Azerbaijani shelling killed three Armenian civilian women living near the border between the two countries, the highest one-day death toll of civilians in recent memory.
The victims, in the Tavush region in northeastern Armenia, were killed by mortar and gunfire the evening of September 24, the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement. Two of the women were elderly; one was 94 and another 83.
That death toll "is the most civilians killed in one day that I can recall since the cease-fire," said Emil Sanamyan, an Armenian journalist who keeps data on casualties in the conflict, in an interview with The Bug Pit. Civilian deaths in the conflict have been steadily increasing: according to Sanamyan's records, five Armenian civilians have been killed this year, while no Azerbaijani civilians have been killed. In 2014, those figures were six Armenians and two Azerbaijanis; in 2013 one Armenian and one Azerbaijani; and in 2012 no Armenians and one Azerbaijani.
In previous years, most of the civilian deaths have been the result of stepping on land mines; this mortar fire at villages is "something that's been rarely seen since 1994," Sanamyan said.
The presidents of both countries are scheduled to be in New York next week for the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and there have been some reports that the two were planning to meet.
"It's noteworthy that the Azerbaijani side always resorts to provocative actions ahead of negotiations and meetings on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and intentionally create tension on the border," the Armenian MoD statement said. "All this once again demonstrates that the military-political leadership of the neighboring country is defying initiatives toward a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and periodically artificially destabilizes the situation on the line of conflict."
Azerbaijan, for its part, blamed Armenia for using its population as human shields.
"Undoubtedly, such information disseminated by the criminal regime in Armenia which has been subjected to political and military collapse seeks to justify to the Armenian people the military failure and heavy losses on the frontline and cover up the crimes committed by the Armenian troops against Azerbaijani civilians in border villages,” the Azerbaijani MoD said in a statement, according to news agency APA. “The Armenian government, particularly the civil population should know that Azerbaijani soldiers were ordered not to open fire only at civilians. In other cases, any Armenian military targets in motion will be destroyed by Azerbaijani soldiers without waiting for an order of command."