Armenian-Backed Forces Say They Hit Base in Azerbaijani City

Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh said they struck a military airport in Azerbaijan’s second-largest city on Sunday in a major escalation of fighting between the former Soviet republics.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s office said the missiles that hit Ganca came from neighboring Armenia, an allegation the Armenian Defense Ministry denied. The missile strike killed one civilian and injured 32 others in a densely populated area of the city and did not hit an air base, the Azeri government in Baku said.

Nagorno-Karabakh said it attacked the military airport in Ganca in retaliation for Azerbaijan’s bombing of Stepanakert, the enclave’s biggest city. Arayik Harutyunyan, the disputed territory’s president, warned that its forces are now targeting military sites in large cities of Azerbaijan.

Azeri Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov described the attack as an “open provocation” by Armenia that “expands the theater of conflict.”

Conflicting reports emerged over whether enclave leader Harutyunyan was injured in a retaliatory Azeri strike. Aliyev’s foreign policy aide Hikmet Hajiyev said Harutyunyan was injured in a precision strike on his bunker. The Nagorno-Karabakh leader’s spokesman denied he suffered any injuries.

Azerbaijan’s Aliyev, backed by Turkey, has vowed to continue the military campaign until Armenian forces leave Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that Azerbaijan lost in a war after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The violence that began a week ago is more intense and widespread than at any time since Russia brokered a 1994 cease-fire to halt that war, which killed about 30,000 people and displaced more than a million.

Aliyev said Azerbaijan seized control of one of the areas captured by Armenian forces during that earlier conflict. Armenia denied the claim. The recapture of the town of Cabrayil near the Iranian border would mark the most significant gain for Azerbaijan since large-scale hostilities resumed Sept. 27.

The latest confrontation adds to tensions between Russia and Turkey over proxy conflicts in Syria and Libya. Russia has an army base in Armenia, and the two nations have a mutual-defense pact, though it doesn’t cover Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia and Azerbaijan on Saturday set seemingly impossible terms for agreeing to cease-fire calls from the U.S., France and Russia. Turkey has said the demand for a truce is “unacceptable” and the crisis can only end when Armenian forces have left Azerbaijani territory.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday spoke to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and expressed concern about the clashes and increasing number of victims, a German government spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Merkel urged all sides to immediately stop fighting and start negotiations, according to the statement.

Pashinyan called on the German government to take a clear stand in the conflict. Asked in an interview with Bild magazine whether Berlin should publicly declare who started the current hostilities, he replied: “Yes. And Germany should evaluate the involvement of terrorists and mercenaries recruited in Syria in this conflict in the region by Turkey.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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