Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry says it has launched “anti-terrorist” operations in Armenian-controlled areas of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Tensions have been high for months around the ethnic-Armenian separatist enclave, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Anti-aircraft sirens and mortar fire were heard in the main city of Karabakh.
Eleven Azerbaijani police and civilians were reported killed in a mine explosion and another incident.
Defense officials in the breakaway region said the Azerbaijani military had “violated the ceasefire along the entire line of contact with artillery and missile strikes.” Other Karabakh representatives spoke of a “large-scale military offensive.”
The two neighbors, Azerbaijan and Armenia, have gone to war twice over Nagorno-Karabakh, first in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, and again in 2020.
Three years ago, Azerbaijan regained territories in and around Karabakh that had been held by Armenia since 1994.
Since December, Azerbaijan has mounted an effective blockade of the only route to the enclave from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor.
On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry in Baku accused Armenian forces of “systematic shelling” of its military positions and said it had responded by launching “local counterterrorism activities… to disarm and ensure the withdrawal of armed forces formations from Armenia from our territories.”
He insisted that he was not targeting civilians or civilian buildings, and that “only legitimate military targets are being incapacitated by the use of high-precision weapons.”
In a brief televised speech, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected claims that his military was involved and accused Azerbaijan of launching a “ground operation aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh Armenians.”
The sound of artillery and gunfire could be heard Tuesday from Karabakh’s regional capital, Khankendi, known as Stepanakert to Armenians.
An estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians live in the mountainous enclave.
Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman said two civilians, including a child, had been killed and several more children were among the wounded.
Armenian officials added that as of 2:00 p.m. local time (10:00 GMT), the situation at the country’s borders was “relatively stable.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had been warned of the Azerbaijani offensive with just minutes’ notice and urged both countries to respect a ceasefire signed after the war in 2020. EU regional special representative Toivo Klaar said there was an “urgent need for an immediate ceasefire.” .
The fragile truce that ended the six-week war in 2020 had come under increasing pressure in recent months.
Hikmet Hajiyev, special adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, called on the ethnic-Armenian separatist administration to “dissolve.”
Some 3,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed to monitor the 2020 ceasefire, but Moscow’s attention has been diverted by its large-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Armenian prime minister recently said that Russia was “spontaneously abandoning the region.” Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has enjoyed strong support from its ally Türkiye.
Azerbaijan had denied amassing troops in the region. On Monday he allowed aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross to reach Karabakh on two roads, one through the Lachin corridor from Armenia and the other along the Aghdam highway in Azerbaijan.
There were hopes that tensions would ease, but then Azerbaijani officials said six people were killed, including four police officers, when their vehicle ran over a land mine in the Khojavand area, which was recaptured during the 2020 war.
The Defense Ministry released images of the destroyed vehicle, but ethnic Armenian officials in Karabakh said it was the Azerbaijani army that violated the ceasefire.