Nagorno-Karabakh / Republic of Artsakh - 2016
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan. The landlocked region declared independence in 1992. Fighting over the region killed about 30,000 people before a 1994 cease-fire. A peace treaty has never been signed and tensions between both sides occasionally boil over into violence.
Since December 2015 there was a steady escalation of clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The renewed fighting began on 04 December 2015, when Azerbaijan launched an offensive targeting Armenian positions along the "line of contact" separating Karabakh and Azerbaijan. In the days that followed, the situation quickly worsened, with an escalation of fighting that left more than a dozen fatalities on both sides.
Since 2013, the rate of casualties (for both soldiers and civilians) almost tripled. The total number of deaths from these clashes stood at 19 soldiers in 2003, but surged in 2014, with 64 soldiers and 8 civilians losing their lives, representing the highest level of deaths in the over 20 years since the ceasefire agreement. In 2015, however, there were at least 56 military fatalities and another 3 civilian deaths on all sides.
Since the emergence of the conflict in 1994, Russia had been a key member of the Minsk group, an international body created to provide a “road map” for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Minsk group showed little success, and the group’s format was gradually marginalized, at least in part due to Moscow’s attempt to “sabotage” the efforts. A Moscow-brokered cease-fire halted four days of violence in the region in April 2016, the worst confrontation in years, but sporadic shooting continued and some deaths were reported. The fighting that erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh was the worst outbreak of violence in the history of the conflict. At least 64 people were killed in the fighting.
The OSCE-sponsored peace plan -- pushed by Russia with the support of France and the United States -- proposed that Armenia give up occupied territory adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for concessions from Azerbaijan on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Armenian President Serzh Aliyev told Putin on 08 August 2016 that the “existing status quo is unacceptable” in the region and that “Azerbaijan’s occupied territories must be liberated.” But Sarkisian faced political opposition in Armenia over the idea of returning to Azerbaijan any territory Armenian forces had occupied since the early 1990s.
Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces said 06 April 2016 that they were observing a cease-fire following four days of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said its forces were strictly observing the cease-fire around the disputed territory. The ministry accused Armenian forces of breaking the truce several times Wednesday by firing mortars at Azerbaijani positions, adding that Azerbaijani forces had not returned fire.
Heavy fighting erupted 02 April 2016 between regional rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan in the tense separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian Defense Ministry called it the most serious escalation of fighting in the conflict since a 1994 truce. Media reports on 02 April 2016 quoted Azerbaijan officials as saying that 12 of its soldiers had been killed. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said in a televised statement that 18 Armenian soldiers had been killed.
The outbreak of violence was the worst in Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994 when Armenia and Azerbaijan ended a war over the territory that was part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of Armenian forces.
The Azeri defense ministry said the army had "liberated strategic heights and settlements" in the region. "Six Armenian tanks were destroyed (and) more than 100 Armenian servicemen were killed and injured," it said in a statement, saying 12 Azeri servicemen had also been killed.
Each side blamed the other for starting the fighting, and both sides also reported civilian casualties and accused each other of violating a cease-fire. The Armenian Defense Ministry said it had brought down an Azeri helicopter, but Azeri officials disputed that claim. Baku later admitted that its Mi-24 helicopter had been shot down.
The violence led Russia, a key mediator in the conflict, to step up diplomatic efforts to quench it. President Vladimir Putin urged the warring sides to immediately observe the cease-fire and "to exercise restraint so as to avert new human casualties," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Azerbaijan was ready to switch from a diplomatic to a military solution over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, Polad Bulbuloglu, Azeri ambassador to Russia, said following escalation in the area. “The attempts of a peaceful solution to this conflict have been underway for 22 years. How much more will it take? We are ready for a peaceful solution to the issue. But if it’s not solved peacefully then we will solve it by military means.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, to express condolences over the death of Azeri troops on the Nagorno-Karabakh border. "The Turkish President expressed his support and solidarity in relation to the events on the contact line between Armenian and Azerbaijani and stressed that the Turkish people will always be with the people of Azerbaijan," the Azeri president’s press service said in a statement. Turkey and Azerbaijan are Muslim countries, while Armenia is Christian. Turkish Defense Minister, Ismet Yilmaz, expressed his full support to Baku, saying it has a “just stance” on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Turkish Foreign Ministry also condemned Armenia for an alleged attack and urged Yerevan to fulfill the terms of the ceasefire.
Azerbaijan announced a unilateral cease-fire 03 April 2016 in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh after clashes with Armenian forces left 30 soldiers dead and both sides reported more fighting overnight. Yerevan, however, dismissed the announcement as an “information trick.” David Babayan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic leader, also dismissed the announcement, saying Azerbaijani operations were continuing.
Fighting on April 3 was described as fierce in the region's northeast and along the southernmost section of the “Line of Contact,” which effectively serves as a front line separating the opposing sides. Officials with Nagorno-Karabakh separatist fighters said its soldiers pushed Azerbaijani forces back from “tactically important” positions near the northern village of Talish.
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