Azerbaijan said its troops killed dozens of Armenians in clashes near the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the past two weeks as the International Crisis Group warned of an “unprecedented” escalation of tensions.
“Armenian losses ran into dozens,” Vaqif Dargahli, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said by phone today from Baku, the capital. Two Azeris were also killed, he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Ministry denied the claim, saying two Armenians and eight Azeris were killed.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said “the nature of reported clashes and ominous statements by some officials mark an escalation unprecedented in recent years.”
Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave about the size of Rhode Island, and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan in a war after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. More than 30,000 people were killed and a million displaced before Russia brokered a cease-fire in 1994.
Azerbaijan, which in December signed $45 billion of contracts with a BP Plc-led group to pipe natural gas to Europe, has repeatedly threatened to use force to regain control of the territory should peace efforts fail.
A further escalation will adversely affect peace talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week, calling for restraint.