt the enemy attack”, referring to the so-called Republic of Artsakh, which governs the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
On Friday evening, Lavrov had said that the two parties would “begin substantive negotiations with the aim of achieving a peaceful settlement as soon as possible.”
The international community has repeatedly called on both warring sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional truce.
Earlier this week, the Red Cross said that “hundreds of key infrastructure like hospitals and schools” have either been destroyed or damaged by heavy artillery in the region.
Turkey fully backs Azerbaijan and the two countries have strong relations and both consider themselves “one nation, two states.” The Turkish government has already denounced what it describes as the Armenian occupation of Karabakh.
Both Ankara and Baku have so far denied there is any Turkish involvement in the ongoing conflict. However, Turkey says it is ready to support Azerbaijan if needed.
The renewed fighting has increased concern that Turkey and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia, could be sucked into the conflict.
The growing clashes have also aroused international concern over stability in the South Caucasus, where pipelines carry Azerbaijan’s oil and gas to world markets.