Azerbaijan says it has begun “anti-terror operations” in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Defense Ministry in Baku said the operations were directed against Armenian forces. According to the statement, the military operation is intended to enforce the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the area as agreed in the ceasefire after the last Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020. Turkey and Russia have been informed of the action. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that only military targets were fired.
According to an AFP reporter, explosions were heard in Stepanakert, the capital of the region that has been disputed between the two countries for decades. Other cities and villages are also under intense fire, the Nagorno-Karabakh representation in Armenia said on the online service Facebook.
The human rights ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh, Gegham Stepanyan, reported many civilian victims. Billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, a senior official in the Nagorno-Karabakh administration until February, wrote on Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azerbaijan wanted to penetrate deep into the mountainous region but was facing strong resistance. However, the reports could not be independently verified.
Accusation of “ethnic cleansing”
According to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the Azerbaijani army has also begun operations on the ground. Azerbaijan has launched an “operation with ground troops” with the aim of carrying out “ethnic cleansing” against the Armenian population in the region, Pashinyan said in a televised speech. Armenia is “not involved in hostilities” and the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is currently “stable”.
Moscow is “worried”
Russia called on its opponents to stop the fighting. “We are deeply concerned about the sharp escalation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow. The bloodshed and fighting must end and the conflict resolved through diplomatic channels. Russian border troops are actually supposed to monitor a ceasefire between the warring parties there.
EU demands end to military actions
The European Union condemned the military operation. “We demand an immediate end to hostilities and call on Azerbaijan to end current military activities,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Brussels. The dialogue between the Azerbaijani capital Baku and the Karabakh Armenians must urgently be resumed. The military escalation should not be used as a pretext to force the local population to leave, it said.
Dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh
According to Azerbaijani reports, six people were previously killed in mine explosions. Azerbaijani security forces said two civilians were killed by a mine planted by Armenian “sabotage groups” on a road towards the city of Shusha in the Azerbaijani-controlled part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Four police officers were later killed in another mine explosion on the way to the explosion site.
The two ex-Soviet republics Azerbaijan and Armenia have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union and have already fought two wars over the area. Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, but the area is predominantly populated by Armenians. After six weeks of fighting in 2020 with more than 6,500 deaths, Russia brokered a ceasefire agreement that forced Armenia to give up large areas. Russian border troops are supposed to monitor the agreement.
Clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border
Since then, there have been repeated deadly clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. In recent months, tensions over the heavily mined Nagorno-Karabakh have increased significantly again.
pg/sti (dpa, afp)