YEREVAN, BAKU (Dispatches) — Armenia said Friday it is ready to discuss a ceasefire in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces this week has killed dozens and left scores wounded.
The fighting is the biggest escalation in years in the decades-long dispute over the region, which is part of Azerbaijan but is controlled by local ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia. Ceasefire calls have come from around the globe.
On Thursday, leaders of Russia, France and the United States — co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group, which was set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992 to resolve the conflict — issued a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and "resuming substantive negotiations ... under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.”
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said the country stands "ready to engage” with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group "to reestablish a ceasefire regime based on the 1994-1995 agreements.”
"Armenia remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the statement read.
Azerbaijan’s president says Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh is the sole condition to end the fighting.
On Friday, Armenian military officials reported that Azerbaijan carried out strikes on Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital of Khankendi which Armenians calls Stepanakert.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of shelling Agdam, Terter and Barda regions and attacking other areas.
Both sides reported destroying
military equipment belonging to their adversary.
Nagorno-Karabakh officials said more than 150 servicemen on their side have been killed so far. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t given details on its military casualties but said 19 civilians have been killed and 55 more have been wounded.
Several journalists were wounded in shelling of the town of Martuni on Thursday. Two were French citizens working with Le Monde newspaper.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked for decades in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the site of a separatist war fought in the early 1990s and ending in 1994 — three years after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The 4,400-square-kilometer (1,700-square-mile) enclave in the Caucasus Mountains, roughly the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, lies 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Armenian border.
The separatist government in Khankendi said Azerbaijani forces destroyed a bridge linking Armenia to Karabakh.
Turkey, a close ally to Azerbaijan, has blamed Armenia for the eruption of the conflict and promised Azerbaijan its "full support.”
France accused Turkey of making "inconsiderate and dangerous,” statements in support of Azerbaijan.
Russia, however, said it was making progress in diplomatic efforts with Turkey over the conflict.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday a ceasefire would be conditional on Armenia’s withdrawal from Karabakh.
"As the Azerbaijani president has said, Armenia must withdraw from these territories in order for Azerbaijan to declare a ceasefire,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference with his Italian counterpart in Rome. "This is an absolute legitimate call.”
He also called for international pressure on Armenia to withdraw. "If the international community wants to do something, it should (ensure) that Armenia withdraws immediately,” he said.
Cavusoglu reiterated that Azerbaijan had not requested military assistance but that Turkey was ready to provide it if needed.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Azerbaijan a "brotherly state” on Friday and said its offensive in the separatist region aimed "to defend its own lands and to liberate Nagorno-Karabakh, which is under occupation.”
"With all our capability and all our heart, we will continue to be by Azerbaijan’s side,” Erdogan said, speaking at the opening of a hospital in the town of Konya in central Turkey. "God willing, this struggle will continue until Nagorno-Karbakh is saved from occupation.”
In another development, Pakistan dismissed reports by Indian media that its army was involved in the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The ministry, however, said that Islamabad "supports Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is in line with the several unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council resolutions.”