On Monday, fierce fighting raged between Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces, which, despite international requests for an end to the fighting between long-standing enemies, sparked bellicose rhetoric by the regional power of Turkey.
Yerevan and Baku have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over the ethnic-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Fatal fighting broke out in July and 2016.
The region declared independence from Azerbaijan after a war in the early 1990s that killed 30,000 people. However, it is not recognized by any country including Armenia and is still considered part of Azerbaijan by the international community.
On Monday evening, the Azerbaijani armed forces launched a “massive offensive in the southern and northeastern sectors of the Karabakh Front,” said Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan.
Karabakh’s Defense Ministry said 26 more of his troops were killed late Monday, bringing the rebel total military casualties to 84.
The total number of deaths rose to 95, including 11 civilian deaths: nine in Azerbaijan and two on the Armenian side.
Azerbaijan has not reported any military casualties, but Armenian separatist officials released footage showing burned-out armored vehicles and the bloody and charred remains of soldiers in camouflage who were Azerbaijani troops
Fighting between the Muslim-majority Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia could involve regional actors, Russia and Turkey.
Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia and has a permanent military base there, sells sophisticated weapons worth billions of dollars to both Baku and Yerevan.
Armenia has accused Turkey – which supports Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan – of interfering in the conflict.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ordered a partial military mobilization on Monday, and General Mais Barkhudarov vowed to “fight to the last drop of blood to completely destroy and win the enemy”.
The UN Security Council should meet behind closed doors on Tuesday at 5 p.m. (9 p.m. GMT) for emergency talks over Karabakh, diplomats from AFP said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia is following the situation closely and that the current priority is “to stop hostilities and not deal with who is right and who is wrong”.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Armenia to end its “occupation” of Karabakh.
“It is time to end the crisis in the region that began with the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Erdogan said.
“Now Azerbaijan has to take matters into its own hands.”
– Mercenaries from Syria –
Armenia has accused Turkey of sending mercenaries to Azerbaijan.
A war monitor said Monday that Turkey had sent at least 300 deputies from northern Syria to join the Azerbaijani armed forces.
Turkey told fighters that it would be tasked with “guarding border regions” in Azerbaijan for wages of up to $ 2,000, said Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The report comes after the European Union warned regional powers not to interfere in the fighting and condemned a “serious escalation” that is threatening regional stability.
In addition to the EU and Russia, France, Germany, Italy and the USA have called for a ceasefire.
Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said the Armenian separatists had regained positions that Azerbaijan took on Sunday.
But Baku claimed further progress.
Azerbaijani armed forces “are taking enemy positions … and have taken several strategic positions around Talysh village,” said the Defense Ministry.
“The enemy is withdrawing,” he added, accusing the separatists of shooting at civilian targets in the city of Terter.
– ‘We are not afraid of war’ –
The escalation has sparked patriotic fervor in both countries.
“We have waited so long for this day. The fighting must not stop until we force Armenia to return our country,” Vidadi Alekperov, a 39-year-old waiter in Baku, told AFP.
“I will go to the battlefield happy.”
In Yerevan, 67-year-old Vardan Harutyunyan said Armenia was expecting the attack.
“The (Karabakh) question can only be resolved militarily. We are not afraid of war,” he said.
Armenia and Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilization on Sunday, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and curfew in major cities.
Talks to resolve the conflict – one of the worst to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
Analysts told AFP that international brokers need to step up their efforts to prevent an even worse escalation.
France, Russia and the United States brokered peace efforts as the Minsk Group, but the last major push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.