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Thursday, September 21, 2023

War breaks out over Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan launches major attack

The ground and air offensive is directed against the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Protests against the inaction of the government are breaking out in Armenia.

A house is destroyed

A residential building that was shot at in Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh Photo: Itar-Tass/picture alliance

BERLIN/TIBILISSI/ISTANBUL/JEREAM taz/dpa | Azerbaijan attacks the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry calls it an “anti-terrorist operation.” The Armenian government speaks of preparing for ethnic cleansing.

The area has been under widespread Azerbaijani fire since Tuesday afternoon. Both the capital Stepanakert and more rural areas are affected. Videos on social media show dark smoke over Stepanakert, explosions can be heard, and air raid sirens are wailing. Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in the afternoon that Azerbaijan had also begun ground operations.

The fact that Armenia violated the ceasefire negotiated after the 2020 war was the trigger for the operation, according to Baku. Corridors have been opened from the contested area for the evacuation of civilians – they fear that this is a preparation to depopulate the area of ​​Armenians.

The Defense Ministry in the Azerbaijani capital Baku said it would use precision weapons to target Armenian military positions and facilities used by “separatists” – as residents of Nagorno-Karabakh are known in Azerbaijan.

Bullets hit residential buildings

On X (formerly Twitter) A shared video shows a residential building hit by an Azerbaijani missile. Part of the wall has been blown away, and debris is scattered across parked cars and a children’s playground. Additional residential buildings and civilian infrastructure have been attacked, at least two civilians have been killed and 23 others injured.

Armenians fear that the area will be ethnically cleansed

People who are definitely recognizable as civilians are affected: Among other things, 7 children from the Askeran region were admitted to the children’s hospital in Stepanakert after they came under Azerbaijani fire. “Many parents cannot find their children because the bombing of Stepanakert started when they were on their way home. They also cannot contact their children because the mobile network connection is interrupted,” explains human rights activist Zaruhi Hovhannisyan.

It became clear in the morning that an attack could be imminent: Baku said that Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh had carried out an attack on Azerbaijani mines north of the enclave and that several police officers had been killed. Then the first battles began.

Last week there was a massive deployment of Azerbaijani troops on the enclave and the Armenian border. The military rehearsed combat from the air, including with an Israeli missile system. And the number of military transport flights between Azerbaijan and its ally Israel increased significantly.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been enemies for a long time

Pashinyan said in the afternoon that the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was not unforeseeable. A meeting of the Security Council has been called. “We believe that, firstly, Russian peacekeepers should take action. And secondly, we expect the UN Security Council to take action,” Pashinyan said. Armenia itself has no troops in the enclave.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been contested for decades between the two ex-Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the end of the Soviet Union, the area initially went to Azerbaijan. In the 1990s, the area’s predominantly Armenian population fought to break away from Baku with the support of Armenia. Armenia was better equipped at the time and won the war for Berkarabakh.

By 2020, Azerbaijan had bought better equipment through its oil and gas sales and conquered large parts of the territory, leaving 6,500 people dead. The subsequent ceasefire was to be secured by Russian peacekeepers stationed at the border. But it has already been broken several times. Azerbaijan also blocked the Lachin Corridor, the only open route to Armenia. Food and fuel became scarce in the enclave and the humanitarian situation is precarious.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Russian peacekeepers learned about the operation only a few minutes before it began. Baku said it had also informed the Russian-Turkish monitoring center, which monitors the maintenance of the ceasefire, about the “anti-terrorist operations.”

Meanwhile, Turkey – close allies of Azerbaijan – has assured Baku of its full solidarity. It is not yet known whether Turkish soldiers or technicians are involved in the new attack.

The European Union condemned the Azerbaijani military operation. France has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The left calls for the suspension of all agreements with Baku. Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Germany has been receiving more gas from the Caucasus country.

Anti-government protests in Armenia

Protests have begun in Armenia’s capital Yerevan in response to the Azerbaijani shelling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict region. The demonstrators on Tuesday demanded more decisive action from their Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and support for the Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.

An angry crowd can be seen on videos on social networks. According to local media reports, demonstrators tried to break into the parliament building surrounded by police. Stones and bottles were also thrown at police officers.

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