Armenian troops alongside allied Karabakh separatist forces clashed with Azerbaijani troops Feb. 25 in the Khojavend-Fizuli sector of the Nagorno-Karabakh line of contact, the military zone that separates their respective positions, leaving around five Azerbaijani soldiers dead, local sources indicated along with AFP. The bodies of the Azerbaijani troops reportedly remain in the neutral zone between the two sides. Separatist officials said that the fighting had left the local Azerbaijani brigade's head of intelligence dead. Some reports suggest that the fighting began when Azerbaijani reconaissance units launched a limited operation targeting the southeastern and eastern sections of the line of contact. Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense, however, accused separatist forces of initiating the clashes in hopes of improving their positions. Later in the evening, Azerbaijani forces claim to have downed an Armenian surveillance drone. Fighting continued along the front line into the night, although it appeared to have subsided slightly overnight with shelling reported.
Feb. 25-26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre in which Azerbaijani civilians died at the hands of Armenian troops. Commemorative marches took place across Azerbaijan and in Tbilisi on Feb. 25. Two days before, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Nejmeddin Sadiqov visited the line of contact and called for "more resolute measures." On Dec. 29, fighting along the line of contact left three Armenian soldiers dead. The worst fighting in decades occurred in April 2016 and was followed by May peace negotiations held by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. These negotiations were meant to shore up the 1994 cease-fire that ended the Nagorno-Karabakh War and froze the conflict in place. The origins of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict lie in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia, which has deep ties with Armenia, still has a great deal of influence over the conflict. The small yet strategic breakaway territory, which has been contested between Armenia and Azerbaijan for more than two decades, could see significant change in the coming months and Russian involvement will be decisive.