Azerbaijani police cracked down on thousands of protesters who rallied in the capital Baku on Tuesday night in support of the army after 11 troops were killed in border clashes with Armenia.
A total of 16 people have died since Sunday in the heaviest fighting in years between the two South Caucasus arch-foes, raising fears of a major flare-up in the region.
The ex-Soviet states have for decades been locked in a simmering conflict over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh, which was seized by ethnic Armenian separatists in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.
In the largest rally Azerbaijan has seen in years, protesters gathered in Baku’s Azadliq square late Tuesday demanding that the army be mobilized to retake Nagorno Karabakh.
Waving Azerbaijani flags, they chanted “Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” and “Mobilization!”
Public gatherings are currently banned in Azerbaijan as part of restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
— CNW (@ConflictsW) July 14, 2020
Demonstrators marched towards the country’s parliament and some entered the building, prompting a heavy-handed response from riot police, who used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
An AFP reporter saw police carrying out arrests and beating demonstrators with truncheons.
Eleven Azerbaijani troops and one civilian have been killed since Sunday in the border clashes.
The clashes subsided late Tuesday and Armenia’s defense ministry spokeswoman Sushan Stepanyan said on Wednesday the situation on the border was “calm overnight.”
Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to restore control over the territory by force.
Armenia has vowed to crush any military offensive.
Peace talks have so far failed to bring about a solution to the dispute.