Armenian and Azerbaijani forces accused each other of attacks on their territory on Tuesday, as fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh continued for a third straight day after a decades-old conflict reignited.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Armenian forces shelled the Dashkesan region in Azerbaijan, while Armenian officials said Azeri forces opened fire on a military unit in the town of Vardenis, west of Nagorno-Karabakh, setting a bus on fire and killing one civilian.
Armenia's Foreign Ministry in a statement “completely” denied reports of shelling the Dashkesan region and said that with those reports Azerbaijan was laying the groundwork for “expanding the geography of hostilities, including the aggression against the Republic of Armenia."
Two days of fighting have killed dozens and left scores wounded. The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry reported 84 servicemen killed so far. Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, said Tuesday that 10 civilians were killed on its side and dozens sustained injuries. He didn't offer any details on the losses among the country's military.
The heavy fighting broke out Sunday in the region, which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.
Nagorno-Karabakh — a region in the Caucasus Mountains about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) or about the size of the U.S. state of Delaware — is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Armenian border. Soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some Azerbaijani territory outside the region.
The fighting prompted calls to end the hostilities from around the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed for an immediate cease-fire in phone calls with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, her office said Tuesday.
Merkel underlined the urgency of “an immediate cease-fire and a return to the negotiating table,” spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.
She told the two leaders that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe offers an appropriate forum for talks and that the two countries’ neighbors “should contribute to the peaceful solution,” Seibert said.
Turkey is supporting Azerbaijan in the conflict, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling on Armenia to immediately withdraw from the separatist region.
“The solution to the problem is simple and there is only one solution: Armenia has to withdraw from the territories it has occupied. If this doesn’t happen, this problem cannot be resolved,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Tuesday following a visit to Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Ankara.
The minister said the international community must defend Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the same way it defended the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia.
“They must not consider Azerbaijan and Armenia on an equal footing,” Cavusoglu said. “They are holding Azerbaijan, whose territories have been occupied, on an equal footing with Armenia. This is a wrong and unjust approach.”