Azerbaijani Tanks Shell Positions In Nagorno-Karabagh


NKR FlagSTEPANAKERT (RFE/RL and ArmeniaNow) — Azerbaijani tanks shelled positions in the Nagorno-Karabagh region for the first time in 21 years, the Defense Ministry of the republic said on December 9.

“For the first time since the cease-fire [in 1994], Azerbaijan has used tanks on the Karabagh front line,” killing one soldier identified as Garik Avanesian, the ministry said. “Some 1,500 shots were fired from tanks and grenade-launchers,” the statement added.

Azerbaijan said Armenia had acted first, firing mortar rounds at settlements in Azerbaijan.

“The regime in Armenia bears responsibility for all of this,” Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said.

Azerbaijan’s ministry warned it would launch retaliatory strikes on “enemy” army positions in Nagorno-Karabagh.

The US State Department condemned the violence and urged all sides to adhere to the cease-fire.

“The recent escalation of violence and the use of heavy weapons are unacceptable,” spokesman John Kirby said. Azerbaijani officials say one of their army officers has been killed as a result of a shoot-out along the contact line with Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabagh region.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said in a December 7 statement that Lieutenant Abdulla Mollayev had been severely injured in the clash and died later in a hospital.

It was not clear from the statement when the shoot-out took place.

A senior Russian diplomat warned Turkey against supporting Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict following statements by Ankara officials about their efforts to help Baku regain control over the disputed region.

In comments on the Rossiya-24 TV channel on Monday, Aleksandr Lukashevich, who currently serves as Russia’s ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) headquarters in Vienna, said that Turkey’s position runs counter to international efforts to broker a Karabagh settlement.  “Such a position is not supported in the OSCE,” said Lukashevich, reminding that Russia, along with the United States and France, carries the main burden of the mediatory mission as a Minsk Group co-chair country. He said that while Turkey is also a member of the Minsk Group, “the leading role [in the Karabagh peace process] is reserved for the three co-chairs.”

“Therefore, attempts to defend one of the parties to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh are absolutely destructive and cannot have any continuation,” Lukashevich emphasized.

The senior Russian diplomat’s remarks come amid continuing tensions in the relations between Moscow and Ankara that followed the November 24 downing by a Turkish fighter jet of a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border.

Late last month Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu paid separate visits to Baku reassuring Azerbaijan’s leadership of Ankara’s support in the Karabagh conflict resolution. Cavusoglu, in particular, also criticized the American, Russian and French mediators for failing to achieve a Karabagh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan. The statements were taken by some analysts and politicians in Moscow as Turkey’s intention to “open a second front” against Russia in the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict zone.

Russia is Armenia’s key political and military ally and has a military base in Armenian soil. Armenia is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a defense pact of six former Soviet nations led by Russia.