Fighting Resumes On Armenian-Azerbaijani Border After Brief Lull

Fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan reportedly resumed early on July 16 after a brief de-escalation in fighting, with the two sides accusing each other of attacking their frontline positions and shelling villages.

The Armenian military claimed to have thwarted a predawn Azerbaijani raid on one of its border posts in the northeastern Tavush district.

“After a fierce gunbattle, the enemy was repelled, suffering casualties,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said, adding that Azerbaijani forces then began shelling two Armenian border villages with mortars and howitzers.

“Gunfire is continuing at the moment,” Stepanian wrote on Facebook in the morning. “Units of the Armenian Armed Forces are neutralizing Azerbaijani provocations.”

Stepanian also claimed in a Facebook post on July 16 that Armenian forces had destroyed an Azerbaijani tank and struck “artillery and mortar positions that were shelling our settlements and positions.”

She posted a short video of plumes of black smoke rising from behind a hill on what appeared to be the Azerbaijani side of the frontier:

Stepanian also said that Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan had phoned Andrzej Kasprzyk, the head of an OSCE mission monitoring the cease-fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, to brief him on the latest escalation.

She said Tonoyan told Kasprzyk that the Azerbaijani side suffered “many casualties.”

The official added that no Armenian soldiers were killed at the volatile border section as of 9 a.m. local time.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service at around the same time, Tavush Governor Hayk Chobanian said that not only the local villages but also the town of Berd came under Azerbaijani artillery fire.

None of their residents was hurt as a result, he said, adding that the shelling caused damage to civilian homes and infrastructure.

“Residents are hiding in basements and shelters,” said Chobanian. “Their life is not at risk.”

“There is no need for evacuation.… I hope that [this situation] won’t last long,” added the governor.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of attacking its frontline troops and shelling Azerbaijani villages in the Tovuz district bordering Tavush. It gave no details.

The renewed fighting in the area broke out after a one-day pause that followed three days of deadly clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces that left at least 15 soldiers dead and prompted serious concern from the international community.

Before the July 16 escalation, the U.S., Russian, and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hailed the lull in the fighting and urged the parties to “make every effort to continue de-escalation.”

“The co-chairs welcomed the confirmation of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to hold substantive negotiations on crucial aspects of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement as soon as possible and emphasized the importance of returning OSCE monitors to the region as soon as circumstances allow,” said the statement issued late on July 15.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services and AFP