Armenia says 49 soldiers have been killed in attacks by Azerbaijan

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Azerbaijani forces shelled Armenian territory on Tuesday and killed at least 49 Armenian soldiers, Armenia’s prime minister said, a large-scale attack that fueled fears of wider hostilities between opponents of long time.

Hostilities erupted minutes after midnight, with Azerbaijani forces unleashing an artillery barrage and drone attacks in many sections of Armenian territory, according to the Armenian Defense Ministry.

The ministry said fighting continued during the day despite Russia’s attempt to broker a quick ceasefire. He noted that the shelling had become less intense, but said Azerbaijani troops were still trying to advance into Armenian territory.

The ministry added that the Azerbaijani shelling had damaged civilian infrastructure and injured an unknown number of people.

Azerbaijan accused its forces of retaliating in response to “large-scale provocations” by the Armenian military, saying Armenian troops laid mines and repeatedly fired at Azerbaijani military positions, resulting in unspecified casualties and damage to military infrastructure.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Azerbaijan reclaimed large swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week war in 2020 that killed more than 6,600 people and ended in a Russian-brokered peace deal. Moscow, which has deployed around 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under the deal, has sought to maintain friendly ties with the two former Soviet nations.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev held a meeting with military officials to discuss the situation. “It was noted that the responsibility for the current tension lies entirely with the political leadership of Armenia,” his office said.

Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, has also blamed Armenia for the violence. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Yerevan to stop its “provocations”, and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar condemned Armenia’s “aggressive attitude and provocative actions”.

Speaking in parliament early on Tuesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Azerbaijani shelling had killed at least 49 Armenian soldiers. He outright rejected the Azerbaijani claim that he was responding to Armenian provocations.

Pashinyan noted that the Azerbaijani action followed his recent European Union-brokered talks with Aliyev in Brussels, which revealed what he described as Azerbaijan’s intransigent stance.

As the fighting raged overnight, Pashinyan quickly called Russian President Vladimir Putin and also had phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss hostilities.

The Armenian government has said it will formally request assistance from Russia through a treaty of friendship between the countries and will also appeal to the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance Moscow-dominated security of ex-Soviet nations that includes Armenia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on Armenia’s request, but added in a conference call with reporters that Putin was “doing everything to help defuse tensions.”

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said senior officials from the security group held a meeting to discuss the fighting. Armenia’s representative in the grouping stressed during the meeting that Yerevan expects its allies to take “effective collective measures to ensure Armenia’s security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry urged both sides “to refrain from further escalation and to exercise restraint”.

Moscow has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining strong economic and security ties with Armenia, home to a Russian military base, while developing close cooperation with oil-rich Azerbaijan.

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Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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