Armenia has declared martial law and total military mobilization following clashes with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Sunday, calling on citizens to "get ready to defend the sacred homeland."
Tensions rose in the southern Caucasus between neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday morning over clashes in which Yerevan said Azerbaijani forces shelled the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Baku accused Armenian forces of shelling Azerbaijani military and civilian positions.
Authorities in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh said the region's capital Stepanakert (Khankendi) has been shelled and urged residents to get to safety. Numerous houses in villages have been destroyed, with injuries reported.
The disputed region has declared a state of war, agencies reported, with all able residents aged 18 and older to prepare for action. Both sides blamed each other for the fighting.
"The entire responsibility for this lies with the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan," said a spokesperson for Armenia's Defense Ministry.
In response, Yerevan said it had shot down helicopters and combat drones and had hit three Azerbaijani tanks.
Azerbaijan denies it provoked the fighting and claimed it was conducting a counteroffensive on the front line following an Armenian provocation.
The former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia have long been at odds due to territorial disputes, particularly concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Nagorno-Karabakh, while internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, is controlled by Armenian separatists also known as the so-called "Republic of Artsakh" which is not recognized by any country in the world including Armenia.
Armenia sees the illegally occupied region as its own territory, as Pashinian reiterated last year.
"Artsakh is Armenia, and that's it," he said during a rally in Stepanakert in August 2019, even though all U.N. countries recognize the territory as Azerbaijani.
Armenia and Azerbaijan previously fought a war for Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they transitioned into independent countries amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union. About 30,000 people died.
A cease-fire was implemented in 1994, which has since been broken intermittently.
In July, heavy fighting flared up in a border area north of Nagorno-Karabakh, with both sides trading blame for the flare-up.
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