Four Armenian soldiers killed in Karabakh skirmish (updated)

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday June 19, 2010

Line of contact in Karabakh's Mardakert district where the skirmish occurred. Grigor Beglaryan / Armenian Reporter

Washington - (Story last updated June 23) 

An Azerbaijani raid across the Line of Contact on the night of June 18-19 left Armenian forces with heaviest casualties in many years; the incident took place just a day after the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani presidential summit.

Armenia's defense ministry reported that four were killed and another four wounded at a defensive position near Chailu (also known as Getk) in Karabakh's Mardakert district as a result of Azerbaijani attack. Body of one of the Azerbaijani attackers was left at the post, as the Azerbaijani raiding party retreated.

Azerbaijan's defense ministry confirmed the incident, describing it as a "shootout."  APA news agency identified the Azerbaijani dead as a non-commissioned officer.

Officials have so far provided few details of the incident but judging by the high number of casualties soldiers at the Armenian forward position appear to have been caught off guard.

On June 21 Armenian officials published the names of Armenian servicemen who were killed or wounded in the attack. According to the announcement junior sergeant Mnatsakan Gasparian, privates Araik Barseghian, Edward Manukian and Paruir Melkonian lost their lives; and junior sergeant Garik Matevosian, privates Galust Badasian, Andranik Arzumanian and Harutiun Mesropian were among the wounded.

The same general area but closer to nearby Levonarkh in Mardakert district was the site of previous deadly Azerbaijani raid in March 2008. That incident took place just a day after clashes between opposition activists and police forces in Yerevan on March 1-2. 

An "act of provocation"

Armenian officials and commentators have noted that the latest raid occurred just twenty-four hours after the meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents hosted by Russia's Dmitry Medvedev.

The three met on the sidelines of St. Petersburg economic forum. Observers have pointed out that Ilham Aliyev - apparently unhappy with the meeting - left for Azerbaijan immediately after it, while Serge Sargsyan stayed for other planned events, including meetings with the local Armenian community.

Speaking from St. Petersburg on the morning of June 19, Sargsyan condemned what he called a "provocation" and expressed condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in in the incident.

"We are full of determination and confidence that we will achieve [international] recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic," Pres. Sargsyan said, when asked about the impact of the incident on the peace process.

"This means that Karabakh mediatiors [from France, Russia and U.S.] must take stock since provocations left unpunished and unanswered can lead to worse consequences," Sargsyan was quoted as saying by News.am. "This is also evidence of disrespect towards the mediators."

On the same day Russia's foreign ministry which took note of Armenian officials' statements and expressed "deep regret" over reports of casualties.

In a joint statement on June 21, envoys from the mediating troika described the "armed incident" as "unacceptable violation of the 1994 Ceasefire Agreement [that] is contrary to the stated commitment of the sides to refrain from the use of force or the threat of the use of force."

Noting that the violence came immediately after the June 17 summit, the mediators called as "an attempt to damage the peace process."

In Washington co-chairs of the congressional Armenian caucus Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) condemned the Azerbaijani attack and called for restrictions on U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan and strengthening of the sanctions regime against the country.

Major border incidents since 1994 cease-fire:

In March 2008 an Azerbaijani attack near Levonarkh in Mardakert district leaves an estimated eight Azerbaijani soldiers dead and two Armenian soldiers wounded; mortars and artillery reportedly used. 

In March 2005 Azerbaijanis report more than 10 service members dead as they try to bring up their positions closer to Armenian defenses in the Aghdam district.

In June 2004 Azerbaijanis try to take control of a water pumping station near the Joghaz reservoir that supplies several villages on the border of Armenia's Tavush province and Azerbaijan's Kazakh district; there were dead on both sides, but Armenians retain control.

In June-July 2003, Azerbaijanis report about 10 service members dead as they try to bring their position into the no-man's land in the village of Karakhanbeili in the Fizuli district; mortars reportedly used.

In March 2000, an Azerbaijani special forces unit raids Nagorno- Karabakh's Mardakert district, with Azerbaijani losses estimated at 15.

In June 1999, Azerbaijanis initiate intensive fighting near the village of Karmiravan in Mardakert district. Casualties on both sides.

Since May 1994 cease-fire and throughout the 1990s skirmishes were frequent as the sides had not yet established permanent fortified positions.

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