Azerbaijan launched, this Tuesday, September 19, “local anti-terrorist activities” in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by Armenians, an operation which could open the way to a new conflict between Baku and Yerevan.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijani territory but part of it is managed by dissident Armenian authorities who consider the region their ancestral homeland. Nagorno-Karabakh, which seceded in 1991 following a bloody ethnic conflict, was the scene in the fall of 2020 of a war launched by Baku, which took back part of the territory controlled by the separatists supported by Armenia.
Repeated shellfire was audible in videos posted on social media on Tuesday filmed in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh, called Khankendi by Azerbaijan.
The human rights ombudsman of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory controlled by Armenian forces, Gegham Stepanyan, said two civilians were killed and 23 others injured in the attack by the Azerbaijani army. At least eight of the injured are children, he said.
In a press release announcing its operation, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan explained that it wanted to “repress large-scale provocations” and expel from Nagorno-Karabakh those it considers to be Armenian military elements.
He clarified that he was only targeting legitimate military targets using what he called high-precision weapons, not civilians or civilian infrastructure, as part of an initiative to “restore order Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Civilians are free to leave the region through humanitarian corridors, one of which leads to Armenia, he added.
Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azerbaijani forces were trying to break through their defenses after heavy bombardment, but were holding firm for now.
Armenia condemned what it called Baku’s “large-scale aggression” against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and accused Azerbaijan of bombing towns and villages.
“Driven by a feeling of impunity, Azerbaijan openly claimed responsibility for the aggression,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Armenia, which says it has no armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, said the situation on its own border with Azerbaijan was stable.
Yerevan called on members of the United Nations Security Council to help and urged Russian peacekeeping forces to intervene on the ground.
Russia, which negotiated a fragile ceasefire after the 2020 conflict, has called on all sides to stop fighting.
For its part, France condemned “with the greatest firmness” the launch by Azerbaijan of a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, “with the use of heavy weapons, including against inhabited areas”.
Paris called on Azerbaijan to immediately stop its offensive and requested the emergency convening of a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, called in a press release for a return to dialogue between Baku and the Armenian authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Baku announced its operation after complaining that six of its citizens had been killed by landmines in two separate incidents, which it blamed on “illegal Armenian armed groups”.
The escalation occurred a day after the opening of two humanitarian corridors, previously blocked by Baku, allowing the delivery of medicine and food to Nagorno-Karabakh.