An Armenian soldier was killed Tuesday in a border shootout with Azerbaijani forces, Armenia’s defense ministry said, with tensions still high after last September’s war over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region.
It later said the situation was “calm” after a skirmish at the Verin Shorzha border point in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik district. The area borders the Kalbajar region that was retaken by Azerbaijan after the war last year.
“One serviceman has been killed as a result of a shootout that followed the opening of fire by Azerbaijani troops,” the ministry said in a statement.
But the defense ministry in Baku denied its forces had opened fire. “According to our information, the incident involving the death of an Armenian soldier was an accident and it has nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side,” the ministry said in a statement.
A long-simmering conflict over Karabakh — a breakaway Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan — erupted into full-blown war in late September, with some 6,000 people killed in six weeks of fighting. It ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Armenia cede to Azerbaijan swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.
The ceasefire, monitored by some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers, has largely held but tensions have continued and there have been several border incidents.
Earlier this month Armenia accused Azerbaijan’s military of crossing the southern border in an “infiltration” to “lay siege” to a lake that is shared by the two countries.
‘Diplomatic’ Border Solution
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the time asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for military support. Moscow said it would help with the delimitation of the two neighbors’ borders.
Baku rejected claims it was occupying any Armenian territory, but Pashinyan said up to 600 Azerbaijani troops remained on Armenian territory.
The United States and France have called on Azerbaijan to pull back its forces.
Pashinyan told a May 20 parliament session that Russia was helping Armenia and Azerbaijan hammer out an agreement to resolve any border incidents through “diplomatic means, not through the movement of troops.”
Facing a snap parliamentary election next month, Pashinyan said the draft agreement was “100 percent in line with Armenia’s interests.” He also said the two governments might discuss possible territorial swaps between the two countries.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said the same day that the time had come for the two arch-enemies to start working on a peace agreement after decades of conflict.
Ethnic Armenian separatists declared independence for Nagorno-Karabakh and seized control of the mountainous enclave and several surrounding regions in a war in the 1990s that left tens of thousands dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Last year’s ceasefire agreement saw Armenia return the surrounding regions to Azerbaijan while separatist forces retained control of most of Karabakh itself.