Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued into a fourth day on Wednesday as the spiraling conflict threatens to explode into an all-out war.
Fighting broke out between the South Caucasian neighbors on Sunday in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both sides accused the other of initiating the attacks and declared martial law.
Nagorno-Karabakh legally belongs to Muslim Azerbaijan but its population is majority Christian Armenians. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists seized the region from Azerbaijan in a war that killed at least 30,000 people. An uneasy 1994 ceasefire ended the war, but sporadic clashes have continued between the sides in subsequent years.
This week’s fighting has already evolved into the most significant escalation of the conflict since the 1994 ceasefire, with the use of heavy artillery on both sides. Dozens have been reported killed, including civilians, along with hundreds wounded. As of Wednesday, both Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of firing directly into their respective territory, including well beyond the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Intense fighting continues,” Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday, adding that military operations were currently underway “along the entire front line.”
Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Shushan Stepanyan issued a similar update via Facebook saying “artillery engagement continues along the entire front line in [Nagorno-Karabakh] at present,” Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported on Wednesday.
Armenian separatist fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Wednesday that at least 84 of their servicemen were killed over the past four days. Azerbaijan reported the death of 12 civilians on its side as of Wednesday but has not released figures on its military casualties, according to the report.
Armenia on Wednesday said an Azeri attack on the Nagorno-Karabakh town of Martakert killed three of its civilians, local news agency Armenpress reported.
Both countries this week rejected any peace talks to resolve the conflict, causing observers and western leaders to worry that the fighting could erupt into full-scale war.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev “flatly ruled out any possibility of talks. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the same [Russian state TV] channel there could be no negotiations while fighting continued,” Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday.
The unrest threatens to disrupt the flow of energy through the region, where pipelines transport natural gas and oil to global markets. An escalation of the conflict would also likely draw in regional power players Turkey, an ally to Azerbaijan and its ethnically Turkic population, and Russia, a strategic partner of Armenia.
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned the use of force between Armenia and Azerbaijan and reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ earlier call for “an immediate halt in the fighting, a de-escalation of tensions, and return to meaningful negotiations.”