Two Armenian soldiers killed in border skirmishes, Defense Ministry says

By Mark Dovich

Two members of Armenia’s armed forces were killed in separate border clashes on Monday, the country’s Defense Ministry has said. On Monday afternoon, Azerbaijani forces opened fire on positions in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik region, killing one Armenian soldier, according to a Defense Ministry statement.

Armenia’s Human Rights Defender, Arman Tatoyan, said that the shoot-outs were taking place near Kut and Norabak, two villages in Gegharkunik that lie close to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. “The shootings are intense and of different caliber weapons. The residents are trying to hide in shelters. These actions of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are criminal, directly aimed at killing people, undermining security and peace of people,” Tatoyan wrote on Facebook.

The villages are located close to the Sotk Gold Mine, one of the largest in the Caucasus region. The Armenia-Azerbaijan border runs directly through the mine, which has been divided between Armenian and Azerbaijani control since the end of last year’s war in and around Karabakh.

In a separate incident earlier Monday morning near the village of Yeraskh, located on the border between Armenia and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, Azerbaijani sniper fire resulted in the death of one Armenian soldier, according to Armenia’s Defense Ministry.

Yeraskh’s strategic location near the de jure Azerbaijani enclave of Tigranashen and along the highway connecting Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, with the southern regions of Vayots Dzor and Syunik has made it a flashpoint in the ongoing border skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Last month, Azerbaijani forces killed one Armenian soldier in a shoot-out near Yeraskh.

During a trip last week to Armenia, Stanislav Zas, the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization military alliance, visited Yeraskh and spoke with Armenian soldiers stationed there. The CSTO is a military alliance founded in 1994 among Russia, Armenia, and four other post-Soviet states. The organization’s founding treaty commits signatories to “immediately launch the mechanism of joint consultations” when a member state is faced with a “menace to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Last week, Russia’s Defense Ministry accused Azerbaijan’s armed forces of violating the Karabakh ceasefire, marking the first time that Russia has made such a determination. A Russia-brokered ceasefire signed on November 10 of last year ended 44 days of fierce fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces in and around Karabakh. The war left thousands dead and tens of thousands more injured or displaced.

Armenia’s Defense Ministry also reported on Monday that clashes broke out at night between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces near Lake Sev in Armenia’s southern Syunik region. According to Armenia’s Defense Ministry, Armenian forces successfully repelled Azerbaijani forces attempting to advance further into Armenian territory. The number of casualties in that incident is not clear at this time.

Azerbaijani forces reportedly first advanced several kilometers deep into Armenian territory toward Lake Sev in May and have been stationed in the area since.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry put out two of its own statements on Monday. One statement said that Armenian forces opened fire at Azerbaijani positions in the district of Sadarak, directly across the border from Yeraskh. According to the other statement, Armenian troops shot at Azerbaijani soldiers stationed in Kalbajar, one of seven regions ringing the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Azerbaijan has reported no casualties.