Azerbaijan, Armenia trade accusations on Caucasus conflict

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijani authorities on Friday accused Armenia of expanding the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh by shelling a different region in Azerbaijan, a claim rejected by Armenian officials.

Armenia, in turn, charged that the Azerbaijani troops executed two Armenian war prisoners — which Azerbaijan dismissed as a “provocation.”

The mutual accusations come amid intense fighting that has raged for nearly three weeks despite a Russian attempt to broker a truce, marking the largest escalation of hostilities between the South Caucasus neighbors in more than a quarter-century.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said a missile fired by Armenian forces hit near Orduba, in Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan region, on Thursday, causing no casualties.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said no missiles were fired at the Nakhchivan region.

On Friday, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan pointed to a video purportedly showing the execution of two Armenian prisoners by Azerbaijani troops, denouncing it as a proof of Azerbaijan “barbarity.” ”They trample on any civilized norms,” Mnatsakanyan said after talks with his visiting Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry dismissed the video as a fake “fabricated by the Armenians to attract the global community’s attention.” It insisted that Azerbaijani troops fully observe international humanitarian norms.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The latest outburst of fighting began on Sept. 27 and has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones, killing hundreds.

Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but also has cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan, hosted top diplomats from both countries for more than 10 hours of talks that ended with Saturday’s cease-fire deal. But the agreement immediately buckled, with both sides blaming each other for breaching it.

The Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of his Security Council Friday to discuss the conflict and other issues.

Azerbaijan has insisted it has the right to reclaim its land by force after efforts by the so-called Minsk group of international mediators that comprises Russia, the United States and France failed to yield any progress. It has actively pushed for its ally Turkey to take a prominent role in future peace talks.

Turkey strongly condemned the alleged attack on Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan region, with which it shares a short border, and invited Armenia to “calculate the consequences of its aggressive acts.”

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement also described the alleged attack as an attempt by Armenia to take the conflict outside the lands it holds.

In what was seen by some as a warning to Turkey that Moscow sees the South Caucasus region as part of the sphere of its vital security interests, the Russian navy on Friday launched maneuvers in the Caspian Sea. The Russian military said the drills would involve warships firing missiles at practice targets.

The Interfax news agency quoted retired Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, the former Russian navy’s chief of staff, as saying that the maneuvers were intended to serve as a reminder that Russia has strategic interests in the region.

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Associated Press writers Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.

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