- Baku says operation targets ‘terrorists’ in Karabakh
- He says the objective is to restore “constitutional order”
- Bombing is heard from the capital of Karabakh: social networks
- Armenia condemns ‘large-scale aggression’
- The move raises the specter of war in the volatile South Caucasus
BAKU, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Azerbaijan launched military action in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a step that could herald a new war in the volatile area but which Baku said was necessary to restore constitutional order and expel the rebel formations. Armenian military.
Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, but part of it is governed by separatist ethnic Armenian authorities who say the area is their ancestral homeland. It has been at the center of two wars, the last in 2020, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
It was unclear whether Baku’s actions would trigger a full-scale conflict creeping into neighboring Armenia or be a more limited military operation. But there were already signs of political fallout in Yerevan, where Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke of calls for a coup against him.
The fighting could upset the geopolitical balance in the South Caucasus region, crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines, and where Russia – distracted by its own war in Ukraine – is trying to preserve its influence in the face of the greater interest of Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan.
The heavy and repeated shelling was heard in social media footage filmed on Tuesday in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh, called Khankendi by Azerbaijan.
Karabakh separatist human rights defender Gegham Stepanyan said two civilians had been killed and 11 people injured as a result of attacks by the Azerbaijani army. Reuters could not immediately verify his claim.
In a statement announcing its operation, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry spoke of its intention to “disarm and ensure the withdrawal of formations of the Armenian armed forces from our territories, (and) neutralize their military infrastructure.”
He said he was only attacking legitimate military targets using “high-precision weapons” and not against civilians, as part of what he called a campaign to “restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
Civilians were free to leave through humanitarian corridors, he added, including one to Armenia, whose Prime Minister Pashinyan said the offer looked like another attempt by Baku to get ethnic Armenians to leave Karabakh as part of a campaign of what he called ” ethnic runners”. cleanliness,” an accusation that Baku denies.
Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh said Azerbaijani forces were trying to break through their defenses after heavy shelling but were holding the line for now.
Armenia, which had been holding peace talks with Azerbaijan, including on issues over the future of Karabakh, condemned what it called Baku’s “large-scale aggression” against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and accused Azerbaijan of shelling cities and towns. .
“Driven by a feeling of impunity, Azerbaijan has openly claimed responsibility for the aggression,” Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Reuters could not immediately verify the claims of either side on the battlefield.
CALL FOR HELP
Armenia, which says its armed forces are not in Karabakh and that the situation on its own border with Azerbaijan is stable, asked members of the UN Security Council for help and for Russian peacekeepers to intervene on the ground.
Russia, which negotiated a fragile ceasefire after the 2020 war in which Azerbaijan regained swaths of land in and around Karabakh that it had lost in an earlier conflict in the 1990s, called on all sides to stop fighting. .
Russia is in contact with both Azerbaijan and Armenia and has urged negotiations to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, adding that Moscow considered ensuring civilian security to be the most important issue.
Armenia has accused Moscow is too distracted by its own war in Ukraine to protect its own security and has accused Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh of not doing their job.
Speaking inside Karabakh to the noise of artillery in the background, Ruben Vardanyan, a banker who was a senior official in Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian administration until February, called for Armenia to recognize Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence from Azerbaijan.
He also called on the international community to impose sanctions on Baku.
“A really serious situation has developed here,” Vardanyan said on Telegram. “Azerbaijan has launched a large-scale military operation against 120,000 inhabitants, of which 30,000 are children, pregnant women and the elderly,” he said.
The Armenian government held a security council meeting to discuss the situation as people gathered in the government district of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, to demand that authorities take action.
Baku announced its operation after whining that six of its citizens had been killed by landmines in two separate incidents, something it attributed to “illegal Armenian armed groups.” Armenia said the claims were false.
The escalation came a day after much-needed food and medicine were provided. was delivered to Karabakh on two roads simultaneously, a step that seemed like it could help calm the growing tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Until recent days, Baku had imposed extensive restrictions on the Lachin corridor – the only road linking Armenia to Karabakh – and had blocked aid on the grounds that the route was allegedly used for arms smuggling.
Yerevan had said Baku’s actions had caused a humanitarian catastrophe, something Azerbaijan denied, and were illegal.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry had said on Monday that Azerbaijan’s diplomatic stance appeared to be setting the stage for some kind of military action.
Reuters Report Written by Andrew Osborn Edited by
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