Three Armenian soldiers have been killed in fresh fighting along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.
The Azerbaijani Armed Forces opened fire on Armenian military positions near the Verin Shorzha community in the Gegharkunik province during the afternoon of January 11, according to the Ministry of Defense (MoD) of Armenia.
“The enemy’s fire was silenced by the retaliatory actions of the Armenian side,” the MoD reported.
The Azerbaijani military resumed firing on the eastern border of Armenia using artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles that evening. As of 9:00PM, the situation along the border was relatively stable, according to the MoD of Armenia.
The artillery was heard by residents of the Norabek, Verin Shorzha, Nerkin Shorzha and Kut communities in Gegharkunik, according to the Human Rights Defender of Armenia Arman Tatoyan.
Private Arthur Artyom Mkhitaryan (born in 2002), junior sergeant Rudik Rafik Gharibyan (born in 2002) and private Vahan Vachagan Babayan (born in 2003) were reported killed in the crossfire. Two soldiers were wounded and are not in critical condition.
According to the MoD of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani soldier Nazarov Ayaz Azer was also killed in the fighting.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry accused the other side of opening fire first. The MoD of Azerbaijan further said that the Armenian armed forces fired on Azerbaijani military positions on the night of January 11 and the morning of January 12. It reported no casualties.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of Armenia condemned the “provocative actions of the Azerbaijani armed forces” as “another manifestation of the continuous encroachments of Azerbaijan on the territorial integrity of Armenia.”
“The Armenian side has repeatedly stated that one of the ways to avoid further escalation of the situation may be the mirrored withdrawal of troops from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and introduction of an international monitoring mechanism along the border,” the MoFA wrote in a statement.
Tatoyan criticized the call for a “mirrored withdrawal,” stating that the human rights of Armenian civilians can only be protected through the complete withdrawal of Azerbaijani soldiers from Armenian territory.
“It raises the question: to where do we retreat? From where do we need to retreat? The entire line of contact in many areas passes through the homes of our civilians, the lands belonging to our civilians. People cannot use and cultivate their farmland, since Azerbaijani soldiers are present on their land,” he said during a press briefing.
The MoFA of Azerbaijan, for its part, blamed the “Armenian military-political leadership” for “committing another bloody provocation on the state border.”
The Artsakh Foreign Ministry reported that the Azerbaijani armed forces also opened fire on the Karmir Shuka-Taghavard community of the Martuni region and the Nakhichevanik community of the Askeran region on January 10, targeting civilians and civilian objects.
With Prosecutor General G. Nersisyan visited Karmir Shuka and Taghavard communities of the Martuni region of Artsakh to collect facts on the consequences of the shootings by the Azerbaijani side in the direction of the abovementioned communities on January 10, at around 2:30 pm. pic.twitter.com/9wzdZ6r1H0
— Gegham Stepanyan (@Gegham_Artsakh) January 11, 2022
According to the Artsakh Defense Army, a civilian car parked near a kindergarten in Karmir Shuka caught fire as a result of Azerbaijani fire.
The firing stopped after the intervention of Russian peacekeeping forces.
“Ever since the cessation of hostilities, Azerbaijan’s aggressive behavior has been in gross violation of all the agreements reached, the norms of international law and principles of humanity and has an aim to intimidate the people of the Republic of Artsakh and disrupt the activities of the Russian peacekeeping mission,” the MoFA of Artsakh wrote in a statement.
“We consider it necessary to emphasize once again that with such steps Azerbaijan cannot shake the determination of our people to live in Artsakh, for which any status within Azerbaijan is absolutely unacceptable,” the MoFA continued.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call on January 12 to discuss the “current situation around Nagorno Karabakh.” The press release from the office of the Armenian prime minister regarding the phone call made no specific reference to the latest border clashes.
The Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Zakir Hasanov and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar also held a phone call on that day to discuss the border fighting. Akar said that the “Turkish Armed Forces, today and always, are beside Azerbaijan in the fight for justice.”
The Armenia-Azerbaijan border has been volatile since the signature of a trilateral ceasefire statement on November 9, 2020 ending the 2020 Artsakh War. The surrender of territories outlying Artsakh to Azerbaijan, including the Kelbajar district bordering Gegharkunik, has created a new front line along the eastern border of Armenia. Incursions by Azerbaijani soldiers into Gegharkunik and Syunik since May 2021 have ignited intermittent fighting. Azerbaijan has also repeatedly violated the ceasefire in Artsakh, resulting in the deaths of civilians and combatants.
At least 61 combatants and 35 non-combatants from both sides have been killed in Artsakh and along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border since November 2020, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group. Casualties include those killed in exchanges of fire along the front lines and by mines in the conflict zone laid during the last three decades.