Fierce fighting erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces on Sunday over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The battle raged for the second day, raising the death toll to 40, with hundreds reported injured on both sides.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave of about 1,700 square miles, is 30 miles from the Armenian border. Ethnic Armenians are in control of the territory since major hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan subsided in 1994. The conflict over the region has claimed 30,000 lives since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The conflict dates back to Soviet-era when Stalin redrew the map of the region, giving Christian-majority Nagorno-Karabakh to Muslim-dominated Azerbaijani. The dispute over the area heated up in the early 1990s as the Soviet empire began to crumble, and region’s ethnic Armenians demanded reunion with the newly independent nation of Armenia.

Turkey backs Azerbaijan in this conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter called on the “entire world to stand with Azerbaijan.” He also described Armenia as the “biggest threat to regional peace,” Turkish state media reported.

The Associated Press reported the escalating conflict:

Armenia and Azerbaijani forces kept fighting Monday over the disputed separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh after hostilities broke out the day before, with both sides blaming each other for resuming the deadly attacks that reportedly also wounded scores of people.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that Armenian forces started shelling the town of Tartar on Monday morning, while Armenian officials said the fighting continued throughout the night and Baku resumed “offensive actions” in the morning.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry told the Interfax news agency Monday that over 550 Armenian troops have been “destroyed (including those wounded)”, a claim that Armenian officials denied.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 31 servicemen have been killed so far. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Monday over 200 people have been wounded. Azerbaijani authorities said 26 civilians have been wounded on their side as well.

The heavy fighting broke out on Sunday morning in the region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.

Turkey’s support for Muslim-majority Azerbaijan is not limited to diplomacy alone. Armenian government blames Ankara of waging a covert war against the country.

“Turkey is recruiting and transporting foreign terrorist fighters to Azerbaijan,” state-run Public Radio of Armenia claimed. “The Turkish military experts are fighting side by side with Azerbaijan, who are using the Turkish weapons, including UAVs and warplanes.”

The Jerusalem Post also gave credence to Turkish involvement in the conflict.

“Several hundred Syrian refugees have been recruited by Turkey to fight against Armenia in the disputed Karabagh region,” the noted Middle East analyst Seth Frantzman wrote, citing Syrian commentators and regional media coverage.

The United States has called for the hostilities to cease.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” President Donald Trump said on Sunday. “And we’re looking at it very strongly. We have a lot of good relationships in that area. We’ll see if we can stop it.”

“The United States believes participation in the escalating violence by external parties would be deeply unhelpful and only exacerbate regional tensions,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. The “external parties” could refer to Turkey and Russia, an involvement that could make it a wider regional conflict. The nearby Caspian sea region is of great strategic significance to Europe, given its oil and gas pipelines.

 

 
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