Azerbaijan launches operation against Nagorno-Karabakh

Image caption,

Azerbaijan increased its military build-up around Nagorno-Karabakh in the run-up to Tuesday’s operation

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry says it has begun “anti-terrorist” operations in areas of Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control.

Tensions have been high for months surrounding the breakaway ethnic-Armenian enclave, recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan.

Air raid sirens and mortar fire were heard in Karabakh’s main city.

Eleven Azerbaijani police and civilians have been reported killed in a mine blast and another incident.

Defence officials in the breakaway region said the Azerbaijani military had “violated the ceasefire along the entire line of contact with missile-artillery strikes”. Other Karabakh representatives spoke of a “large-scale military offensive”.

The two neighbours, Azerbaijan and Armenia, have gone to war twice over Nagorno-Karabakh, first in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union and again in 2020. Three years ago, Azerbaijan recaptured territories surrounding Karabakh that had been held by Armenia since 1994.

Since December, Azerbaijan has mounted an effective blockade of the only route into the enclave from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor.

On Tuesday, the defence ministry in Baku accused Armenian forces of “systematic shelling” of its army positions and said it had responded by launching “local, anti-terrorist activities… to disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories”.

It insisted it was not targeting civilians or civilian facilities, but instead said “only legitimate military targets are being incapacitated by the use of high-precision weapons”.

Armenia’s defence ministry said that claims of Armenian military fire did not correspond with reality.

The sound of artillery and gunfire could be heard on Tuesday from the Karabakh regional capital Khankendi, known as Stepanakert by Armenians. An estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians live in the mountainous enclave.

Officials in Armenia added that as of 14:00 (10:00 GMT), the situation on the country’s own borders was “relatively stable”.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it had been warned of the Azerbaijani offensive only minutes in advance and urged both countries to respect a ceasefire signed after the war in 2020. The EU’s regional special representative, Toivo Klaar, said there was “urgent need for immediate ceasefire”.

Image source, Azerbaijan defence ministry

Image caption,

Azerbaijani officials posted images of what they said was the aftermath of a deadly landmine blast

The fragile truce that brought the six-week war to an end in 2020 has come under increased pressure in recent months.

Some 3,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed to monitor the ceasefire but Moscow’s attention has been diverted by its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently said Russia was “spontaneously leaving the region”.

Azerbaijan had denied building up troop numbers in the region. On Monday, it allowed aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross into Karabakh on two roads, one via the Lachin Corridor from Armenia and the other on Azerbaijan’s Aghdam road.

There had been hopes that tensions might subside, but then Azerbaijani officials said six people were killed, including four police, when their vehicle went over a landmine in the Khojavand area, which was recaptured during the 2020 war.

The defence ministry released images of the destroyed vehicle, but ethnic Armenian officials in Karabakh said it was Azerbaijan’s military that had violated the ceasefire.

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