Leaders from France, Russia and the United States issued a joint statement Monday urging a cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Representing the co-chair countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is tasked with finding a peaceful solution, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the violence, which began just more than a week ago.
“The ministers stress unconditionally that recent attacks allegedly targeting civilian centers — both along the Line of Contact and on the territories of Azerbaijan and Armenia outside the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone — and the disproportionate nature of such attacks constitute an unacceptable threat to the stability of the region,” the statement read.
More than 40 civilians have been killed in escalating violence, with 200 more wounded and hundreds of houses seriously damaged in the violence, according to the United Nations.
“We call on all sides to respect international human rights law, and international humanitarian law, in particular, by ensuring the protection of the civilian population and by preventing damage to essential (civilian infrastructure),” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday.
In a call with Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun urged both sides to agree to a cease-fire immediately, adding, “There is no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” according to a readout of the call by State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
Hikmet Hajiyev, an aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, said Sunday that Armenian forces shelled Azerbaijan’s second-largest city of Ganja with heavy artillery and rockets, killing one person and injuring 32 others. Hajiyev said Armenian forces also targeted the industrial city of Mingachevir and other smaller towns.
Hajiyev’s claims were denied by Armenian defense forces, but Arayik Harutyunyan, leader of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh, said in a post on Facebook that his forces targeted military objects in Ganja before he ordered them to stop to avoid killing civilians. Harutyunyan warned that his forces would begin targeting other large cities in Azerbaijani and urged those cities to evacuate immediately.
Authorities in the breakaway territory have warned that the "last battle" for the region has begun. They called on the international community Saturday to "recognize the independence" of Nagorno-Karabakh as “the only effective mechanism to restore peace."
The reports of attacks on Ganja and Mingachevir came a day after Armenia said the territory’s capital, Stepanakert, was targeted by Azeri forces.
Aliyev has demanded the withdrawal of Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as the only way to end the fighting.
The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory, a formerly autonomous territory that sits inside Azerbaijan, declared its independence from Baku in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war that claimed the lives of as many as 30,000 people before a cease-fire was declared in 1994.
Peace efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, mediated by the Minsk Group, collapsed in 2010.