Heavy fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan – two arch-foes – broke out on Sunday over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but controlled by Armenian forces – including the main city of Stepanakert.  

Armenia declared martial law and ordered its military to mobilize after a major flare-up in violence with Azerbaijan; both sides blamed each other for the escalation.

Armenia accused neighboring Azerbaijan of attacking civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia’s defence ministry said its forces downed two Azerbaijani helicopters and three drones in response to an attack it said began at 04:10 GMT.

But Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said it launched a “counteroffensive to suppress Armenia’s combat activity and ensure the safety of the population”, using tanks, artillery missiles, combat aviation and drones. The ministry said an Azerbaijani helicopter had been downed but its crew had survived.

In a statement on Facebook, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said “the government has decided to declare martial law and a total mobilization”, telling citizens to “get ready to defend our sacred homeland”.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, meanwhile, said in a televised address to the nation that “there are losses among the Azerbaijani forces and the civilian population as a result of the Armenian bombardment”.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, where officials also declared martial law and ordered citizens to mobilize, ombudsman Artak Beglaryan said “there are civilian casualties” among the population in the region. Separately, a spokesman for the Armenian defence ministry said an Armenian woman and child had been killed in Nagorno-Karabakh.

As of Monday, battles between Armenian and Azerbaijan forces over Nagorno-Karabakh are continuing, with clashes occurring overnight, as international calls for calm after the heaviest fighting between the two sides in years grew.

The Armenian defence ministry on Monday morning reported fighting throughout the night, while Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces were shelling the town of Terter.

Defence ministry officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Monday 15 more servicemen had died overnight, bringing their total military fatality count to 32 since clashes erupted on Sunday morning.

Both sides, meanwhile, reported civilian casualties.

The contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, a mountainous and heavily-forested patch of land, is at the heart of a decades-long armed standoff between neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The ethnic Armenians who make up the vast majority of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been running their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s forces were pushed out in a war in the 1990s.

The latest clashes invited mixed responses from the global community.

The US joined global calls for Armenia and Azerbaijan to end deadly clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Iran called for an immediate end to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan after clashes between the two countries, a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by state TV, announcing Tehran’s readiness to help in establishing a ceasefire.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, called for a halt to fighting and an “immediate return to negotiations”.

France, a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan in a bid to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, called on Yerevan and Baku to end hostilities and immediately restart dialogue.

Fellow Minsk Group co-chair Russia also called for an immediate ceasefire.

Germany also called for an “immediate” halt to the fighting, urging a return to dialogue to resolve the dispute.

Pope Francis of the Vatican said he is praying for peace in the Caucasus region.

However, Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey blamed Armenia for the flare-up and promised Azerbaijan its “full support”. Pakistan, too, said it was “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating security situation in Nagorno-Karabakh region, saying that it stood with Azerbaijan.

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