Armenia Threatens To Escalate Conflict With Azerbaijan
After Azerbaijani artillery fire killed three Armenian civilians last week, Armenia's defense ministry has threatened to escalate the conflict.
In a statement issued September 26, Yerevan said that "n order to quiet and deter the adversary, and thereby support the negotiation process, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia will hereafter apply adequate artillery and rocket striking means, continuously targeting permanent deployment areas, military movements, military equipment and manpower."
The statement was prompted by the deaths of three Armenian women, and then the deaths of four Armenian soldiers, after artillery fire from the Azerbaijani side of the border. The shelling of civilian villages has been a relatively new development in the conflict.
Armenia's first statement after the civilian deaths criticized Azerbaijan for trying to scuttle potential upcoming talks between officials of the two countries in New York at this week's United Nations General Assembly: "The Azerbaijani side always resorts to provocative actions ahead of negotiations and meetings on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and intentionally create tension."
That episode, however, was followed the next day by the deaths of four Armenian soldiers in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. (The territory, de jure part of Azerbaijan, has de facto been controlled by Armenian forces since a war between the two countries in the early 1990s.)
“A heavy and bloody clash erupted as the enemy forces attempted to raid on Azerbaijani positions on Friday,” the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense said. "The Armed Forces retaliated with rocket and artillery strikes against the enemy, killing four [Armenian] soldiers and wounding 16 more."
Azerbaijan also said on Saturday that Armenian artillery fire killed an Azerbaijani civilian. And, echoing Armenian officials, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry called the spike in tensions an Armenian provocation aimed at sabotaging diplomatic efforts.
After the deaths of the four soldiers, Armenia struck a more bellicose tone. "During the artillery fire, the enemy has used 122 mm artillery measures for the first time, to strike not the forces deployed on the line of contact, but the units deployed in their rear," the Armenian MoD said, for its part, and suggested that previous "restrained" behavior has not borne fruit.
"Neither the restrained behaviour adopted by the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia, nor the reactions of the OSCE Co-Chairs and the international community, both implemented with the objective of supporting the political process of the settlement of the conflict, have in any ways influenced the adversary to honour the ceasefire regime," Saturday's statement said. "Even worse, it creates the illusion of superiority of its armed forces, pushing for new adventurism in an atmosphere of impunity."
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan echoed that language in a statement on Saturday. "We have tried our best to avoid a new confrontation," he said. "We will continue in the same vein, and that also includes retributive actions so that the opponent does not think that his impertinent behavior is remained unpunished."
The foreign ministers of the two countries did meet on Friday with diplomats from the OSCE Minsk Group, which is trying to resolve the conflict, though it's not clear what kind of progress can be made in these circumstances.