Armenia and Azerbaijan trade accusations as new ceasefire fails

A new ceasefire to stop fighting in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have failed.

Hours after the ceasefire came into effect at midnight on Sunday, Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of violations with artillery bombardments.

Armenia’s defence ministry released video footage of what it said was Azerbaijani troops “grossly” violating the ceasefire with artillery bombardments four minutes after the truce came into effect. Azerbaijan said Armenian forces continued shelling the conflict line and border areas north of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ceasefire is the second attempt to stop the fighting, which has killed at least 1,000 people since it began in late September. A Russia-brokered truce quickly collapsed last week.

Nagorno-Karabakh is within Azerbaijan’s borders but is populated by ethnic Armenians who run the unrecognised statelet with support from Armenia.

The flare-up is the worst since a war in the early 1990s over the enclave, a territory in the Caucasus Mountains that is home to 150,000 people, in which more than 30,000 were killed.

Azerbaijan claimed it had retaken two of seven border areas outside of Nagorno-Karabakh seized by Armenia during the war. Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, said in an address before the ceasefire that “Azerbaijan will give its response and it will do so exclusively on the battlefield”.

Azerbaijan’s vow to retake the region by force has been boosted by high-tech weaponry and political support from Turkey.

Armenia, which has a mutual defence pact with Moscow, and Russia also say that Azerbaijan is using Turkish-hired mercenaries from Syria and Libya — a claim denied in Baku and Ankara.

Turkey, which has thrown its weight behind Azerbaijan’s efforts to reclaim land that Baku says is illegally occupied, has appeared lukewarm about the prospect of a ceasefire. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly stressed in recent weeks that he wants to see a “lasting solution” to the conflict after the failure of decades of mediation by Russia, France and the US.

Speaking before the ceasefire announcement, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar accused those calling for negotiations and a halt to the fighting of “watching from afar as Armenia commits war crimes”.

Azerbaijan said 13 people died and a further 50 were wounded on Saturday when Armenian missile strikes hit residential areas in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city, which is 40km north of the conflict zone.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s government released a statement claiming Ganja was home to several “legitimate” military installations, though Armenia denied it was responsible for the attack. Authorities in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, said three civilians died during an Azerbaijani artillery assault on Saturday.

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