BAKU-Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said Tuesday it had begun an “anti-terrorist” campaign in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as Armenian media and local authorities reported heavy bombardment of the regional capital of Stepanakert.
At least five people were killed, including a child, and 80 people were injured, amid artillery, missile and drone strikes by the Azerbaijan military, according to Armenian state news. Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been the cause of two wars between the neighbors in the past three decades, most recently in 2020.
Tensions have been simmering around the region for months, after Azerbaijani troops blockaded the Lachin corridor in December, cutting off the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and preventing the import of food to its roughly 120,000 inhabitants.
Russian peacekeepers, who deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, have been tasked with preventing a fresh conflict breaking out. But Moscow has been accused of being unable or unwilling to intervene to protect Armenia, its long-term ally, in the face of continuing aggression from Azerbaijan. Karabakh authorities said they have asked for immediate talks with Azerbaijan, amid continued shelling of the region. In response, the Azerbaijani Presidency said it is willing to meet with Karabakh Armenians, but added in a statement: “To stop anti-terrorist measures, illegal Armenian armed groups must raise the white flag, surrender all weapons, and the illegal regime must dissolve itself. Otherwise, anti-terrorist measures will be continued until the end.” The Azerbaijani defense ministry demanded in a statement Tuesday “the complete withdrawal of ethnic Armenian troops and the dissolution of the government in Stepanakert.”