Armenia says neighbouring Azerbaijan has attacked civilian settlements in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and its residents to seek refuge in shelters as the worst clashes since 2016 raise the spectre of another large-scale war.
Arch-foes Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a territorial dispute over the mainly ethnic-Armenian region for decades.
Armenia’s defence ministry on Sunday said its troops downed two Azerbaijani helicopters and three drones in response to an attack it said began at 04:10 GMT against civilian settlements, including the regional capital of Stepanakert.
“Our response will be proportionate, and the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the situation,” the ministry said in a statement.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry, in turn, said it had launched a military operation along the “contact line”, a heavily mined no-man’s-land that separates the Armenian-backed forces from Azerbaijani troops in the region, Russian news agencies reported.
The ministry said an Azerbaijani helicopter had been downed but its crew had survived.
Armenia’s foreign ministry condemned what it called the “aggression of the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan” and said the Armenian side would deliver an appropriate military and political response.
“Let us stand firmly behind our state, our army… and we will win. Long live the glorious Armenian army!” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.
Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. They seized Karabakh from Baku in the war, which killed 30,000 people.
Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border.