Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev says his country will keep fighting until Armenian forces “fully” withdraw from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as tensions continue between the two South Caucasus neighbors.
“We only have one condition: Armenian armed forces must unconditionally, fully, and immediately leave our lands,” Aliyev said on Wednesday, adding that, if “the Armenian government fulfills the demand, fighting and bloodshed will end, and peace will be established in the region.”
The statement was made on the fourth day of fighting between Azerbaijan’s military and Armenian-backed forces over Nagorno-Karabakh, the heaviest in years.
Scores of deaths have been reported in the fighting over the past days, with Yerevan and Baku continuing to accuse one another of being responsible for the war.
The disputed region of Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has an Armenian population and administration. The two countries have been locked in the territorial dispute since the 1990s, when Karabakh declared independence after a war that claimed 30,000 lives.
The new round of fighting is the heaviest since a 1994 ceasefire, which nevertheless failed to put an ultimate end to the conflict.
Armenia has claimed that it has killed 130 Azerbaijani troops and wounded 200 others. Azerbaijan claims that its forces have killed 2,300 pro-Armenia troops and “destroyed 130 tanks, 200 artillery units, 25 anti-aircraft units, five ammunition depots, 50 anti-tank units, 55 military vehicles.”
World leaders have urged a halt to the fighting, which has raised the specter of an all-out war between the two ex-Soviet Republics.
The Azerbaijani president has ruled out any possibility of talks. So has Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
In an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council called for an immediate halt to the fighting between the two sides and a return to “meaningful negotiations.”
The body also said its 15 members “strongly condemn the use of force and regret the loss of life and the toll on the civilian population” in the region.
Putin, Macron call for ceasefire
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and France’s Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate ceasefire.
The two presidents also voiced concern about Turkey’s alleged deployment of armed militants and mercenaries to the disputed region to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan.
Turkey, which strongly backs Azerbaijan in the region and has historically poor relations with Armenia, has said it is fully ready to help Azerbaijan retake the region.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that one of its warplanes had been shot down by a Turkish fighter jet over the Armenian airspace, a claim denied by Ankara.