Yerevan condemns “large-scale aggression” against Armenian territory as Baku vows to see military operation “to the end”.
Azerbaijan sent troops backed by artillery strikes into Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and warned that its operations would not stop until Armenian forces surrendered.
Tuesday’s attacks raised the threat of a new war in the ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan, which has been a flashpoint since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, but part of it is administered by separatist Armenian authorities, who have claimed the area of about 120,000 as their homeland.
Baku launched a so-called “anti-terrorist operation” hours after four soldiers and two civilians were killed by landmines it said were planted by Armenian saboteurs.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense said its intention was to “disarm and ensure the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces formations from our territories and (and) neutralize their military infrastructure”.
Azerbaijani forces captured more than 60 military posts and destroyed up to 20 military vehicles with other hardware on Tuesday, the ministry said in a statement.
Armenia’s foreign ministry condemned the attacks, saying Azerbaijan had “unleashed another large-scale aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh in order to complete its policy of ethnic cleansing”.
It was not immediately clear how many people were killed or injured in the military offensive. A separatist Armenian human rights official in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh said 25 people had been killed, including two civilians. Al Jazeera was unable to verify this claim.
Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, told Al Jazeera that Baku had launched “local but limited counter-terrorism measures” aimed at striking military targets.
He argued that while Baku was using high-precision weapons, “collateral damage” was probably inevitable because civilians were being used as “human shields” in the attacked region.
“We urge all civilians to get a safe distance from military targets,” he said.
The state news agency quoted the presidential administration as saying that Azerbaijan would continue the operation “until the end” unless “Armenian military units” surrender and give up their weapons.
Nagorno-Karabakh and significant surrounding territories came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian army at the end of the separatist war in 1994. Azerbaijan regained territory and parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself in the fighting in 2020.
Armenia, which said its armed forces were not in Karabakh and that the situation on its own border with Azerbaijan was stable, called on UN Security Council members to help and Russian peacekeepers deployed since the end of the previous conflict in 2020 to intervene.
In the Armenian capital of Yerevan, protesters gathered to condemn Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s handling of the Karabakh crisis and demand his resignation.
The demonstrations came after Pashinyan – who is seen as too pro-Western by Russia, Armenia’s traditional supporter – condemned calls for a “coup” as Azerbaijan launched a military operation.
Armenia’s Security Council warned of a “real danger of mass unrest in the Republic of Armenia” after the riots.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had contacted both sides and urged them to resume talks.
Moscow, which is waging its own war against neighboring Ukraine, is trying to maintain its influence in the face of increased activity by Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry defended Baku, saying Azerbaijan was forced to take action on its sovereign territory of Nagorno-Karabakh after its concerns were not allayed following the 2020 conflict with Armenia.
“Whether Russia is now able to broker a renewal of the ceasefire remains to be seen. That would likely mean a high political cost for the Armenian government,” Marie Dumoulin, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Wider Europe program, told Al Jazeera.
Moscow’s peacekeeping troops deployed in the disputed region after the 2020 ceasefire have not prevented any of Azerbaijan’s military actions since then.
Their activities have been mostly blocked since December because Azerbaijan has claimed that the Armenians are smuggling weapons and conducting illegal resource extraction. Armenia said that Azerbaijan imposed a blockade on the territory that led to severe food shortages and that Azerbaijan’s goal was genocide by starvation.
Armenia has accused Moscow of being too distracted by its own war in Ukraine to protect it and said Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh are not doing their job.
Western leaders are calling for negotiations, an end to hostilities
The United States said it was continuing crisis diplomacy over what it considered a particularly dangerous flare-up. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is likely to step in in the next 24 hours to try to defuse the crisis, US officials said.
The European Union, France and Germany condemned Azerbaijan’s military action and called for a return to talks on the future of the region.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels remained “fully engaged” in facilitating the dialogue. “This military escalation should not be used as a pretext to force the exodus of the local population,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged the “immediate resumption of discussions” to find a “just and lasting peace” between Armenia and Azerbaijan and called for an “immediate halt to the offensive”, according to a press statement.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Azerbaijan had broken its promise not to resort to military action against Nagorno-Karabakh. “Azerbaijan must immediately stop the shelling and return to the negotiating table,” Baerbock said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.