Armenia said three of its soldiers were killed and four wounded in border fighting with Azerbaijan Wednesday, as tensions simmering in the wake of last year’s six-week war flared into deadly violence.
Azerbaijan said two of its soldiers were also wounded in the fighting. Each side blamed the other for instigating the violence but said they had agreed to a Russian ceasefire proposal to calm tensions.
Armenia’s defence ministry accused Azerbaijan’s forces of having initiated a “provocation” along the northeast part of the border between the countries at around 3:40AM local time.
“Azerbaijan’s military-political leadership bears the entire responsibility of the escalation,” the Ministry of Defence said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s ministry of defence said in a statement that Armenia had initiated the fighting along the border in the Kalbajar district – which was retaken by Baku in last year’s conflict – injuring two Azeri soldiers.
“Armenia bears full responsibility for the escalation of tensions along the state border between the two countries,” it said.
A longstanding territorial dispute over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh roared back into life in September last year when Azerbaijan launched an offensive to retake territory in the ethnic Armenian-run secessionist enclave.
More than 6,000 people were killed in the resulting six-week war, which ended with a Russian-brokered deal granting large territorial gains to Azerbaijan.
But while the war is over, tensions have continued to flare sporadically along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the precise boundaries of which remain contested. Earlier this month, an hours-long firefight broke out across the border, following an earlier incident in May when Armenia accused Azerbaijan of failing to withdraw from its territory.
“It’s a continuation of this ‘no war, no peace’ situation which has characterised that part of the Caucasus since the early 1990s,” Neil Melvin, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Service Institute, told VICE World News.
He said there had been sporadic casualties in the region prior to the war, when patrols from either side would encounter each other along the border, “but it wasn’t a full-scale conflict.”
“We’ve reverted to that.”
He said while Russia had taken the leading role in mediating a solution to the conflict, there were underlying tensions that would not be easily addressed. He said the current tensions frequently centred around the disputed border demarcation between the countries since the end of the war, while there were also unresolved questions over the future of the ethnic Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Now you face a growing confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan as two states,” he said. “That’s likely to carry on until there’s a final peace agreement, which still seems very far away at this stage. There’s all sorts of questions unresolved in the background.”