The UN Security Council has called on Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to “immediately stop fighting” over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after three days of clashes.
A statement unanimously approved by the 15-member council on September 29 also voiced support for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for the sides to de-escalate tensions and return to meaningful negotiations.
The council “expressed concern over reports of large-scale military actions along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone” and “strongly condemn the use of force.”
The statement comes as the fighting raised fears of an outbreak of new, full-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and threatened to draw in Russia and regional power Turkey.
Armenia said earlier that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down one of its warplanes, a claim that Ankara and Baku denied.
An Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman said in a statement that a Sukhoi Su-25 flown by Armenia’s air force had been on a military assignment in Armenian air space when it was downed by an F-16 jet owned by the Turkish air force. Much of NATO member Turkey’s air power is U.S.-made.
In Azerbaijan, a Defense Ministry spokesman denied the claim, as did Fahrettin Altun, a spokesman for Turkey’s presidency, calling it “absolutely untrue.”
Turkey is Azerbaijan’s closest ally, and stalwart adversary of Armenia, and there are growing fears that Ankara could seek to intervene on behalf on Baku.
Turkey “will be fully committed to helping Azerbaijan take back its occupied lands and to defending their rights and interests under international law,” Atlun said.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fielded helicopters, drones, tanks, and artillery already — a considerable escalation of past skirmishes and low-level shooting.
The two sides have been locked in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since the waning years of the Soviet Union. They fought a war that ended in 1994 in an uneasy cease-fire and an estimated 30,000 killed.
Since then, the region has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces. The region’s 1991 declaration of independence has been recognized only by Armenia, which is its sole outlet to the outside world.
While the conflict is generally considered to be “frozen,” sporadic violence has broken out over the years, and internationally mediated negotiations have failed to achieve a resolution.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the long-simmering conflict to erupt anew on September 27.
The clashes are the heaviest since at least 2016 and have reignited concern over stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
Earlier on September 29, dozens of deaths were reported. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said the Armenian military shelled the Dashkesan region — an accusation rejected by Yerevan as “absolutely false.”
“On the night of September 28-29, intense battles continued along the entire front line,” Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, referring to the so-called Line of Contact that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.
The Armenian Defense Ministry added that “battles with varying intensity continue.”
The violence has drawn calls by Russia and Western nations seeking to keep it from spiraling into outright war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the situation was “a cause for concern for Moscow and other countries.”
“We believe that the hostilities should be immediately ended,” Peskov said.
Russia is among the largest supplier of weaponry to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. It also has a military base in Armenia.
During a visit to Greece, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on both sides to stop the violence and work with the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to “return to substantive negotiations as quickly as possible.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ruled out any possibility of talks in a statement on Russia’s state TV channel Rossia 1. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said talks could not take place while fighting continued.
Late on September 28, separatists fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh reported that 26 Armenian servicemen had been killed in the latest fighting, bringing its total losses to 84.
Azerbaijan said 10 civilians have been killed and some 30 wounded.
Armenian reports that they have killed Azerbaijani forces have not been confirmed by Baku.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters