Moscow – Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region continued on Wednesday for the eleventh day, with no sign of a ceasefire. More than 300 people have reportedly been killed sinceon September 27.
The two nations have contested ownership of the mountainous enclave ever since they became independent with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is self-managed and is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.
A regional administration official said Wednesday that the fighting had already driven half of Nagorno-Karabakh̵
“According to our preliminary estimates, about 50% of Karabakh’s population and 90% of women and children – or about 70,000-75,000 people – have been displaced,” the Ombudsman for rights of the administration of Nagorno-Karabakh Artak Beglaryan.
The fighting in the Caucasus ended 25 years of relative peace, secured by a mediated ceasefire to end a deadly war between the former Soviet republics over Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s.
Azerbaijani officials said Tuesday that Armenian forces had targeted an oil pipeline with cluster munitions, which most nations have banned its use. The Armenian Defense Ministry promptly dismissed the charge, insisting that the Armenian forces had not targeted any oil or gas infrastructure.
There have been claims on both sides that the other is indiscriminately bombing civilian areas.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International released a report confirming information that cluster munitions had been used during the bombing of Stepanakert, the main city of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Khankendi, by the Azerbaijani military.
Amnesty International has invited both Armenia and Azerbaijan to become parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention, which neither of them signed.
The president of neighboring Iran, Hassan Rouhani, warned on Wednesday that the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict could escalate into a regional war. These fears have also been voiced by independent analysts who note, in particular, the lack of any meaningful intervention by the Trump administration in the United States.
Russianhe described it as a tragedy. Putin, who did not take sides in the conflict and whose government sold military hardware to both, said a peaceful resolution appeared “still a long way off, but in any case we are calling for a ceasefire.”
Putin spoke on the phone Wednesday with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. He had previously spoken to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan four times since hostilities broke out, according to the Kremlin.
The Russian government has also expressed concern over the involvement of Syrian fighters in the conflict. French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that evidence suggests Syrian jihadist fighters have traveled to the Caucasus via Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan in the fighting.
Armenia accused Turkey of sending Syrian mercenaries to join Azerbaijani forces.
Armenian officials said they were ready to engage with mediators from the so-called Minsk group – France, Russia and the United States, who helped negotiate the latest ceasefire on Nagorno-Karahabk – to work on a new agreement.
So far Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkey, has rejected requests for a ceasefire, instead calling for the withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the breakaway region and adjacent territory seized during the war in the 1990s.