Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that it had launched an “anti-terrorist” campaign in the dispute. Nagorno-Karabakh region, as Armenian media and local authorities reported heavy bombing of the regional capital, Stepanakert.
At least five people were killed, including a child, and 80 people were injured during artillery, rocket and drone attacks by the Azerbaijani military, according to Armenian state news.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been the cause of two wars between the neighbors in the past three decades, most recently in 2020.
Tensions have simmered in the region for months after Azerbaijani troops blocked the Lachin Corridor in December, cutting off the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and preventing food imports for its roughly 120,000 residents.
Russian peacekeepers, who have been deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, are tasked with preventing the outbreak of a new conflict. But Moscow has been accused of being unable or unwilling to intervene to protect Armenia long-term allyin the face of continued aggression from Azerbaijan.
Karabakh authorities said they had requested immediate talks with Azerbaijan amid continued shelling of the region.
In response, the Azerbaijani presidency said it was willing to meet with Karabakh Armenians, but added in a statement: “In order to stop the anti-terrorist measures, the illegal Armenian armed groups must raise the white flag, hand over all weapons, and the illegal regime must be dissolved.” alone. Otherwise, counter-terrorism measures will continue until the end.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry demanded “the complete withdrawal of ethnic Armenian troops and the dissolution of the government in Stepanakert.”
“The only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is the unconditional and complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from Karabakh in Azerbaijan and the dissolution of the puppet regime,” it said.
“As part of the local anti-terrorist measures carried out in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, regular long-term firing positions and military facilities of the Armenian armed forces were destroyed by precise strikes of the units of the Azerbaijani army,” the ministry added.
The ministry claimed that its army had come under “systematic shelling” from the Armenian armed forces, adding that its action was designed to “neutralize their military infrastructure” and “ultimately restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan”.
“Only legitimate military targets are disabled,” he added.
It said Armenia had fortified its positions, “brought troops to a high level of combat readiness” and that mines had been planted in previously demined areas. The ministry also claimed that one Azerbaijani vehicle hit a mine and two civilians were killed.
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But the Armenian Foreign Ministry rejected the claim that the Armenian army was in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Armenian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh is of a humanitarian nature, the necessity of which is further confirmed by the humanitarian crisis caused by the illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor,” the statement reads.
Armenian news agency Armenpress reported that the Nagorno-Karabakh army, which is not part of the Armenian armed forces, “is showing ‘resolute resistance’ to attempts by the Azerbaijani army to advance.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called a meeting of the Armenian Security Council against the background of the situation in Karabakh.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to deny Azerbaijan’s claim that Armenian forces had opened fire on Azerbaijani combat bases.
Armenian news agency Armenpress reported that Stepanakert City was under heavy Azerbaijani bombardment and that mobile and internet connections were cut.
“The Azerbaijani side recently carried out daily troop movements and stockpiling of various weapons, which were accompanied by intensive information and propaganda activities and prepared the ground for a large-scale aggression against Artsakh,” the Foreign Ministry of Artsakh – the local term for Nagorno-Karabakh – said in a statement.
“Now we are witnessing how Azerbaijan has implemented its policy genocideit is aimed at the physical liquidation of the civilian population and the destruction of civilian objects.”
CNN was unable to verify the claims of either side of the conflict.
Artsakh Public TV/Handout/Reuters
People run as gunfire and explosions are heard in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh region, in this screenshot obtained from a video being circulated.
The previous war, which ended in a crushing defeat for the Armenian government-backed de facto Nagorno-Karabakh state, lasted 44 days before a Moscow-brokered ceasefire ended the conflict.
The agreement called for about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to be deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh to guard the Lachin Corridor. However, Russian peacekeeping forces did not prevent Azerbaijani troops from setting up a military checkpoint along the corridor, thus stopping the importation of food into the enclave.
Earlier this month, Pashinyan said Azerbaijan was massing troops on the border with Armenia and the dividing line with Nagorno-Karabakh, and warned of a possible escalation.
“Over the past week, the military-political situation in our region has significantly worsened,” Pashinyan said. “The reason is that Azerbaijan has been massing troops along the Nagorno-Karabakh contact line and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for several days now.”
The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, condemned the attack and said “military escalation should not be used as a pretext to force the exodus of the local population”.
The French Foreign Ministry also criticized Azerbaijan’s aggression, saying it had called for an “urgent convening of the UN Security Council.”
Pashinyan’s told Armenpress that he spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French President Emmanuel Macron about the unfolding crisis, saying “both sides emphasized the unacceptability of the use of force and noted that international mechanisms must be used for de-escalation.” ”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was deeply concerned by the sharp escalation in the region.
“(The Russian side) calls on the conflicting parties to stop the bloodshed, immediately cease hostilities and return to the path of political and diplomatic settlement,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Tuesday, adding that the Russian peacekeeping contingent “continues to fulfill its tasks.” ”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also expressed “concern over the sharp escalation of tensions and the outbreak of hostilities” and called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to abide by tripartite agreements signed after the 2020 war.
But Pashinyan criticized Russia for not alerting his government to Azerbaijan’s plans to launch military action.
“We have not received any information about this operation from our partners in Russia,” Pashinyan was quoted as saying by Armenpress, describing it as “strange and confusing.”
“Essentially, Azerbaijan launched a ground operation to ethnically cleanse Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians,” Pashinyan said. “We believe that Russian peacekeeping forces should first take action, and secondly, we expect the UN Security Council to take action as well.”