The Armenian leader on Thursday accused Azerbaijani forces of crossing the southern border and trying to claim their territory, in a fresh escalation of tensions between the arch enemies.
Last year, Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The six-week conflict claimed about 6,000 lives and ended after Armenia ceded parts of the territory it had held for decades.
In the early hours of Thursday, the acting Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, accused Azerbaijan of new offenses when he called an emergency meeting of his security council.
Pashinyan said Azerbaijan’s forces had advanced more than three kilometers to southern Armenia and tried to “besiege” Lake Sev Lich, shared by the two countries.
“It is an invasion of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia,” said Pashinyan. “This is an act of subversive infiltration.”
He said Armenian soldiers had responded with “appropriate tactical maneuvers”, but stressed that the latest tensions must be resolved through negotiations.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry called Pashinyan’s allegations provocative, saying that the country’s “border troops are occupying positions belonging to Azerbaijan, in the districts of Lachin and Kalbajar”.
Armenia’s response, “making provocative statements – is astounding,” the ministry said in a late-night statement.
“Azerbaijan is committed to easing tensions in the region and urges to take steps in that direction.”
Armenia, which has controlled Lachin and Kalbajar since 1990, handed over the districts to Baku last year under the ceasefire.
The United States – one of three countries in the so-called Minsk group leading diplomacy on Nagorno-Karabakh – said it was “closely monitoring” the rising tensions.
“We understand communications between the parties are underway and urge restraint in peacefully de-escalating the situation,” State Department spokesman Ned Price wrote on Twitter.
We are closely following reports of increased tensions along an undefined section of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We understand that communication is underway between the parties and urge restraint to peacefully de-escalate the situation.
– Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) May 13, 2021
French President Emmanuel Macron in an Armenian post on Facebook expressed France’s “solidarity” with Armenia, saying that “Azerbaijani forces have invaded Armenian territory.”
“They must withdraw immediately,” Macron said.
Pashinyan is under enormous pressure to deal with the conflict. He resigned in April while remaining in the capacity of janitor, paving the way for June 20 parliamentary elections to avert the political crisis at home.
Moscow has signed a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but tensions remain.
Last month, Yerevan and Baku exchanged allegations of opening fire in Karabakh and along their shared border.
Ethnic Armenian separatists declared independence for the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seized control of the mountainous enclave in the 1990s in a brutal war that left tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.