OFFICIALS in Armenia said Friday the country is ready to discuss a ceasefire in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces has continued for six straight days, killing dozens and leaving scores wounded.
This week’s fighting is the biggest escalation in years in the decades-long dispute over the region, which lies within Azerbaijan but is controlled by local ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia. It prompted calls for a cease-fire from all around the globe.
On Thursday, leaders of Russia, France and the United States — co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group, which was set up by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992 to resolve the conflict — issued a joint statement statement calling for “immediate cessation of hostilities” and “resuming substantive negotiations... Under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.” Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that the country stands “ready to engage” with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group “to reestablish a cease-fire regime based on the 1994-1995 agreements.” “Armenia remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the statement read.
The deadly clashes in the region resumed on Friday, with Armenian military officials reporting Azerbaijan carrying out strikes on Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert, and Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry accusing Armenian forces of shelling the Agdam region.
The region’s officials said more than 150 servicemen on their side have been killed so far. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t provided details on its military casualties, but said 19 civilians have been killed and 55 more have been wounded.
Several journalists were wounded in shelling of the Matruni town on Thursday. Two of them were French citizens working with ‘Le Monde’ newspaper. Reporter Allan Kaval and photographer Rafael Yaghobzadeh were taken to the Stepanakert hospital and operated on there, and were being evacuated on Friday morning to Yerevan. The two will be then taken to Paris, ‘Le Monde’ reported. In an article published Friday, ‘Le Monde’ said they had traveled to Martuni on Thursday morning to “state for themselves the extent of the damage” from this week’s fighting. They were with several French, Armenian and other journalists when the town was attacked.
The report quotes regional human rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan as saying four civilians were killed and 11 other people wounded in the shelling. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked for decades in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, where a separatist war was fought in the early 1990s, ending in 1994 — three years after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The 4,400-square-kilometer (1,700-square-mile) enclave in the Caucasus Mountains, roughly the size of the US State of Delaware, lies 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Armenian border.
Azerbaijan’s President said Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh was the sole condition to end the fighting. Armenian officials claim Turkey is involved in the conflict, allegedly sending fighters from Syria to the region and deploying Turkish F-16 fighter jets to assist Azerbaijani forces. Turkey has publicly supported Azerbaijan in the conflict and said it would provide assistance if requested, but denied sending in foreign mercenaries or weapons.