Armenian PM urges forming more volunteer units amid conflict

Armenia's prime minister on Wednesday urged citizens to sign up as military volunteers to help defend the country amid the conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh as intense fighting has raged for a fourth week with no sign of abating.

Speaking in a live video address on Facebook, Nikol Pashinian said that all Armenians must “take up arms and defend the Motherland” and urged local mayors to organize volunteer units.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The current fighting that started on Sept. 27 marks the biggest escalation in the conflict since the war's end.

A man walks past fragments of an Azerbaijan's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) downed near Stepanakert, in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan reported more fighting on Tuesday over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, where clashes have continued for over three weeks despite two attempts at establishing a cease-fire. (AP Photo)

Two Russia-brokered cease-fires frayed immediately after entering force, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 834 of their troops have been killed since Sept. 27, along with more than 30 civilians. Azerbaijan hasn’t disclosed its military losses, but says 63 civilians have died so far and 292 have been wounded.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said that to end hostilities, the Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. He has insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international mediation have yielded no progress.

Russia, the U.S. and France co-chair the so-called Minsk Group, set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1990s to mediate the conflict.

After two failed attempts to broker a truce, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan for another round of separate talks on Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the talks focused on “urgent issues related to the previously reached cease-fire agreements.”

On Friday, the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers are scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington. Last week Pompeo said Washington was making diplomatic efforts to help achieve a sustainable settlement to the conflict and called on both countries to “implement their agreed-upon commitments to a cease-fire.”

Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed to this report.