Authorities of Armenian ethnicity in the Caucasus Mountains are urging Azerbaijan to engage in talks, but the Azerbaijani government, led by President Ilham Aliyev, states that what it terms an “anti-terror operation” will persist until the “illegal Armenian military formations” surrender and the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh government dissolves.
These reports have raised concerns that full-scale warfare could erupt once again in the region between Azerbaijan and Armenia, who have been at odds for over three decades over the mountainous territory. The latest intense fighting occurred there during a six-week conflict in 2020.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense announced the commencement of the operation a few hours after it was reported that four soldiers and two civilians had died due to landmine explosions in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The ministry did not immediately provide details but claimed that frontline positions and Armenian military assets had been “neutralized using high-precision weapons” and that only legitimate military targets were being struck.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry Denied
However, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry denied any presence of its weapons or troops in Nagorno-Karabakh, calling reports of sabotage and landmines in the region “lies.” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of trying to drag Armenia into hostilities.
Officials in the ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region stated that its capital, Stepanakert, and other villages were under intense shelling. The military in the area reported that Azerbaijan was using aircraft, artillery, missile systems, and drones in the fighting.
Residents sought shelter in underground rooms, and bomb shelters as power outages persisted. Food shortages continued to plague the area, with limited humanitarian aid deliveries disrupted by gunfire, which resumed in the evening after a brief halt earlier in the day.
Geghan Stepanyan, the Human Rights Ombudsman of Nagorno-Karabakh, reported 27 fatalities, including two civilians, and more than 200 others wounded. A previous statement by Stepanyan mentioned that a child was among those killed, with 11 children among the injured.
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan stated that Armenian forces shelled Shusha, a town in Nagorno-Karabakh now under Azerbaijani control, with large-caliber weapons, resulting in the death of one civilian.
None of these claims have been independently verified.
Azerbaijan’s Possible Ethnic Armenian Expulsion Strategy
Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank, suggested that the military operation might be part of President Ilham Aliyev’s plan to induce ethnic Armenians to leave the region.
Although he cautioned that it is too early to assess, he noted, “It could be some kind of limited military action that will try to force thousands of Armenians to flee to Armenia. And then Aliyev can achieve his goal of taking over Karabakh without much bloodshed,” de Waal told The Associated Press.
Azerbaijan previously reported six people killed in two separate explosions in an area partially under the control of ethnic Armenian forces.
Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories, which are relatively large, have been under Armenian ethnic control since the end of a separatist war in 1994. However, Azerbaijan recaptured some territories, including parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, during the 2020 conflict. The fighting concluded with a ceasefire, with Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nevertheless, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of smuggling weapons since then, leading to a blockade of the road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, resulting in food and medicine shortages.
Russian Involvement Amid Attack Allegations
This hostility unfolds amid heightened tensions between Armenia and its longtime ally, Russia. Armenia has repeatedly complained that Russia’s 2,000-strong peacekeeping force cannot or will not maintain an open road to Armenia, despite this task being stipulated in the 2020 ceasefire agreement.
Armenia has also irked Russia, which maintains military bases in the country, by conducting military exercises with the United States this month and moving to ratify the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, which has indicted Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denied on Tuesday that Russia was informed in advance of Azerbaijan’s intent to launch the operation and stated that peacekeeping forces were only notified “a few minutes” before the operation began.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed Moscow’s concern about the “sharp escalation of tension and the outbreak of hostilities” in the region. Russian military officials have reached out to their counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan to attempt to “return the (conflict resolution) process to a diplomatic-political track,” Peskov stated.