Armenia rallies to ‘defend homeland’ over fighting with Azerbaijan

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Armenia’s president declared a national mobilisation to “defend our sacred homeland” after fierce fighting involving tanks, aircraft and artillery broke out with Azerbaijan forces on Sunday in the latest flare-up of a decades-long conflict over disputed land.

Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said it launched a “counterattack” after accusing Armenians of firing on its military positions and on civilian settlements near the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia said Azerbaijan started bombarding along the contact line separating the two forces and shelled civilians including in the region’s capital, Stepanakert.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared martial law and ordered a general mobilisation, after accusing Azerbaijan of “pre-planned aggression.” Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said in a state TV address that: “We’ll win as our cause is just.”

People attend a meeting to recruit military volunteers after Armenian authorities declared martial law and mobilised its male population following clashes with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in Yerevan, Armenia September 27, 2020. Melik Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
People attend a meeting to recruit military volunteers after Armenian authorities declared martial law and mobilised its male population following clashes with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. Photolure via REUTERS

France, Russia and others urged calm after the latest flare-up over Nagorno-Karabakh where fighting has repeatedly broken out since Armenians took control of the territory and seven surrounding districts from Azerbaijan in a war after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Hundreds were killed in a five-day war in 2016 before Russia pressured both sides to resume a ceasefire that was first brokered in 1994. Despite decades of mediation by the US, France and Russia, no peace agreement has been signed.

Russia again called on both sides to halt fighting immediately and to return to negotiations to ease tensions, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said.

People attend a meeting to recruit military volunteers after Armenian authorities declared martial law and mobilised its male population following clashes with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in Yerevan, Armenia September 27, 2020. Melik Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
People attend a meeting to recruit military volunteers after Armenian authorities declared martial law and mobilised its male population. Photolure via REUTERS

France called on Yerevan and Baku to end hostilities and immediately restart dialogue. "France is extremely concerned by the confrontation," foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes bon der Muhll said.

Turkey will stand by its ally Azerbaijan “with all our means until the end,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said, without elaborating.

The Azeri army is using tanks, artillery, missile systems and aircraft against Armenian positions near the front line and deeper into Armenian-held territory, the Defence Ministry in Baku said. As many as 12 Armenian anti-aircraft systems have been destroyed and one Azeri helicopter was shot down, it said.

Armenian forces hit two Azeri helicopters, three tanks and 14 drones, Armenian Defence Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said.

Civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have been urged to go into shelters after Azerbaijan shelled Stepanakert, according to Vahram Poghosyan, a presidential spokesman in the unrecognised republic. “Our response will be proportional, and full responsibility is on the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” he said.

An Armenian woman and child were killed although the full extent of the toll is unclear.

About 10 Armenian servicemen have been killed in the fighting, said Samvel Babayan, secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Security Council, according to Radio Liberty.

The conflict comes after tensions between the two sides rose sharply last week, when Mr Aliyev alleged that Armenia was massing forces near Nagorno-Karabakh for a new war. Armenia dismissed the claim as groundless and accused him of preparing for war.

As the fighting raged, and other social media appeared blocked in Azerbaijan and internet access was slow in some areas.

“Armenia is occupying our territory,” Mr Aliyev said in his speech. “We’ll put an end to this occupation.”

Updated: September 27, 2020 02:33 PM

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