Derechos | Equipo Nizkor
Ethnic Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan Flares Anew
The old soldiers spilled out of buses into a square, fired up by a desire to fight, and to die if necessary, in a new war with an old enemy: the Azerbaijanis.
The arrival on Monday of hundreds of Armenian volunteers in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, was just one sign of old animosities blazing anew as the latest fighting entered its third day.
"I think this is war," Lev Gevorkyan, 67, a farmer and a veteran of the last conflict, said while stepping off a bus that brought the volunteers from Armenia to this city, Nagorno-Karabakh's capital.
"This land was never Azerbaijan," he said. "And by the way, Azerbaijan is not even a country."
In Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the defense minister, Zakir Gasanov, issued a statement threatening to begin a military assault on Stepanakert if Armenian forces continued what he characterized as shelling of residential areas.
The statement, posted on the ministry website, said the defense minister had put all units of the army on alert and warned that they would inflict "crushing blows" on this city.
Amid this worrying spiral of escalation in a conflict many people outside this region had long ago forgotten, as it was overshadowed by conflicts in the Middle East and in other parts of the old Soviet Union, Russia announced an offer to mediate.
The Russian prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, will travel to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Thursday, while the foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, is expected in Baku the same day.
"The situation makes us deeply concerned," Dmitri S. Peskov, the Russian presidential spokesman, told reporters on Monday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Ethnic tensions have long divided predominantly Christian Armenia and mostly Muslim Azerbaijan, and war between them erupted as the Soviet Union fell. The dispute has continued to simmer since a 1994 cease-fire, with occasional flare-ups of violence. It is one of at least five so-called frozen conflicts in former Soviet lands, where wars ended with cease-fires but no final settlements, the most recent in eastern Ukraine. As is usual, each side here accused the other of starting the latest fighting, this time by unleashing heavy weapons.
On Monday, Azerbaijan announced that three more soldiers had died, and the Nagorno Karabakh army raised its death toll by two, without specifying when the deaths occurred.
Also on Monday, five Armenian volunteers were killed when their bus was hit by an Azerbaijani drone, a spokesman for the Karabakh military said.
Including at least four civilian deaths and the volunteers, the death toll on both sides rose Monday to 44 after three days. In addition, a Karabakh military official said 26 Armenian soldiers were missing in action.
The Kremlin has presented itself as a mediator between the two, while also selling arms to both. Russia also maintains a small base in Armenia.
On Monday, David K. Babayan, a spokesman for the president of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, directly accused the other regional power in the South Caucasus, Turkey, of stoking the violence. Mr. Babayan told journalists that "Azerbaijan could not have taken this decision on its own."
The Turkish government had no direct comment on Monday, but over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey issued a statement saying, "We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes."
Azerbaijan declared a unilateral cease-fire on Sunday, but the fighting continued and Armenia dismissed the declaration as a trick.
Azerbaijan said it would consolidate control over some strategic heights captured over the weekend in northeastern Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh officials had said no truce could come before the return of these areas.
[Source: By Andrew E. Kramer, The New York Times, Stepanakert, Aze, 04Apr16]
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