Azerbaijan announced a new offensive in the Armenian-controlled separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, a major escalation that could turn the simmering South Caucasus conflict into all-out war.
In a statement released Tuesday by Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, officials said they were launching “local counterterrorism activities” to “suppress large-scale provocations” in the territory. Baku also said it would “evacuate” the local Armenian population.
“As part of these measures, positions on the front line and deep and long-range firing points of the formations of the Armenian Armed Forces, as well as combat assets and military installations are neutralized with the help of “high-precision weapons,” the statement said.
The dramatic escalation comes after months of fruitless negotiations and amid growing speculation Azerbaijan may seek to use force to end a decades-old conflict once and for all.
Air raid sirens were activated in Stepanakert, the de facto capital of the unrecognized state, local media reported.
Speaking to POLITICO, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, said “the goal is to neutralize military infrastructure” and added that the local Armenian population had received SMS messages warning them of ” anti-terrorist actions.
“They were asked to stay away from legitimate military targets,” Hajiyev said.
In a subsequent statement, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said it had established “humanitarian corridors and reception points” to “ensure the evacuation of the population from the dangerous zone.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. A Russian-brokered ceasefire deal has since collapsed, with Azerbaijani forces taking control of the Lachin corridor, the only route of entry or exit. Since then, aid agencies say they are unable to deliver food and fuel due to growing fears of “ethnic cleansing.”
In a message shared through intermediaries due to intermittent internet connection in the region, Sergei Ghazaryan, the foreign minister of the unrecognized government, said Azerbaijan had sent troops “in order to implement its policy of genocide, is moving towards the physical destruction of the civilian population. and the destruction of civilian property.
In an interview last week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Azerbaijan had deployed a large number of troops on the two countries’ common border and along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh. “It is not possible to rule out an escalation scenario,” he said.
Photos and videos purportedly posted by mobilized Azerbaijani soldiers showed large convoys heading toward the region, many marked with an upside-down A symbol.
The offensive comes after months of high-stakes negotiations brokered by the EU, US and Russia in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2020 war and end the worsening famine.
In July, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said Brussels was “deeply concerned about the serious humanitarian situation” and called on all parties to commit to “negotiated outcomes and a future built on common interests and mutual trust.
In a call with Aliyev earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Azerbaijan to refrain from military escalation and stressed the “need for dialogue”, while urging the country to reopen the Lachin corridor.
This story is currently being updated.