Four days after a decades-long territorial dispute prompted the heaviest fighting between Azerbaijan’s military and Armenian-backed forces in years, Yerevan and Baku continue to accuse one another of being responsible for the war.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Armenia continued shelling the city of Terter, located along the contact line in Karabakh.
“Units of the Armenian Armed Forces have been conducting artillery shelling of the city of Terter,” it said. “According to preliminary information, some damage was done to civilian infrastructure, there are injuries.”
12 Azeri civilians killed in fighting
Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s Office said at least 12 civilians had been killed and 35 others injured in Armenian attacks since the fighting broke out on Sunday.
“To date, as a result of shelling attacks, carried out by Armenian forces with the use of heavy weaponry and targeting densely populated civilian areas, 12 civilians have been killed and 35 injured,” it said.
The office said 66 houses and eight other civilian facilities had also been damaged in the attacks.
Armenia, for its part, said Azerbaijani forces had destroyed a number of settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, including in its administrative center, Stepanakert.
Since the violence broke out, both sides have imposed martial law and announced mobilizations of armed forces.
Azerbaijan says destroyed Armenian S-300 missile system
In another development on Wednesday, Azerbaijan said its army had destroyed an Armenian S-300 missile system in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Yesterday, during the fighting on the territory of Shushakend… an enemy S-300 anti-aircraft missile system was disabled,” the ministry said.
It said at least 2,700 Armenian troops had been killed and wounded in clashes.
The ministry previously said that its forces had “completely destroyed” an Armenian regiment during the clashes.
Yerevan, however, denied the claim as “fake news.”
Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Ovannisyan said on Tuesday that its losses were being verified and would be announced on Wednesday.
He said Armenia-backed forces had repelled all Azerbaijani army attacks on Tuesday.
“The enemy sustained serious losses,” he added.
Armenia on Tuesday threatened to deploy heavy weapons of its own in the fighting, accusing Azerbaijan of using longer-range and more destructive types of artillery.
The Armenian Defense Ministry has also accused Turkey of sending its F-16 fighter jets into Armenian territory. A spokeswoman for the ministry claimed that a Turkish jet had taken off in Azerbaijan, flown into Armenia, and shot down an Armenian Su-25 jet.
Azerbaijan denies Turkish jets involvement in fighting
Both Ankara and Baku rejected the allegation, saying no Turkish jet was taking part in the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev dismissed the claim, saying his government did not “have this information.”
“I was recently informed that such a piece of news emerged out there. It is not proven by anything,” he added.
Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, has blamed Armenia for the eruption of the conflict and promised Azerbaijan its “full support.”
Armenia accuses Ankara, Baku of ‘plotting’ fighting beforehand
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, however, went further, accusing Turkey and Azerbaijan of plotting the fighting together during a joint military exercise in the region.
“This operation was planned beforehand and there are no doubts that this operation was plotted during joint drill with the Turkish armed forces,” he said.
He said Azerbaijan needed to “immediately stop its aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia because it was unleashed by Azerbaijan.”
This is while Baku has said it took retaliatory measures after Armenia attacked civilian settlements and military positions along the contact line, a heavily-mined no man’s land that separates the area where Armenian-backed forces are stationed from where Azeri troops are in the region.
Baku, Yerevan reject talks
Meanwhile, diplomatic pressure is increasing on both sides to hold negotiations and peacefully resolve the conflict, which has prompted fears of an all-out war in the South Caucasus region — a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
Armenian separatists seized Karabakh in a move supported by Yerevan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Some 30,000 people were killed in a conflict that ensued, which ended with a fragile ceasefire in 1994, with about 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory remaining under the control of Armenian forces.
France on Tuesday called for an urgent meeting of the Minsk Group — the US, Russia, and France — who have mediated peace efforts before, though their last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.
President Aliyev, however, ruled out any possibility of talks, and Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan said peace talks could not take place while fighting continued.
Armenia rules out deploying peacekeepers in Karabakh
Pashinyan also said on Wednesday that Yerevan was not considering deploying peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.
He said that the government, instead, was considering establishing strategic partnership and signing a security agreement with Nagorno-Karabakh.
“There is such an option on our agenda,” Pashinyan said.
Pashinyan also denied a possible involvement of the Russian military in the conflict, saying that he didn’t discuss that matter with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
“Also, we do not need to use the potential of the 102nd Russian base yet, but if such a need arises, all the legal foundations are there,” he said.
He was referring to a military base that is home to up to 3,000 Russian troops, helicopter gunships, and other military hardware in Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, which is close to the Armenian-Turkish border.
Russia, which maintains close ties with Armenia, signed an agreement in 2010 to extend its basing rights in the county to 2044.
Yerevan not ready for Russia-mediated peace talks
Pashinyan also said on Wednesday that the time was not right for peace talks with mediation by Moscow, saying it was inappropriate “to speak of a summit between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia at a time of intensive hostilities”
“A suitable atmosphere and conditions are needed for negotiations,” he said.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that “the Armenian side initiated a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan” in which the leaders “continued to discuss the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.”
Putin “expressed serious concerns over the continuing hostilities,” it said. “The pressing need was emphasized to cease fire by the opposing parties and take steps to de-escalate the crisis.”