Iran fears regional war as fighting rages around Nagorno-Karabakh

An ethnic Armenian soldier fires an artillery piece during a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 5, 2020. (Reuters)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces in the South Caucasus could trigger a regional war as the death toll rose on the 11th day of hostilities.

More than 300 have now died in the renewed fighting in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which under international law belongs to Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, Reuters reported.

Azerbaijan says Azeri cities outside the conflict zone have also been attacked in the deadliest fighting in more than 25 years, taking the fighting closer to territory from which pipelines carry Azeri gas and oil to Europe.

Iran, which borders both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been talking to both the former Soviet republics as concern mounts that Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia, could be sucked into the conflict.

“We must be attentive that the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not become a regional war,” Rouhani said in televised remarks on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

“Peace is the basis of our work and we hope to restore stability to the region in a peaceful way.”

He said Iran would not allow “states to send terrorists to our borders under various pretexts”.

In a new call for a ceasefire, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a television interview that the events were a tragedy and Moscow was deeply concerned.

Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, said on Tuesday the conflict was attracting people he described as mercenaries and terrorists from the Middle East.

Naryshkin said Nagorno-Karabakh could become a launchpad for Islamist militants to enter Russia and other states in the region.

Turkey has denied involvement in the conflict and has dismissed accusations first levelled by French President Emmanuel Macron, and echoed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, that Turkey has sent Syrian jihadists to fight in the conflict.

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