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Armenia warns flare-up with Azerbaijan could escalate into full-blown war

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)
A Russian peacekeeper is stationed outside the town of Kalbajar in the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020. (File by AFP)

Armenia has warned of a full-fledged war if deadly clashes with Azerbaijan continue to escalate, two years after the two neighbors came out of a weeks-long bloody conflict.

On Wednesday, Yerevan called on big powers to pay further attention to the growingly serious situation, cautioning it could lead to another war in the region.

“There is a clear risk. You know how fragile the situation is in our region. The situation as we just mentioned continues to escalate,” said Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovhannisyan in an interview with Reuters.

He said so far about 50 Armenian soldiers had been killed and three civilians wounded.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said later in the day that 105 Armenian service personnel had lost their lives in clashes with Azerbaijan’s forces over the previous two days, as the two sides blame each other for the latest flare-up in the South Caucasus.

“If we say that Azerbaijan has carried out aggression against Armenia, it means that they have managed to establish control over some territories,” he said in a speech to parliament, TASS news agency reported.

A day earlier, Yerevan reported 49 fatalities, while Baku reported 50 fatalities among its service personnel.

The latest conflict erupted at midnight Tuesday, minutes after a ceasefire agreement between the two countries came into force. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of firing in the direction of the southern Armenian towns of Goris, Kapan, and Jermuk with the help of drones.

Azerbaijan rejected the claim, saying its forces were carrying out countermeasures in retaliation for “large-scale Armenian provocation.”

Separately on Wednesday, Baku offered to return the bodies of 100 Armenian troops killed in the worst clashes between the arch foes since their war two years ago.

Azerbaijan’s commission on prisoners of war urged for a ceasefire, saying it was “ready to unilaterally hand over the bodies of 100 Armenian servicemen to Armenia.”

On Tuesday, Russia announced it had negotiated a truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Armenia's Defense Ministry on Wednesday said “the enemy re-launched its attack by using artillery, mortar, large-caliber firearms in the directions of Jermuk, Verin Shorzha” on the border.

“Azerbaijan's military-political leadership continues its acts of aggression against the sovereign territory of Armenia, targeting both military and civilian infrastructure,” the ministry said.

For its part, Azerbaijan’s military claimed Armenian forces “violated the ceasefire... and shelled Azerbaijani positions near Kelbajar and Lachin with mortars and artillery.”

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on Wednesday that “definitely tensions persisted” on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

He also said a delegation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) - a Moscow-led grouping of ex-Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - was due in Yerevan later in the day.

Shortly after the clashes on Tuesday, Yerevan’s Security Council asked for military help from Moscow, which is obligated under the treaty to defend Armenia in the event of foreign invasion.

Russia is currently heavily engaged in a military conflict with Ukraine.

Tuesday's fighting was the most recent flare-up in tensions between the two estranged neighbors since thousands were killed in a 44-day war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh that ended in November 2020. The deadly conflict, which claimed over 6,500 lives on both sides, ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, but tensions continued.

After the bloody fighting, Azeri troops regained control over swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been controlled since the 1990s by ethnic Armenians.

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