Accusations of new attacks, aid delay mar Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire

The remains of a rocket shell are seen after recent shelling during the military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the town of Martuni

Armenia accused Turkey on Thursday of blocking flights carrying emergency aid from using its airspace, and new fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave threatened to pitch the region into a humanitarian crisis.

Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of violating a ceasefire brokered less than a week ago to enable the sides to swap detainees and the bodies of those killed in the clashes, which erupted on Sept.27.

The flare-up is the deadliest since the 1990s, when 30,000 people were killed in a war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed by ethnic Armenians.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said its army had retained an “operational advantage” along the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, but that the situation in the Aghdere-Aghdam and Fizuli-Hadrut-Jabrail directions remained tense.

The Azeri prosecutor’s office said two civilians were wounded by shelling in Aghdam.

Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan accused the Azeri armed forces of artillery fire from the north and south-east, but said Nagorno-Karabakh’s forces were taking “appropriate counter-measures against the attacks”.

NYK Daily could not independently verify the reports.

International organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have warned that the conflict, coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, could leave tens of thousands of people in need of aid over coming months.

Zareh Sinanyan, Armenian High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, said the delivery of 100 tonnes of aid from the United States was being delayed as Turkey had prohibited Armenia-bound humanitarian aid flights over its airspace.

Turkey’s defence ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Armenia’s civil aviation committee was told on Wednesday the Qatar Airways flight from Los Angeles was cancelled but gave no reasons.

“We have grounds to claim that Turkey closed the air route deliberately,” the head of the committee, Tatevik Revazyan, told us, adding that Armenia was seeking an alternative route over Russia or Georgia.

Turkey’s foreign ministry, which handles airspace issues, was not immediately available to comment.

Aside from humanitarian concerns, there are fears that Russia and Turkey may be sucked into the conflict. Turkey’s military exports to its Azeri ally have risen six-fold this year, data shows, and Armenia has a defence pact with Russia.

In a phone call on Wednesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Russian leader Vladimir Putin expressed concerns about the participation of Middle East fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, though Turkey and Azerbaijan deny the presence of such fighters.

The fighting is not far from Azeri pipelines which carry natural gas and oil to international markets. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia on Wednesday of trying to attack the pipelines, a charge that Armenia has denied..

Nagorno-Karabakh authorities says 555 defence personnel have been killed in the fighting since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan said on Wednesday 43 civilians had been killed but has not disclosed military casualties.