Armenia, Azerbaijan say 23 killed in Karabakh fighting

The clashes have reignited concerns about instability in the South Caucasus.
The clashes have reignited concerns about instability in the South Caucasus.PHOTO: AFP

YEREVAN/BAKU (AFP/REUTERS) - At least 23 people – civilians and military – have died in heavy fighting that erupted on Sunday (Sept 27) between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian rebels in the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, officials said. 

The worst clashes since 2016 have raised the spectre of a fresh war between long-standing rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia which have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the Armenia-backed breakaway enclave. 

The office of Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general said an Azerbaijani family of five were killed as Armenian separatist forces shelled Azerbaijan’s village of Gashalty.  Rebel authorities in Karabakh said 16 of its troops were killed and more than 100 wounded in fighting, as well as two civilians, a child and a woman. 

Both sides have accused each other of starting the hostilities.  Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the Nagorny Karabakh region from Baku in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives. 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Sunday warned the international community of Turkish interference in fresh fighting that erupted between his country and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region.

"I call on the international community to use all existing levers to prevent Turkey's meddling (in the conflict) which can once and for all destabilise the (Caucasus) region," Pashinyan said in a televised statement.

He added that Turkish "aggressive behaviour causes serious concerns," and denounced Ankara's support for its ally Baku.

Azerbaijan's parliament approved the introduction of martial law across the country and imposed curfews on Sunday, Hikmet Hajiyev, an aide to the president, said.

The clashes have reignited concerns about instability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines transporting oil and gas to world markets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called for a de-escalation in fighting between Moscow’s ally Armenia and Azerbaijan following the military flare-up. 

“It is important to make every effort to prevent further escalation in the confrontation; more importantly, there must be an end to hostilities,” Putin said during a phone call with Pashinyan, according to a Kremlin readout.

Talks to resolve one of the worst conflicts to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union have been largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement. 

In July, heavy clashes along the two countries’ shared border – hundreds of kilometres from Karabakh – claimed the lives of at least 17 soldiers from both sides. 

Raising the stakes, Azerbaijan at the time threatened to strike Armenia’s atomic power station if Yerevan attacked strategic facilities.  During the worst recent clashes in April 2016, around 110 people were killed.