Armenia-Azerbaijan deadliest war rages on: Syrian President accuses Turkey of being main instigator as death toll crosses 200


The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh continued for the tenth day on Tuesday. The fighting over the region began on September 27 and has escalated to its deadliest level since the 1990s. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, which belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

Ethnic Armenian officials in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh said on Tuesday that 21 more servicemen had been killed in fighting with Azerbaijan, bringing its total military death toll to 244 since war broke out. The fighting has surged to its worst level since the 1990s when some 30,000 people were killed.

Syria blames Turkey: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan of being the main instigator in the deadliest fighting between Armenian and Azeri forces for more than 25 years. In an interview published on Tuesday that is likely to exacerbate international frictions over the clashes in the South Caucasus region, Assad also said militants from Syria were being deployed to the conflict area.

Turkey has denied involvement in the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave that belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but is governed by ethnic Armenians, and has dismissed accusations that it sent mercenaries to the area.

But Assad told Russian news agency RIA: “He (Erdogan) … was the main instigator and the initiator of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

Reiterating accusations first levelled by French President Emmanuel Macron that Turkey has sent Syrian jihadists to fight in the conflict, Assad said: “Damascus can confirm this.” Assad appeared, however, to provide no evidence for his allegation. Ankara did not immediately respond but has described similar accusations as part of attempts by Armenia to create “dark propaganda” about Turkey.

The fighting that broke out on Sept. 27 has increased concern that a wider conflict could be triggered, dragging in Turkey, which has expressed solidarity with Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia. Azerbaijan and Armenia have accused each other of starting the fighting – the latest in a long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that is closely watched abroad partly because of its proximity to pipelines that carry Azeri gas and oil to Europe.

More than 250 people have been reported killed – and many more are feared dead – in clashes that have been fought with artillery, drones and tanks. The sides have also posted footage of devastated and burning buildings, and people taking cover during heavy bombardments. Azerbaijan says Azeri cities outside Nagorno-Karabakh have been struck, and Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of targeting densely populated areas. Both deny targeting civilians.

Turkey criticises ceasefire efforts to end conflict: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday criticised international efforts to tackle the Azeri-Armenian conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, saying they had achieved nothing in nearly 30 years.

Turkey has condemned what it calls Armenian occupation of Azeri lands and vowed full solidarity with its ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan. Ankara has repeatedly called on Yerevan to withdraw its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh. Speaking during a visit to the Azeri capital Baku on Tuesday, Cavusoglu said a ceasefire alone would not be sufficient to end the fighting.

“We look at the calls coming from around the world, and it`s `immediate ceasefire`. What then? There was a ceasefire until now, but what happened?” Cavusoglu said in comments broadcast on Turkish television. “There can be a ceasefire, but what will be the result?” he added. “Can you tell Armenia to immediately withdraw from Azeri lands? Can you come up with a solution for it to withdraw? No, it`s the same calls for 30 years.”

Last week, France – a co-chair of the Minsk group mediating the conflict along with Russia and the United States – proposed a new initiative to restart talks between Baku and Yerevan. But those were hampered when Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Baku needed guarantees to consider a truce. Cavusoglu also dismissed the efforts, saying they could not treat Armenia and Azerbaijan as equals, as that would amount to “rewarding the occupier”. “The whole world now needs to understand this cannot go on like this,” he said.

Russia says Nagorno-Karabakh risks becoming a launch pad for terrorists: The head of Russia`s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, has warned that Nagorno-Karabakh risks becoming a launchpad for terrorists who could enter Russian territory, the Interfax news agency cited him as saying on Tuesday. Naryshkin said he expected Armenia and Azerbaijan to return to the negotiating table over the region.

Ceasefire appeals: Ceasefire appeals by the United States, Russia and France have failed to halt the fighting. The three countries have for years led mediation efforts in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed and has killed about 30,000 people. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun spoke separately to the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Monday and urged the sides to agree to a ceasefire immediately and resume negotiations.

The United States, Russia and France issued a new condemnation of the violence on Monday. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was due to hold talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Tuesday. Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Monday 223 of its servicemen and 19 civilians had been killed since the latest fighting began. Many more people have been wounded.

The Azeri prosecutor`s office said on Monday 25 Azeri civilians had been killed since fighting began. Azerbaijan has not provided details of military casualties. Azerbaijan did not immediately issue an update on fighting on Tuesday. But its foreign ministry accused Canada of “double standards” over a decision to suspend exports of some military technology over allegations the equipment was used by Azeri forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

(with inputs from agencies)

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