YEREVAN/BAKU • At least 21 people were killed yesterday in a second day of heavy clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh that reportedly involved air power, missiles and heavy armour.
The fiercest fighting in years between the two former Soviet republics has revived concern over stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
Any move to an all-out conflict could drag in major regional powers Russia and Turkey. Moscow has a defence alliance with Armenia, while Ankara backs its ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan.
Ms Angela Frangyan, a documentary film-maker living in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital Stepanakert, said residents had taken cover in bomb shelters and constant shelling could be heard.
Majority-Christian Armenia and mainly-Muslim Azerbaijan have come to blows periodically in their decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Armenia immediately withdraw from Azeri lands he said it was occupying and added that it was time to end the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.
Armenia's Parliament condemned what it said was a "full-scale military attack" by Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh that was receiving Turkey's help.
Azerbaijan denied Turkey was taking part in the fighting, and has declared a partial military mobilisation. Its foreign minister said six Azeri civilians had been killed and 19 wounded.
An Armenian defence ministry representative said 200 Armenians were wounded, according to Interfax news agency.
Nagorno-Karabakh reported 15 more of its soldiers had been killed, after saying on Sunday that 16 of its servicemen had been killed and over 100 wounded. It also said it had recovered some territory it had lost control of on Sunday.
Interfax quoted the press secretary of Azerbaijan's defence ministry, Mr Anar Evyazov, as saying that the Azeri military occupied several strategically important heights near the village of Talish.
"Missile, artillery and air strikes are being applied to the enemy's positions, which forced the enemy to surrender the held positions," he said, adding that Mr Lernik Babayan, commander of the Armenian military's airborne assault battalion, had been killed near Talish. It was not immediately possible to verify the report.
The clashes have spurred a flurry of diplomacy.
China urged both sides to show restraint. Russia called for an immediate ceasefire and Turkey said it would support Azerbaijan.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said on Sunday that he was "extremely concerned over the fresh resumption of hostilities". His spokesman said in a statement: "The secretary-general strongly calls on the sides to immediately stop fighting, de-escalate tensions and return to meaningful negotiations without delay."
Mr Guterres "condemns the use of force and regrets the loss of life and the toll on the civilian population", the statement said, adding that the UN chief would speak to the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia.
France, Germany, Italy and the European Union also urged an immediate ceasefire, while Pope Francis prayed for peace.
Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azeri rule.
They have run their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict that erupted as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Although a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE