Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said it had launched a so-called “anti-terrorist campaign” in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and stressed that the offensive only targeted military buildings.
“The Azerbaijani Armed Forces are carrying out local counter-terrorism activities in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan,” the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
“As part of the campaign, only legitimate military installations and infrastructure will be targeted and incapacitated using high-precision weapons,” the statement said, adding that it had established humanitarian corridors to allow Civilians evacuated.
Armenia’s foreign ministry called on Russian peacekeepers to intervene in Armenian-majority areas and stop what it called Azerbaijan’s “total aggression” against the local population.
An AFP reporter said explosions were heard in the region’s de facto capital, known as Stepanakert to Armenians and Khankendi to Azerbaijanis.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry said it has no military personnel or equipment in Karabakh.
The Karabakh region has long been the center of tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, leading to two wars over control of the region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Hours before announcing the offensive, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said at least six people were killed in two accidents in Azerbaijan’s Khojavind region, allegedly caused by landmines planted by Armenian security forces.
The TASS news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova as saying that Russia was deeply shocked by the “dramatic escalation” in the disputed area. She also said that Azerbaijan sent a message to Russian peacekeepers in the area minutes before launching military operations. warning.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric also expressed concern.
“It is very important that all activities cease and that both sides resume ongoing dialogue to avoid any further conflict,” Dujarric told Al Jazeera.
decades of tension
The last large-scale conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh occurred in 2020 and lasted for six weeks before a Russian-brokered ceasefire in which Armenia ceded large swathes of territory it had controlled since the 1990s.
Since then, despite mediation efforts by the EU, Russia and the United States, the two sides have been unable to reach a lasting peace solution.
Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of causing a months-long humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh last year by blocking the only road linking the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. It is known as the Lachin Corridor and is run by Russia. Peacekeepers patrol.
Trucks laden with humanitarian aid entered Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday after Armenian separatists and the central government agreed to use a road connecting the region to Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to Baku.
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, who has reported extensively on events in Nagorno-Karabakh, said there were “very serious concerns” that Tuesday’s action could become another conflict between the two neighbors. The beginning of a large-scale war.
Forestier-Walker said reports from within the area spoke of “potential large-scale attacks in the form of missile strikes and shelling”, while small arms fire could be heard in videos posted on social media.
Forestier Walker said the situation for residents of the Nagorno-Kabalakh region has been “dire” for months.
“Their main supply route to Karabakh from Armenia has been cut off,” he added.
“The situation has changed recently and Azerbaijani authorities are able to provide some assistance to Karabakh from Azerbaijani-controlled areas, but they still exert pressure on access to Karabakh from Armenia because Azerbaijani authorities have long claimed that this route is used to smuggle weapons and Landmines were brought into territory still under ethnic Armenian control.”