Several deaths have been reported after Azerbaijan carried out strikes on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region on Tuesday in an “anti-terror” operation that threatens to trigger another war in the region.
The country’s Defense Ministry said it was using “high-precision weapons” to “incapacitate” Armenian-backed forces and target Armenian military positions in a push to force out “formations of Armenia’s armed forces.”
Footage purportedly filmed in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh, which is called Khankendi by Azerbaijan, captured the sounds of loud shelling and artillery fire.
“At this moment, the capital Stepanakert and other cities and villages are under intensive fire,” an Armenia-based separatist group warned on social media, calling it a “large-scale military offensive.”
Armenian separatists said two civilians had been killed and nearly two dozen others wounded in Azerbaijan’s shelling, while authorities in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, blamed Armenian separatists in Karabakh for the mortar shelling death of a civilian in the city of Shusha.
Azerbaijan rejected a proposal from Armenians in Karabakh to sit down for negotiations, saying that “anti-terrorist activities will continue until the end” unless Armenians in Karabakh agreed to surrender.
“The illegal Armenian military formations must raise the white flag, all weapons must be handed over, and the illegal regime must be dissolved,” the presidential administration of Azerbaijan said.
Armenia has said it does not have any armed forces in Karabakh. Residents of Karabakh—called Artsakh by locals—have already suffered for months under an Azerbaijani blockade of the breakaway region that cut off food supplies and crucial medicines. Residents have said they believe Baku is using the blockade to try and starve them into submission or force them to leave the region. Experts, too, have warned that the blockade could turn into a full-on genocide.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the Armenian capital of Yerevan late Tuesday to demand action be taken over Baku’s military operation—with some of them chanting that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was a “traitor.”
Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” in Karabakh but vowed that Yerevan would not “take any rash actions.” Instead, he called on the United Nations and Russia, which has a peacekeeping mission in the region, to “take steps” to stop the conflict.
The Kremlin said it was concerned by the “sharp escalation” in the region, and called on both sides to stop hostilities. It also said it could not confirm that Azerbaijan had warned Moscow of the military operation in advance.
Officials in Baku said civilians were free to leave the area via humanitarian corridors and insisted that “the civilian population and civilian infrastructure are not targets.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia have feuded for decades over Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population.
A bloody 2020 war between the two former Soviet rivals ended with Azerbaijan recapturing land of historical significance to Armenians. A Russian-brokered ceasefire deal to end that war did little to ease tensions in the region, with the two sides continuing to hurl allegations and periodic reports of shelling.