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Fighting erupts on border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, killing dozens of troops

Fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan killed about 100 troops Tuesday as attacks on both sides fed fears of broader hostilities breaking out between the longtime adversaries.

Fighting feeds fears that a decades-old conflict between the 2 countries is re-emerging

A man speaks at a podium
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan delivers his speech at the National Assembly of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia, on Tuesday. He says 49 soldiers have been killed in nighttime attacks by Azerbaijan. (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

Fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan killed about 100 troops Tuesday as attacks on both sides fed fears of broader hostilities breaking out between the longtime adversaries.

Armenia said at least 49 of its soldiers were killed; Azerbaijan said it lost 50.

The fighting erupted minutes after midnight with Azerbaijani forces unleashing an artillery barrage and drone attacks in many sections of Armenian territory, according to Armenia's Defence Ministry. It said shelling grew less intense during the day but Azerbaijani troops were trying to advance into Armenian territory.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said it was responding to a "large-scale provocation" by Armenia late Monday and early Tuesday. It said Armenian troops planted mines and fired on Azerbaijani military positions.

Soldiers run in a field
This image taken from YouTube footage released by Armenian Defence Ministry on Tuesday shows Azerbaijanian servicemen crossing the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and approaching the Armenian positions. (Armenian Defence Ministry via AP)

The two countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week war in 2020 that killed more than 6,600 people and ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal. Moscow, which deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under the deal, has sought to maintain friendly ties with both ex-Soviet nations.

The international community urged calm on both sides.

Moscow has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining strong economic and security ties with Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, while also developing close co-operation with oil-rich Azerbaijan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry urged both parties Tuesday "to refrain from further escalation and show restraint."

'Back to trying to build a peace'

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called Russian President Vladimir Putin and later also had calls with French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with both Pashinyan and Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev. The U.S. has a special envoy in the region, Blinken said, "and my hope is that we can move this from conflict back to the negotiating table and back to trying to build a peace."

Speaking in parliament early Tuesday, Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of having had an uncompromising stance at recent European Union-brokered talks in Brussels.

Armenia said the Azerbaijani shelling Tuesday damaged civilian infrastructure and wounded an unspecified number of people.

On Facebook, Aliyev expressed condolences "to the families and relatives of our servicemen who died on September 13 while preventing large-scale provocations committed by the Armenian armed forces in the direction of the Kalbajar, Lachin, Dashkasan and Zangilan regions of Azerbaijan."

Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, also placed the blame for the violence on Armenia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed support for Aliyev and said in a statement that Turkey and Azerbaijan are "brotherly … in all matters."

A woman protests by holding up her fist in a crowd
People supporting Armenia protest against the military conflict with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Brussels on Oct. 7, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The governor of Gegharkunik province, one of the regions that came under Azerbaijani shelling, said there was a 40-minute lull in the fighting, apparently reflecting Moscow's attempt to negotiate a truce, before it later resumed. The governor, Karen Sarkisyan, said four Armenian troops in his region were killed and another 43 were wounded by the shelling.

The Armenian government said it would officially ask Russia for assistance under a friendship treaty between the countries, and also appeal to the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment on Armenia's request but said during a conference call with reporters that Putin was "taking every effort to help de-escalate tensions."

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