MOSCOW – The fighting that would have been fierce broke out Sunday between Azerbaijan and Armenia and quickly escalated with the two sides claiming action with artillery, helicopter and tanks along a disputed border.
Military action has focused on the breakaway province of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area north of Turkey and Iran where ethnic tensions and historic claims have ignited conflict for decades.
Sunday’s fighting, however, would have been tougher than typical periodic border skirmishes, and both governments used military language describing the events as war. Before Sunday, the last major escalation was in 201
“The enemy has launched an attack” on the Karabakh region, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a Facebook post.
Mr. Pashinyan said the military from the Karabkah region, an ethnic Armenian enclave that claims to be an independent but mostly unrecognized state, repelled the attack.
But the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry then released a statement claiming it had initiated a “counterattack” with tanks, helicopters and missile artillery.
In a Statement brought by Russian news agencies, Azerbaijan said the military operation had destroyed “troops, military items and equipment of the Armenian Armed Forces” near the border and deeper inside the country. He said he destroyed 12 short-range anti-aircraft installations in Armenia.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said its forces destroyed three tanks and shot down two helicopters, Reuters reported.
In past flares, both sides have exaggerated their successes and the extent of their enemies’ violations of the ceasefire agreements, although the potential for a wider war has always been clear. The Karabakh region maintains a system of recalling nearly all of its male population as minutemen, and this mobilization was announced on Sunday morning.
The fighting in and around the Karabakh region, which Armenia calls Artsakh, was among the fiercest of the early post-Soviet conflicts. A ceasefire was declared in 1994, but violence has often erupted since then.
Moscow sells arms to both sides and has also brokered ceasefire agreements. Russia has a military base in Armenia. The Armenian diaspora in France and the United States has helped the Karabakh region, also financing the construction of a strategic access road to the mountains.