YEREVAN/BAKU: NATO allies France and Turkey traded angry recriminations as international tensions mounted over the fiercest clashes between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces since the mid-1990s. On the fourth day of fighting, Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh accused each other of shelling along the line of contact that divides them in the volatile, mountainous South Caucasus.
Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded in fighting since Sunday that has spread well beyond the enclave’s boundaries, threatening to spill over into all-out war between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The re-eruption of one of the “frozen conflicts” dating back the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union has raised concerns about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets, and raised fears that regional powers Russia and Turkey could be drawn in.
Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan tweeted video of huge explosions from artillery fire, accompanied by dramatic pounding music and captioned “Takeover of an Azerbaijan position”. Azerbaijan released footage showing its forces firing volleys of rockets at enemy emplacements, as well as grey smoke rising from inside Nagorno-Karabakh as it was battered by Azeri artillery. Photographs taken in the Azeri town of Terter showed people taking cover in dug-outs, and damaged buildings which residents said had been struck by Armenian shells.
Some of Turkey’s NATO allies are increasingly alarmed by Ankara’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region inside Turkey’s close ally Azerbaijan that is run by ethnic Armenians but is not recognised by any country as an independent republic. Echoing remarks by President Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday Turkey would “do what is necessary” when asked whether Ankara would offer military support if Azerbaijan asked for it.