04/03/2016, 12.26
ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN
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Fighting on the border of Nagorno-Karabakh. Putin calls for immediate cease-fire

by Pierre Balanian

Violent clashes and attacks on Armenian villages have caused civilian casualties. The victims include children. Nagorno-Karabakh, born from the dissolution of the USSR, like Azerbaijan, claims autonomy. In the past there have been massacres of Christian Armenians by Muslim Azerbaijanis. The area is rich in oil. Turkey and Russia vie for influence in the region.

 

Stepanaguert (AsiaNews) - Alarming news from the Caucasus reports renewed, unusual and intense fighting along the south-east and north-east border between the - unrecognized – republic of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The chief press officer of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Tigran Babayan, said that "on Friday night [between 1 and 2 April] Azerbaijan launched a massive armed attack on the border with tanks, artillery and helicopters" , accompanied by bombing of civilian villages populated by Armenians. The Nagorno Karabakh Ministry of the Defense claims that it "shot down a helicopter in the north-east boundary" inflicting "heavy losses on the enemy." Azerbaijan immediately denied the news of shooting down a helicopter, but did not deny the resumption of hostilities, blaming the Armenians.

Until 12 o'clock yesterday, fighting continued with ferocious intensity in the areas of Khojavend- Fizuli and Agdam-Agdere-Teter.

An Armenian girl, Vaghinag Gregorian, only 12 years old, was killed yesterday morning in the Marduni region, victim of the Azerbaijani artillery shells fired at a village inhabited by Armenians, located not far from the border with Azerbaijan; two other children were seriously injured.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called "the two sides" asking them "for an immediate ceasefire, refraining from violence to prevent more civilian casualties".

The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov discussed the worrying escalation in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In Yerevan, Armenia's capital, waiting for the President of the Republic to return from an official visit to the USA, the premier Ovig Abrahamian has called an emergency meeting of the government to take the necessary measures in response to "this unprecedented hostility launched by the enemy," adding they are "ready to use all necessary measures to rectify the situation".

For his part, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian discussed the delicate situation by telephone with the Special Representative of the European Union, with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the OSCE representative Andrzej Kasprzyk.

Official sources in Armenia do not rule out that Turkey could be behind this unprecedented armed attack, the worst  since 1994, which openly supports the Muslim Azerbaijan against Christian Nagorno Karabakh, to create disturbances on the outskirts of Russia, in an extremely important strategic area for Moscow. The same sources point the finger at the international community’s silence on Azerbaijan’s numerous violations of the truce, has done nothing but "encourage Azerbaijan to increase continuous violations, with the certainty of impunity" .

Yesterday afternoon, the spokesman of the Republic of Nagorno Karabkh announced that the armed conflict has broken out and that the Karabakh armed forces continue to keep control of defense positions, denying reports in the Azerbaijani press, of a collective panic of Armenians. "We are naturally concerned by such a situation," he said, "but there is no panic. We defend our country, our future and that of our children. Who defends the Azerbaijani side? Are they ready to die to defend only the corruption of (President Ilham) Aliyev? ".

The self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is populated entirely by Armenian Christians who Stalin had arbitrarily detached from Armenia and included in Soviet Azerbaijan's borders. Before the collapse of the USSR, following a referendum, the people of Karabakh republic declared their s secession from the USSR and Soviet Azerbaijan. When it became independent,  Azerbaijan refused to recognized the independence of Nagorno Karabakh perpetuating an open war against Nagorno-Karabakh backed by Armenia, which lasted over three years  (1992-1994), causing more than 30,000 deaths.

A ceasefire requested by Azerbaidjan and negotiated with the OSCE ended the war without solving the problem and daily violations of the cease-fire have been registered, with frequent shootings and rocket fire, but without arriving at the level of conflict that has been renewed over the past few days.

Azerbaijan, rich in oil, with an annual defense budget  that exceeds the entire budget of the Republic of Armenia, continually threatens to reclaim the "separatist" territory by force, although it has been fully independent for over 25 years . Armenia, backed by Russia, has always come out  in defense of Karabakh to save the Armenians from possible massacres such as those which occurred in the recent past in Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad in the 1990s. These crimes against humanity have gone unpunished.

Since 1994, the OSCE hascontinued in vain to look for a permanent solution to the problem that threatens to set off the powder keg of the Caucasus.

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