After having subjected the population of Nagorno Karabakh to an almost total blockade for ten months, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces have begun a campaign of artillery and drone bombing of this Armenian enclave in officially recognized Azerbaijani territory. The attack began around 1:00 p.m. this Tuesday, local time (11:00 a.m. in mainland Spain) in response to Armenian “provocations” and with the aim of “disarming and ensuring the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces” from Karabakh. according to a statement from the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense. For their part, the authorities of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, as Armenians call Nagorno Karabakh, accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire agreed upon in 2020 and attacking civilian targets as part of a “genocidal” policy that seeks to “destroy physically” the Armenian presence in the region. “We demand that the international community take urgent measures to stop Azerbaijan’s aggression,” Karabakh Foreign Minister Sergei Ghazaryan said in a statement. Russia has 2,000 soldiers deployed in the area with peacekeeping duties in this enclave.
Earlier in the day, at least two civilians and four Azerbaijani soldiers had died after the vehicles transporting them ran over land mines. Although these incidents are not uncommon given that this is one of the regions of the world where, proportionally to its size and population, more explosive mines have been placed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan accused “subversive and terrorist groups” of the “terrorist act.” recognition of the armed forces of Armenia.” Previously, also on Tuesday, there had been mutual complaints of violations of the ceasefire agreement on the line of contact between both sides.
For this reason, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan announced the beginning of “anti-terrorist activities” attacking positions of the Armenian forces “on the front and inside” of Karabakh, as well as the “neutralization” of Armenian troops and military facilities. “We reiterate that neither the civilian population nor the civil infrastructure are targeted,” stressed the Azerbaijani statement, according to which the offensive was previously reported by the command of the Russian interposition forces deployed in the area.
The Armenian authorities of Karabakh, on the other hand, assured that both Stepanakert, the capital of the enclave, and other towns were targeted by the bombings. According to the Ombudsman of Nagorno Karabakh, Gegham Stepanián, the Azerbaijani artillery hit several residential buildings and caused at least two deaths, including a minor, and 11 wounded, eight of them minors. In several videos published on social networks, the launch of missiles from Azerbaijan and its impact on the territory of Karabakh could be seen. Local journalist Marut Vanyan He has published on his X account (formerly Twitter) several videos recorded in Stepanakert in which the sound of explosions and artillery fire could be heard.
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“We are very afraid,” Nona, a teacher from Stepanakert, confessed via WhatsApp message from an air raid shelter. Since the bombing and artillery began, the alarm sirens began to call the inhabitants of Karabakh to take refuge. At that time, Nona’s children were returning from school, so each member of the family was separated: “Fortunately, my husband has found them and they are in another shelter.” “It’s like a circle,” says Nona, remembering the 2020 war and the bombings on the capital of Nagorno Karabakh: “Only then there was an escape route and now there isn’t.”
The teacher refers to the Lachin corridor, the highway that has traditionally linked this territory and the neighboring Republic of Armenia. In the 2020 war, Azerbaijani forces regained control of the corridor and much of Karabakh – after three decades in Armenian hands – but according to the agreement signed through Moscow, the Lachin highway was to remain open to traffic to and from Armenia. under the supervision of Russian peacekeepers. However, in mid-December last year, Azerbaijan began to impede traffic until it stopped completely, causing a severe crisis of basic supplies among the population of the Armenian enclave. This dispute seemed to have come to an end after the Artsakh Government was replaced by one more favorable to negotiation with Baku and, this weekend, Azerbaijan finally agreed to allow the passage of Red Cross convoys from both Armenia as well as from inside Azerbaijan. However, a couple of days later, the conflict has intensified again.
Passivity of Russian peacekeepers
From Yerevan, the authorities of the Republic of Armenia assured that the border line with Azerbaijan – which has also been the site of fighting in recent years – remained “calm” and stressed that its armed forces are not present in Nagorno-Karabakh, disengaging from the local Armenian defense forces. The opposition in Armenia has on several occasions accused the Government, led by Nikol Pashinián, of “selling out” the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh in its search for a definitive peace agreement with Azerbaijan. Given the military inferiority of Armenia and the lack of support from Russia, its traditional ally, Pashinian has been accepting Baku’s main demands, including recognizing Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh, despite the fact that the Armenians in the region reject it.
The conflict in Nagorno Karabakh began in the late 1980s when, in the heat of perestroika initiated by the leaders of the USSR, the Armenians of this autonomous province began to demand their independence from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic and its union with the neighboring Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, which led to clashes between the Armenian and Azeri populations of Karabakh. With the implosion of the Soviet Union, the interposition troops sent by Moscow withdrew and the conflict led to an open war between the newly independent Azerbaijan and Armenia, which culminated in a precarious ceasefire after three years of fighting, more than 30,000 dead and a million displaced. The Armenians took control of Nagorno Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani provinces from which they expelled the Azeri population.
Driven by its oil revenues, which allowed it to reinforce its weapons, and with military support from Turkey and Israel, Azerbaijan launched an offensive in 2020 to recover lost territories. It achieved this in just six weeks of fighting – with more than 7,000 dead on both sides – which concluded with a ceasefire reached under the mediation of Russia, but which also grants Turkey an observer role.
Russia committed in the 2020 truce to send a peace mission to the region. However, Armenians have accused Moscow of passivity both in the case of the blockade and in the current offensive. “We are deeply alarmed by the intense escalation of the situation in Nagorno Karabakh,” said the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, in the Kremlin’s first reaction to a clash that had been feared for months. Russia has some 2,000 soldiers deployed in Karabakh plus another 3,000 in a military base in Armenia, but has been neutral in the face of the Azeri bombardment, as its only concern now is its offensive on Ukraine.
“There are reports that Azerbaijan’s armed forces have launched what Baku calls ‘anti-terrorist measures’ in the region and retaliatory actions by local Armenian armed forces. “The Russian side urges the warring parties to stop the bloodshed,” Zakharova added. The spokesperson assured that the peacekeepers “are in contact” with the leadership of both sides and, in response to Armenian accusations that Baku announced its plans to Moscow before beginning the bombing, she responded that the information was communicated to the Russian contingent “ a few minutes before the start of hostilities.”
In Moscow they have even shown their satisfaction with the Azeri offensive. “Guess what fate awaits him (for Pashinián),” the vice president of the Russian Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, wrote on his social networks. The former president has reviewed a list of alleged grievances against the Armenian leader on his Telegram channel. “He lost the war, but he stayed in office in a strange way. He then blamed Russia for his lackluster defeat. He then gave up part of his country’s territory. Then he decided to flirt with NATO and his wife defiantly addressed our enemies with cookies,” Medvedev listed, referring to a recent visit by Pashinian’s wife to Kiev.
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