(RFE/RL) – An Armenian villager has been shot and killed in Nagorno Karabakh by what the Armenian military described on Friday as sniper fire from Azerbaijani army positions just east of the disputed territory.
Karabakh’s Defense Army said Hakob Hambardzumian, a 53-year-old shepherd from a village in the southeastern Martuni district, was fatally wounded on Thursday afternoon.
Davit Babayan, a senior official in Stepanakert, condemned the shooting as an act of “terrorism and cowardice.”
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied any responsibility for Hambardzumian’s death, saying that its troops “never fire on civilian populations and civilian facilities” in Karabakh and Armenia.
In September, three civilian residents of Armenia’s northern Tavush province, all of them women, died when Azerbaijani forces fired mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades on their villages close to the Azerbaijani border.
According to the Defense Army, the latest civilian’s death was followed by an increase in Azerbaijani truce violations along “the line of contact” around Karabakh. In a statement, the army said its frontline forces took unspecified “punitive measures” in response to more than two dozen mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades fired by the Azerbaijani side on the night from Thursday to Friday.
The Azerbaijani military, for its part, alleged Armenian mortar fire along both the Karabakh frontline and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. It also claimed to have killed at least five Armenian soldiers while repelling incursions at unspecified frontline sections. The Karabakh Armenian army quickly dismissed the claim as an untrue “propaganda ploy.”
The Karabakh Armenian villager’s shooting coincided with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian’s latest visit to Karabakh and adjacent Armenian-controlled territories. Armenia’s Defense Ministry said Ohanian inspected Armenian positions along “the line of contact” together with General Levon Mnatsakanian, the Defense Army commander. It said they were shown new defense fortifications built there.
Last year saw a further increase in truce violations in the Karabakh conflict zone, which resulted in dozens of combat deaths on both sides. The most recent upsurge in deadly fighting there came on the eve of a December 19 meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents held in Switzerland. Tension on the frontlines eased after the summit, even though the two leaders failed to kick-start the stalled Karabakh peace process.
Photo Caption: Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian visits the Line of Contact with Azerbaijan, February 11,2016.