Border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan showed no signs of abating on Thursday as the two countries rejected international calls for negotiations to halt five days of fighting over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry said the military had launched counterattacks overnight to “liberate occupied territories” from Armenian forces, shelling several of their positions, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday.
Agence France Presse said the confirmed death toll in the fighting rose to more than 100 people including civilians as of Wednesday. Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other.
The fighting continued to rage after the South Caucasus neighbours rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire from the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States.
The conflict, which started on Sunday, is the latest flare-up in an ongoing dispute over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region. It has threatened to expand beyond the breakaway state as both sides accused each other of targeting the other’s border areas.
Turkey has thrown its firm support behind Azerbaijan, saying it is ready to do whatever is necessary to eject Armenian forces from the region, which lies within Azerbaijan’s borders but is governed by ethnic Armenians. That support has included supplying Syrian mercenaries to the front lines, according to independent observers including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts on Wednesday, calling for a ceasefire. Both governments rejected the request. Russia and Armenia have a joint defence pact, but it does not encapsulate the breakaway enclave.
(All times local Turkish time, GMT+3)
23:45 – Ruling AKP co-chairman calls on Turkic republics to stand with Azerbaijan
Deputy Chairman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Numan Kurtulmuş said Turkic republics should stand with Azerbaijan diplomatically and show their fraternity.
Armenia had “launched an unjustified attack and put itself in a bad position internationally,” Kurtulmuş told Azerbaijani state television AZ TV, Ulusal Kanal reported.
Armenia “was desperate in the face of the valiant fight of the Azerbaijani army,” and thus “turned the matter into black propaganda,” Kurtulmuş said.
The OSCE Minsk group “never once told Armenia to stop in 30 years,” he continued. “This means openly taking sides.”
23:30 – Resolution only possible ‘if Armenia’s occupation ends’: Turkish presidential spox
Turkey’s presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın told pro-government newspaper Sabah on Wednesday that Armenia was illegally occupying Azerbaijani territory, and the only solution to tensions in the Caucasus was to end it.
The Nagorno-Karabakh issue will “only end if the Armenian occupation comes to an end”, Kalın said. “Without this, the cease-fire and negotiations will only serve as temporary solutions.”
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, created in 1992 to resolve the matter, failed in its task for nearly 30 years, Kalın said, accusing it of not being neutral. The spokesman said the OSCE initiative was influenced by Armenian diaspora lobbies in France and United States.
“Ending the occupation is for Armenia’s own good too,” he continued. “When it does this, it will enrich its own economy through economic integration.”