September 19, 2023 (World Defence News): In a sudden and alarming turn of events, Azerbaijan has launched a major military offensive in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The announcement, which came on September 19, 2023, has raised fears of a resurgence of hostilities and potential ethnic cleansing in the region. The conflict, which erupted in 2020, resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides, and a subsequent cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia had collapsed.
Azerbaijan’s government declared that it was undertaking “local anti-terrorist activities” to “suppress large-scale provocations” in Nagorno-Karabakh. Reports and footage from the region showed intense shelling and gunfire, with air raid sirens sounding in Stepanakert, the de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.
One of the most alarming aspects of Azerbaijan’s offensive is the declaration of an “evacuation” of ethnic Armenians from what they refer to as “dangerous areas.” This has triggered immediate concerns of potential ethnic cleansing in the region.
The EU, which had been fostering relations with Azerbaijan as a strategic ally and alternative gas supplier to Russia, faces a significant setback due to the renewed conflict. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had previously visited Azerbaijan to secure increased natural gas exports, despite warnings from experts about aligning with the Azerbaijani government.
The Azerbaijani government claimed the offensive was in response to the destruction of vehicles by landmines, resulting in the deaths of four soldiers and two civilians. However, it did not clarify how the besieged Armenians in Karabakh had access to such weaponry.
Azerbaijan’s actions have prompted calls for intervention from the international community. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened his country’s security council and urged the United Nations Security Council and Russia to take “clear and unambiguous steps to end Azerbaijani aggression.”
BREAKING: Azerbaijan has declared the commencement of a military "operation" in historically and ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh to "disarm" the Defense Army of Artsakh.— Paul Antonopoulos 🇬🇷🇨🇾 (@oulosP) September 19, 2023
The capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, is currently under artillery bombardment by the… pic.twitter.com/LnGmkMt7ep
Azerbaijan’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, stated that the goal of the operation was to “neutralize military infrastructure” and assured that local Armenian populations had received SMS warnings to stay away from military targets. However, local reports from Stepanakert contradicted these claims, with residents expressing fear and disbelief in Azerbaijan’s “humanitarian corridor” offer.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has its roots in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and has seen intermittent clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces. The 2020 war, supported by drones from Turkey and Israel, led to Azerbaijani forces gaining control of significant territories and a part of Karabakh, resulting in the displacement of the Armenian population.
The situation has escalated further, with reports of Azerbaijani troop build-ups along the shared border and the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh. The offensive has ignited concerns that the region may witness a repeat of the devastating 2020 conflict.
The international community, including the United States and Russia, had been engaged in negotiations to prevent such a scenario. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, had expressed deep concerns about the humanitarian situation and called for negotiated outcomes. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and European Council President Charles Michel have also urged a halt to Azerbaijan’s military actions and the reopening of the Lachin Corridor.
As the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh continues to escalate, the world watches with apprehension, hoping that diplomatic efforts can bring an end to the violence and prevent further suffering in the region.