Azerbaijan launches 'anti-terrorism' campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh region

Azerbaijan started an "anti-terrorism" campaign in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. File Photo by Maxim Shipenov/EPA-EFE

Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Azerbaijan launched an "anti-terrorism" campaign in Armenian-held positions on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, stoking fears of reigniting the deadly war between the two Caucasian countries.

Baku's ministry of defense has posted several videos to its social media showing its military bombing purported Armenian military positions within the disputed region, some of which it said were used to target civilians in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's defense ministry on Tuesday said in a statement that the goal of its so-called anti-terrorism measures is to "suppress large-scale provocations" in the region. It said it would evacuate local Armenians.

"As part of the measures, positions on the frontline and in-depth, long-term firing points of the formations of Armenia's armed forces, as well as combat assets and military facilities are incapacitated using high-precision weapons," the ministry said.

Baku has accused the Armenian army and armed forces of "systematic shelling" of its military positions as well as mining Azerbaijan territories and increasing its number of military trenches and shelters.

Armenia has rejected the notion that it has military installations in Nagorno-Karabakh, while accusing Azerbaijan of conducting a disinformation campaign.

"The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia has repeatedly stated that the Republic of Armenia does not have an army in Nagorno-Karabakh," it said in a statement.

Azerbaijan's defense ministry told Azerbaijan State News Agency that it will halt its so-called anti-terrorism campaign once the Armenian armed forces formations surrender.

The renewed fighting threatens to restart the deadly 2020 war between the countries that led to Azerbaijan taking land from Armenia in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Azerbaijan was taking "unacceptable military actions" that risk worsening the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Readouts from his office show he spoke with both Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan about Baku's actions.

To Aliyev, he urged him to immediately cease his military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh. To Pashinyan, he expressed the United States' deep concern and underscored that they are calling on Azerbaijan to stop its military action and return to dialogue.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been a flashpoint for the two countries for decades. Though internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the contested border area is predominately populated with Armenians as they tried to declare independence from Baku in early 1991.

Two wars have been fought over the region by Azerbaijan and Armenia, with the most recent being a six-week conflict in 2020 that ended with a Russia-led cease-fire agreement that included the maintenance of the Lachin corridor, which is a mountain road and the only link for residents of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

That deal, though, has all but fallen apart with Azerbaijani forces taking control of the vital Lachin Corridor.

In April, Azerbaijan established a checkpoint on the corridor, the sole land link between Armenia and the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, sparking outrage in Yerevan.