Azerbaijan sent troops backed by artillery attacks into Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh, warning that its operations would not stop until Armenian forces surrendered.
Tuesday’s attacks raised the threat of a new war in Azerbaijan’s ethnic Armenian region, which has been a flashpoint since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, but part of it is run by Armenian separatist authorities who have declared the region, with a population of around 120,000, to be their ancestral homeland.
Baku launched what it called an “anti-terrorist operation” hours after four soldiers and two civilians were killed by landmines that it said were planted by Armenian saboteurs.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said its goal was to “disarm and ensure the withdrawal of formations of the Armenian armed forces from our territories, (and) neutralize their military infrastructure.”
Azerbaijani forces seized more than 60 military posts on Tuesday and destroyed up to 20 military vehicles along with other equipment, the ministry said in a statement.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the attacks and said Azerbaijan had “unleashed another large-scale aggression against the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, with the aim of carrying out its policy of ethnic cleansing.”
It is unclear how many people were killed or injured as a result of the military offensive. An Armenian separatist human rights official in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh said 25 people had been killed, including two civilians. Al Jazeera was unable to verify this claim.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser Hikmet Hajiyev told Al Jazeera that Baku had launched “local but limited counterterrorism measures” aimed at striking military targets.
He claimed that even if Baku used high-precision weapons, “collateral damage” was likely inevitable as civilians were used as “human shields” in the disputed region.
“We call on all civilians to stay away from military targets,” he said.
The official news agency cited the presidential administration as saying that Azerbaijan would continue the operation “until the end” unless “Armenian military units” surrendered and surrendered their weapons.
Nagorno-Karabakh and significant surrounding territories came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian army at the end of a separatist war in 1994. Azerbaijan reclaimed the territories and parts of Nagorno-Karabakh. Karabakh itself during fighting in 2020.
Armenia, which has said its armed forces are not in Karabakh and that the situation on its own border with Azerbaijan is stable, called on UN Security Council members to help and maintain troops Russian peace officers deployed since the end of the previous conflict in 2020 to intervene. to intervene.
In the Armenian capital Yerevan, demonstrators gathered to denounce Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s handling of the Karabakh crisis and demand his resignation.
The protests came after Pashinyan – seen as too pro-Western by Russia, a traditional supporter of Armenia – denounced calls for a “coup” as Azerbaijan launched its military operation.
The Armenian Security Council warned of “a real danger of massive unrest in the Republic of Armenia” following the unrest.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had contacted both sides to urge them to resume negotiations.
Moscow, which is waging its own war against neighboring Ukraine, seeks to preserve its influence in the face of increased activity by Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry defended Baku, saying Azerbaijan was forced to take action on its sovereign territory of Nargorno-Karabakh after its concerns were not allayed following the 2020 conflict with Armenia.
“It remains to be seen whether Russia will now be able to negotiate a new ceasefire. This would likely have a high political cost for the Armenian government,” Marie Dumoulin, director of the Wider Europe program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera.
Moscow’s peacekeeping troops deployed to the disputed region after the 2020 ceasefire have not prevented any Azerbaijani military actions since then.
Their activity has been essentially blocked since December, with Azerbaijan accusing the Armenians of arms trafficking and illegally extracting resources. Armenia said Azerbaijan had imposed a blockade on the territory that had led to severe food shortages and that Azerbaijan was aiming for genocide through starvation.
Armenia accused Moscow of being too distracted by its own war in Ukraine to protect it and said Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh were not doing their job.
Western leaders call for negotiations and an end to hostilities
The United States said it was pursuing crisis diplomacy in the face of what it considered a particularly dangerous outbreak. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will likely become involved in the next 24 hours to try to defuse the crisis, US officials said.
The European Union, France and Germany have condemned Azerbaijan’s military action, calling for the resumption of negotiations on the region’s future.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels remained “fully engaged” in facilitating dialogue. “This military escalation should not be used as a pretext to force the exodus of the local population,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for “an immediate resumption of discussions” to find a “just and lasting peace” between Armenia and Azerbaijan, calling for an “immediate cessation of the offensive,” according to a press release .
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Azerbaijan had broken its promise not to resort to military action over Nagorno-Karabakh. “Azerbaijan must immediately stop the bombing and return to the negotiating table,” Baerbock said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.