Azerbaijani Defence Ministry Nagorno Karabakh
File: An image grab taken from a video made available on the official web site of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry on September 28, 2020, allegedly shows Azeri troops conducting a combat operation during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Image Credit: AFP

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan reported nearly 100 troop deaths in their worst fighting since a 2020 war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
  • Russia said it had reached a ceasefire between the warring parties that brought several hours of relative calm.
  • Iran, US, EU urge restraint.

Yerevan: Armenia and Azerbaijan reported nearly 100 troop deaths Tuesday in their worst fighting since a 2020 war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The defence ministry in Baku said "50 Azerbaijani servicemen died as a result of Armenia's large-scale provocation," while Armenia earlier reported the deaths of at least 49 of its soldiers.

Azerbaijan on Tuesday accused Armenia of violating a ceasefire brokered by Russia after a night of clashes that left dozens dead and renewed fears of another all-out conflict between the historic foes.

Russia said it had reached a ceasefire between the warring parties that brought several hours of relative calm, but Azerbaijan later accused Armenian forces of "intensely" violating the agreement.

"Despite the declaration of a ceasefire since 09:00 (Moscow time, 0600 GMT), Armenia is intensively violating the ceasefire along the border by using artillery and other heavy weapons," Baku's military said.

Armenia appealed to world leaders for help after the fighting broke out, accusing Azerbaijan of trying to advance on its territory.

Tuesday's escalation came as Yerevan's closest ally Moscow - which deployed thousands of peacekeepers in the region after the 2020 war - is distracted by its six-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

Armenia's defence ministry said clashes had subsided after the ceasefire but that the situation on the border was still "extremely tense".

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Blinken to demand a response to "Azerbaijan's aggressive acts".

The defence ministry in Yerevan said the clashes started early Tuesday, with Armenian territory coming under fire from artillery, mortars and drones in the direction of the cities of Goris, Sotk, and Jermuk.

"The enemy is trying to advance" into Armenian territory, it said in a statement.

Azerbaijan, however, accused Armenia of "large-scale subversive acts" near the districts of Dashkesan, Kelbajar and Lachin and said its armed forces were taking "limited and targeted steps, neutralising Armenian firing positions".

Baku's long-standing political and military sponsor Turkey blamed Armenia and urged it instead to "focus on peace negotiations".

Restraint urged

Iran, which shares a border with both countries, urged "restraint" and a "peaceful resolution" to the fighting.

The European Union and the United Nations expressed concerns over the escalation and called for an end to the fighting.

Before the ceasefire was announced, Armenia's security council asked for military help from Moscow, which is obligated under a treaty to defend Armenia in the event of foreign invasion.

'Russia in bad shape'

Armenian political analyst Tatul Hakobyan said the escalation in fighting was a consequence of the "deadlock" in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.

"Azerbaijan wants to force Armenia to recognise Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan," he told AFP.

"The war in Ukraine has changed the balance of forces in the region and Russia - which is a guarantor of peace in the region - is in a very bad shape.

"In this situation, Azerbaijan wants to get concessions from Armenia as soon as possible," he added.

Last week, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of killing one of its soldiers in a border shootout.

In August, Azerbaijan said it had lost a soldier and the Karabakh army said two of its troops had been killed and more than a dozen wounded.

Two wars

The neighbours fought two wars - in the 1990s and in 2020 - over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan's Armenian-populated enclave.

The six weeks of brutal fighting in the autumn of 2020 ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire.

Under the deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades and Moscow deployed about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.

During EU-mediated talks in Brussels in May and April, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Pashinyan agreed to "advance discussions" on a future peace treaty.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.

'Deeply concerned'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday he was concerned that Russia could try to "stir the pot" in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as the United States urged the two countries to show restraint.

Washington has urged both sides in the conflict to cease hostilities after fighting broke out near the two countries' border.

"Whether Russia tries in some fashion to stir the pot, to create a distraction from Ukraine, is something we're always concerned about," Blinken told reporters at an event in Indiana, adding that Russia could also use its influence in the region to help "calm the waters." White House spokesman John Kirby said the United States remained deeply concerned about reports of attacks along the countries' border and urged the governments of both countries to re-establish direct lines of communications across diplomatic and military channels.

"We've actively engaged with both the Armenian and the Azerbaijani government to ... see what we can do to end this violence," Kirby told reporters at the White House. "There can be no military solution to this conflict. We urge restraint from any further military hostilities."

Blinken held separate calls overnight with Armenia's prime minister and Azerbaijan's president to express Washington's concerns over fighting along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, the State Department said. He urged Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to cease hostilities, and said Washington would push for an immediate halt to the fighting, the department said.