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Azerbaijan begins a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh

TBILISI, Georgia — Azerbaijan said Tuesday that it had launched a new military operation against an Armenian enclave inside its territory, raising fears of an expanding armed conflict in a fragile region in which the interests of Russia, Turkey, and Western countries are increasingly colliding.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said in a statement that its forces had launched “local anti-terrorist” operations in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, aiming to “disarm and secure the withdrawal of Armenia’s armed formations” from its territory. The country’s Foreign Ministry issued what appeared to be an ultimatum, declaring that only the “dissolution” of the unrecognized pro-Armenian government in the area would “achieve peace and stability.”


Authorities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region said in a statement that 25 people — two civilians and the rest military service members — had died as a result of the attack. They posted a video from a hospital of ambulances rushing wounded people in.

As Azerbaijan’s military pressure mounted, the breakaway authorities issued a statement, asking Azerbaijan’s leaders in Baku, the capital, to cease hostilities and begin talks. The Azerbaijani presidential administration responded by calling on the breakaway government to give up arms and dissolve itself by raising a white flag.

“Otherwise, the anti-terror measures will be continued until the end,” the presidential administration said in statement.

Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the mountainous part of Karabakh is a separatist-controlled area that has an overwhelmingly Armenian population. A 2020 war there ended in a Russia-brokered cease-fire that allowed Azerbaijan to take control of most of the territory that Armenia had captured in a yearslong war in the 1990s. That earlier conflict followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, of which both countries were a part.

In recent months as Azerbaijan’s hold on the enclave has grown tighter, residents have been left essentially sealed off from the outside world, leading to severe food and fuel shortages and major difficulties with medical care and other humanitarian hardships leading to accusations of genocide.


On Tuesday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released drone footage of what it said was the destruction of a cannon in the region. By the end of the day the ministry said its forces had destroyed dozens of military targets inside the breakaway region. Unverified video showed explosions and the buzzing sound of a drone, a weapon that Azerbaijan used to devastating effect when it last fought, and defeated, Armenia in a 44-day war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020.

After that war ended with the recapture of most of the region by Azerbaijan, Russia stationed 1,960 peacekeepers to defuse tensions around the last remaining area not controlled by Baku. However, distracted by its continuing invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has been unable to keep the tensions under control as an emboldened Azerbaijan increased its foothold by putting the only road that links it with Armenia under its firm control.

The specter of a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is emerging as an embarrassment for the Kremlin. On Monday — just a day before Azerbaijan launched its attack — the Russian Foreign Ministry said it saw “gradual improvement of the humanitarian situation” in the region and voiced optimism that Armenia and Azerbaijan were interested in a “normalization” of relations.

But the geopolitical alignments in the region are complex, and a new war would also pose challenges for the United States and the NATO alliance. Azerbaijan’s closest ally, Turkey, is a NATO member. Armenia has a military alliance with Russia, while Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia has sought to deepen ties with the West. In the 2020 war, there was widespread disappointment in Armenia that Russia did not come to the country’s aid more assertively.


Pashinyan said: “Armenia does not participate in military operations, and I want to note once again that the Republic of Armenia does not have an army in Nagorno-Karabakh,” according to the Russian news agency Tass. “At present, we will not take any rash actions,” he added.

In a phone interview from a hospital in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert, Gegham Stepanyan, the human rights ombudsman of the Artsakh Republic in Nagorno-Karabakh, said the situation was “very difficult” as the Azerbaijani army attacked along the entire line of contact with artillery and drones.

Much remained unclear Tuesday, including the intensity of the fighting and the actions of Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region. The enclave’s pro-Armenian government, the unrecognized Artsakh Republic, said in a statement that “at this moment the capital Stepanakert and other cities and villages are under intensive fire,” and described Azerbaijan’s actions as the start of a “large-scale military offensive.”

Since the 2020 war, Azerbaijan has insisted that it was due full control of all of Nagorno-Karabakh under the 2020 peace deal. It has demanded that the ethnic Armenians there either submit to Azerbaijani governance or depart, while increasingly blocking overland traffic between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.


Armenia has condemned Azerbaijan’s demands as a form of ethnic cleansing, while Russia has appeared powerless to deescalate tensions.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, said that Russia was alarmed by the “sharp escalation of tensions and the beginning of military hostilities.”

Peskov said Russian military representatives are in touch with both Azerbaijan and Armenia trying to steer the situation toward the path of diplomacy.

The Azerbaijani defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday that Armenian forces had launched artillery fire against the Azerbaijanis, an accusation that was denied by the Armenian Defense Ministry. The government of Armenia, which is part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance, denied it has any of its forces stationed in the contested area.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has been ongoing since late 1980s and was among the first interethnic clashes in the late Soviet Union that triggered its eventual collapse.

While predominantly Orthodox Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis have been living largely peacefully next to each other for decades, economic crisis in the Soviet Union and Moscow’s waning power have reignited long-held grievances.