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War in Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh fighting drags into 10th day

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The aftermath of recent shelling is seen during fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in Stepanakert, in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on October 5, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Fighting between Azeri and Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has entered its 10th day, and the number of civilian casualties has reportedly risen.

According to Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry and the Nagorno-Karabakh administration’s Foreign Ministry, fighting was continuing on several fronts on Tuesday morning.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed on Tuesday that Armenian forces had suffered major losses and had been forced to retreat.

It said Azeri troops had destroyed an ammunition depot near Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as rocket launchers and artillery belonging to the Armenian forces.

Sputnik reported that at least eight explosions rocked Stepanakert on Tuesday after air sirens were heard in the city.

Ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Tuesday that the total military death toll since the start of the fighting had risen to 244 as 21 more servicemen had been killed. It also said 19 civilians had been killed and 80 injured.

According to the prosecutor general’s office of Azerbaijan, 27 civilians have been killed and 141 injured. The country has not provided a military casualty toll.

Turkey calls for world support for Azerbaijan

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu paid a visit to Baku on Tuesday, and called on the world to stand by Azerbaijan in the Nagarono-Karabakh conflict.

“To put these two countries on equal footing means awarding the occupier. The world must be on the side of those who are right, namely on the side of Azerbaijan,” Cavusoglu said.

He also questioned the usefulness of a ceasefire in the breakaway region, saying, “There are calls for a ceasefire, but what will happen next?”

His visit came after Russia, the United States, and France on Monday urged an unconditional halt to the fighting.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Cavusolgu would meet Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev as well as his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov.

The Azeri presidency’s press service quoted Cavusoglu as saying, “Turkey and the Turkish people are ready to provide assistance to Azerbaijan in any area where it needs our help. This is what [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan says, this is what we explain on our platforms.”

Armenian Foreign Ministry calls for truce

The Armenian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire in the region.

“Armenia confirms the need to immediately cease fire… We stress once again that there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the conflict and to the peace process, and any attempt to settle it militarily will be resolutely curtailed,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also welcomed a statement by the foreign ministers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s Minsk Group, who denounced attacks on civilians and infrastructure in the enclave.

On Monday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s administration said Azeri forces had launched 100 rockets at Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway enclave, while Baku said Armenian troops had fired missiles at several towns outside the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has an Armenian population. The latest fighting over the region began on September 27. Each side blames the other for initiating the fighting.

Ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Monday that the total military death toll since the start of the fighting had risen to 223, as 21 more servicemen had been killed. They said 19 civilians had also lost their lives.

The prosecutor general’s office of Azerbaijan said 25 Azeri civilians had been killed and 127 injured. The country has not provided a military casualty toll.

​Civilians gather in the basement of a building used as a bomb shelter, in Stepanakert, in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on October 5, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Azerbaijan also claimed to have made advances in the region, with President Aliyev saying his army had liberated several villages and heights in the Jabrail region in Nagorno-Karabakh.

But a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s administration claimed that the enclave’s Armenian forces had retreated for tactical reasons to limit losses and inflict more damage on Azeri troops.

Artsrun Hovhannisyan, an Armenian Defense Ministry official, separately said that Azeri advances had been halted.

The intensified fighting has dimmed the prospect of a ceasefire.

‘What is ours should be ours’

President Aliyev reiterated in an interview aired by Turkey’s state broadcaster on Monday that Armenia had to pull its forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azeri territories for military action to cease.

“We don’t have eyes on any other country’s lands, but what is ours should be ours,” he said.

Aliyev also stressed that Turkey, which strongly backs Azerbaijan in the region and has had historically poor relations with Armenia, must be involved in any potential peace process.

“A peace process will surely be started. Clashes cannot go on forever, so the sooner the better,” he said.

Still, Armenia showed no sign of backtracking, with its Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan urging servicemen demobilized last year to volunteer to fight.

“I want to invite those people and tell them they are… going to fight a war of survival for their fatherland,” he said in comments on Facebook on Monday.

For years, the two neighbors have been locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan’s breakaway, mainly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh. A ceasefire agreed in 1994 failed to end the conflict.

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