Tension in the South Caucasus area is increasing and fear of a new war keeps the international community alert. Azerbaijan launched a strong offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday and attacked Armenian military positions “with high-precision weapons.”
The Presidency of Azerbaijan set the conditions for negotiating with the authorities of Nagorno Karabakh that they lay down their arms and proclaim its dissolution as an independent republic. “Otherwise, anti-terrorist actions will continue until the end,” the presidential statement said.
The Armenian separatists who control that Azerbaijani territory report that there are two dead and 23 injured by heavy artillery bombardments.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry announced the start of the attacks, which it described overall as an “anti-terrorist operation”, after six Azerbaijanis – four police officers and two civilians – were killed when mines exploded in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a statement, the ministry said it launched the operation to evict Armenian soldiers it has long claimed are deployed within the disputed Caucasus region, a charge Armenia denies.
The European Union (EU) and Russia, which mediate between the rivals, called for an end to the military operation and bloodshed, amid fears that it will lead to another war like the two that Armenia has fought since the 1990s. and Azerbaijan for the enclave.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry did not provide details, but said that forward positions and military assets of the Armenian Armed Forces were being “incapacitated using high-precision weapons,” and that only legitimate military targets were being attacked.
However, Armenian separatist authorities in the enclave said their capital, Stepanakert, and surrounding areas were under “intense fire” from artillery.
Nagorno Karabakh Ombudsman Geghan Stepanyan said two people, including a child, were killed and 23 were injured, including 11 other boys and girls.
Although Azerbaijan said the operation was limited to military targets, the Defense Ministry asked civilians to take shelter and said it had opened “humanitarian corridors” for “the evacuation of the population from the dangerous zone.”
View of military convoy allegedly destroyed by Azerbaijani drones. Photo: EFE/ Pablo González.
The four Azerbaijani police officers and two civilians died when their vehicles hit mines on a road between Shusha and Fizuli, two cities in Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of Azerbaijan, the country’s security services said.
The Ministry of Defense said that Armenian military units were still present in the Azerbaijani region and were a threat to peace that violated the truce signed with Armenia after their defeat in the last of the two countries’ wars over the territory, in 2020.
“Accordingly, anti-terrorist activities have been launched to… suppress large-scale provocations in the region, disarm and ensure the withdrawal of formations of the Armenian armed forces from our territories,” the note said, reported the Sputnik news agency.
Russia, which historically acts as a mediator between both nations that emerged from the former Soviet Union, sponsored and signed the 2020 truce agreement, and the statement said that the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in the region had been informed of the operation.
In Armenia, the Government reiterated that it has no armed forces deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh, adding that this meant that its separatist allies were alone in facing the operations launched by Azerbaijan.
“The Ministry of Defense of Armenia has repeatedly stated, and declares again, that Armenia does not have an army in Nagorno Karabakh,” the ministry said in a statement on Telegram.
Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh republic. Photo: EFE/Pablo González.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian convened his security council, calling on Russia and the UN to act.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry denounced a “large-scale aggression” for the purposes of “ethnic cleansing” of the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh, who are the majority in the territory.
He also judged that Russia, guarantor of a ceasefire agreed in 2020 with peacekeepers on the ground, should “stop Azerbaijani aggression.”
In Russia, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said President Vladimir Putin’s government was “urgently calling for an end to the bloodshed… and a return to a peaceful agreement.”
Zakharova denied Azerbaijan’s claims that the Russian contingent had been informed of the offensive in advance, saying it received the warning “minutes before” the attacks began.
Tension grows in Nagorno Karabakh.
European Council President Charles Michel, who is leading an EU effort to achieve peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said Azerbaijan’s military actions should be stopped immediately to allow frank dialogue between Azerbaijan “and the Armenians of Karabakh.”
Nagorno Karabakh, the scene of two wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan, one in the early 1990s and the other in 2020, is one of the most mined regions of the former USSR. Explosions regularly cause casualties.
The Azerbaijani security services said that the four police officers died around 4:30 a.m. in a tunnel when they were traveling to the place where an anti-tank mine had exploded shortly before, causing the death of the two civilians.
The Azerbaijani security services accused a group of Armenian separatist “saboteurs” of having planted these mines and thus committed an act of “terrorism.”
This new incident occurs in a very tense background between both countries.
Nagorno Karabakh, a mountainous region with an Armenian majority located in Azerbaijan, proclaimed its independence when the USSR disintegrated, triggering an armed conflict won by Armenian separatists.
But 30 years later, in the fall of 2020, the Azerbaijani armed forces took their revenge and recovered numerous territories in the area, including the city of Shusha, which has narrowed the space of the Armenian separatists.
The tension eased a little this Monday with the arrival of humanitarian aid to Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia had accused Azerbaijan of causing a crisis in this territory by keeping the Lachin corridor, the only one that connects Armenia with the enclave, blocked since the end of 2022.