Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it had launched an “anti-terrorism” campaign in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as Armenian media and local authorities reported intensive shelling on the regional capital of Stepanakert.
Two civilians, including a child, were killed and 11 people were injured during shelling by the Azerbaijani army, according to Gegham Stepanyan, Nagorno-Karabakh ombudsman.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been the cause of two wars between neighbors over the past three decades, the latest in 2020.
Tensions have been simmering in the region for months, after Azerbaijani troops blocked the Lachin corridor in December, cutting off the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and preventing the importation of food for its approximately 120,000 residents. .
Russian peacekeepers, deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, are tasked with preventing the outbreak of a new conflict. But Moscow has been accused of being unable or unwilling to intervene to protect Armenia, its long-time ally, in the face of Azerbaijan’s continued aggression.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry demanded in a statement on Tuesday “the complete withdrawal of ethnic Armenian troops and the dissolution of the Stepanakert government”.
“The only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is the unconditional and complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the dissolution of the puppet regime,” the statement said.
“As part of local anti-terrorism measures carried out in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, long-term regular firing points and military installations of the Armenian Armed Forces were destroyed by precise strikes carried out by units of the Azerbaijani army,” added the ministry.
The ministry claimed that its army had suffered “systematic bombardments” from the Armenian armed forces, adding that its action aimed to “neutralize their military infrastructure” and “ultimately restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan “.
“Only legitimate military targets are neutralized,” he adds.
He said Armenia had fortified its positions, “bringing its units to a high level of combat readiness,” and that mines had been laid in previously cleared areas. The ministry also said an Azeri vehicle hit a mine and two civilians were killed.
But the Armenian Foreign Ministry has rejected allegations that the Armenian army is in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Armenia’s assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh is of a humanitarian nature, the need for which is further confirmed by the humanitarian crisis caused by the illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor,” the statement said.
The Armenian news agency Armenpress reported that the Nagorno-Karabakh army, which is not part of the Armenian armed forces, “is showing ‘resolute resistance’ to the Azerbaijani army’s attempts to advance.”
Against the backdrop of the situation in Karabakh, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened a meeting of the Armenian Security Council.
The Armenian Defense Ministry wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, to deny Azerbaijan’s claims that Armenian forces opened fire on Azeri combat outposts.
Armenian news agency Armenpress said the city of Stepanakert was under heavy Azerbaijani shelling and mobile and internet connection had been disrupted.
This report was echoed in a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh, the Armenian term for Nagorno-Karabkh.
“Recently, the Azerbaijani side has been carrying out daily troop transfers and stockpiling of various weapons, accompanied by intensive information and propaganda activities, preparing the ground for large-scale aggression against Artsakh.
“We now see how Azerbaijan, to implement its policy of genocide, is moving towards the physical destruction of the civilian population and the destruction of civilian objects.”
CNN has not been able to verify the claims by either side of the conflict.
Earlier this month, Pashinyan said Azerbaijan had concentrated its troops on the border with Armenia and the dividing line with Nagorno-Karabakh, and warned of possible escalation.
“Over the past week, the military-political situation in our region has significantly deteriorated,” Pashinyan said. “The reason is that Azerbaijan has been accumulating troops along the Nagorno-Karabakh line of contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for several days.”
The previous war, which ended in a crushing defeat for the Armenian government-backed de facto state of Nagorno-Karabakh, lasted 44 days. Russia, a long-time ally of Armenia but also recently strengthening ties with Azerbaijan, helped end the war by brokering a ceasefire.
The agreement included the deployment of around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh to guard the Lachin corridor.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was deeply alarmed by the sharp escalation in the region.
“(The) Russian side urges the conflicting parties to put an end to the bloodshed, to immediately cease hostilities and to return to the path of a political and diplomatic settlement,” the Russian spokesperson said on Tuesday. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova.
“In the current situation, the Russian peacekeeping contingent continues to fulfill its tasks… The command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent is in constant contact with the representatives of the Karabakh Armenians and the Azerbaijani authorities with a view to a ceasefire and return to implementation. trilateral agreements mentioned at the highest level.