A Christian Middle East expert and consultant for the Armenian Church in the Middle East has expressed deep concern over recent violence between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces.
Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of attacking large cities in violation of a ceasefire brokered by Russia that seeks to end the worst outbreak of hostilities in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani authorities said on Sunday that nine civilians had been killed and more than 30 wounded after Armenian forces fired missiles overnight on Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, and hit a residential building.
According to Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General's office, the city of Mingachevir also came under missile attacks early on Sunday.
Dr Harry Hagopian, an international Christian lawyer of Armenian heritage, told Premier he’s very worried about the scale of the conflict.
“The violence is very bad,” he said. “There have been skirmishes and there have been fights in the past. The last one before this big one was in 2016. And there was a small skirmish a couple of months ago, but that was very small. Those were contained. This time, the fight has assumed far, far larger and more serious proportions.”
He said one of the reasons for the intensified violence is due to Turkey giving military and political support to Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh's military officials on Sunday denied attacking Ganja and said the territory's army is observing the ceasefire.
They added that Azerbaijani forces had shelled Stepanakert, the region's capital, and other towns during the night in violation of the truce.
The latest bout of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces started on 27th September and has at least 300 people dead in the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia. The war also ended in Armenia taking over what was supposed to be a buffer zone for Azerbaijan to protect them from outside attacks.
“Just to give you an idea of what's happened during those eight or nine days of war, 50 per cent of the Armenian population of the enclave had become refugees and left the enclave and gone to Armenia,” Dr Hagopian said.
“So it huge, it's massive. The other 50 per cent, who left behind are the men who are fighting the war against Azerbaijan and Turkey. So in this sense, the question is, how do you ensure that Armenians have the ability to administer their own affairs, given the history of that parcel of land, and also given their numerical numbers, whilst at the same time also making sure that Azerbaijan gets back the buffer zone, which is land that doesn't belong to Armenians, and I would call it as an international lawyer occupied land?”
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a truce in Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered it in a series of calls with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
The ceasefire was announced early on Saturday, after ten hours of talks in the Russian capital sponsored by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and took effect at noon on Saturday.
The deal stipulated that the ceasefire should pave the way for talks on settling the conflict.
If the truce had held, it would mark a major diplomatic coup for Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but also cultivated ties with Azerbaijan.
However, minutes after the ceasefire came into effect, both sides accused each other of continuing attacks in violation of the deal.
The situation in the region was "relatively calm" on Sunday morning, according to Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, with only minor hostilities along the front line, but it was unclear whether the calm would last, he said.
"There is no shelling of our towns and villages. At the front line, there is some shooting with the use of artillery. There are some skirmishes on the border," he said.
"Since the morning it seems calm, but within minutes the situation can change."
The OSCE Minsk group, whose co-chairs were Russia, the United States and France, has tried to find a way to mediate in the conflict over the past 30 years, but have been unsuccessful.
Dr Hagopian said the issue is now a “frozen conflict” that needs an intervention from God.
“Please pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire those people who have decision making process in their hands, to come together to think that lives matter. Pray that they find ways to come to a win-win solution. Both sides should find something which is just, practical and save lives.”
Listen to Premier’s interview with Dr Harry Hagopian here:
Click here to learn more about the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict from Dr Harry Hagopian.