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Reuters, September 20: Azerbaijan announced on Tuesday that its armed forces had launched a “local counter-terrorism operation” in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Their objective was to restore constitutional order by disarming and forcing the withdrawal of Armenian military forces from the region. Despite its international recognition as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh has a sizeable ethnic Armenian population and gained independence from Baku’s control following a conflict in the early 1990s. Azerbaijan recaptured significant areas in and around the region during a war in 2020.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry issued a statement outlining its intentions, emphasizing “disarming the Armenian armed forces from our territories and ensuring their withdrawal, (and) neutralizing their military infrastructure.” The statement clarified that they were targeting legitimate military targets exclusively with high-precision weapons and were not directing their actions toward civilians or civilian infrastructure. Their mission was framed as an effort to “restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan.” Azerbaijan had informed both the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the region and the Turkish-Russian monitoring center appointed to maintain the 2020 ceasefire about its operations. Armenia denied these claims, saying that it had no military personnel in Karabakh and that its primary focus was humanitarian. Much of Karabakh is currently under the control of ethnic Armenian authorities, who have faced continued pressure from Baku for disengagement and disarmament.
As #Azerbaijan bombs #Armenians in #Stepanakert, the choice for world leaders is clear: @azpresident has chosen ethnic cleansing. The ppl of #NagornoKarabakh #Artsakh have chosen democracy. Which will @UNSC_Reports support? #UNGA78 – moments like these are when you matter.
— Ruben Vardanyan (@RubenVardanyan_) September 19, 2023
As of February, Ruben Vardanyan, a prominent figure in the ethnic Armenian administration of Karabakh, expressed on social media: “Azerbaijan has launched a major artillery attack on Nagorno Karabakh, largely targeting towns and civilians.”
It is important to note that Reuters could not immediately verify the claims made by either party.
Baku’s decision to launch this operation came after complaints that six Azerbaijani civilians were killed by landmines in separate incidents, which it attributed to “illegal Armenian armed groups”. The increase came soon after essential supplies of food and medicine were simultaneously delivered to Karabakh via two routes. This step seems likely to reduce the growing tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Until recent days, Baku had imposed significant restrictions on the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Armenia to Karabakh. He had halted aid shipments, citing concerns about possible arms smuggling. Armenia argued that Baku’s actions, which it claimed led to a humanitarian crisis, violated international law. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said the previous day that Azerbaijan’s diplomatic posture appeared to be setting the stage for some kind of military action.