The fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over Nagorno-Karabakh spilled over the disputed region’s borders Sunday.
Hikmet Hajiyev, an aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, said Armenian forces shelled Azerbaijan’s second-largest city of Ganja with heavy artillery and rockets, killing one person and injuring 32 others. Hajiyev also said Armenian forces also targeted the industrial city of Mingachevir and other smaller towns.
Hajiyev’s claims were denied by Armenian defense forces, but Arayik Harutyunyan, the leader of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh, said in a post on Facebook that his forces targeted military objects in Ganja before he ordered them to stop to avoid killing civilians. Harutyunyan warned that his forces would begin targeting other large cities in Azerbaijani and urged those cities to evacuate immediately.
Authorities in the breakaway territory have warned that the “last battle” for the region has begun. They called on the international community Saturday to “recognize the independence” of Nagorno-Karabakh as “the only effective mechanism to restore peace.”
The reports of attacks on Ganja and Mingachevir comes a day after Armenia said the territory’s capital, Stepanakert, was targeted by Azeri forces. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured in the fighting that erupted one week ago Sunday.
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces ignored calls this past week by the United States, France and Russia for an immediate cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, as fighting escalated to levels not seen since the 1990s. The three countries co-chair the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group, which is tasked with finding a peaceful solution.
Azerbaijani President Aliyev has demanded the withdrawal of Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as the only way to end the fighting.
The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory, a formerly autonomous territory which sits inside Azerbaijan, declared its independence from Baku in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war that claimed the lives of as many as 30,000 people before a cease-fire was declared in 1994.
Peace efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, mediated by the Minsk Group, collapsed in 2010.