In a significant escalation of tensions, Azerbaijan has initiated military action in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, raising concerns of a potential new conflict in the volatile South Caucasus area. Baku claims that its actions are aimed at restoring constitutional order and expelling Armenian military units from the region, which has been at the heart of disputes between the two nations since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, but it is currently administered by breakaway ethnic Armenian authorities who argue that the area is their ancestral homeland. The region has seen two major wars, with the most recent conflict occurring in 2020.
As reports of the military operations emerged, it remained unclear whether Azerbaijan's actions would escalate into a full-scale war involving Armenia or if they were limited to a more focused military operation. However, political turmoil was already evident in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan revealed that there were calls for a coup against his government.
The repercussions of the fighting could significantly alter the geopolitical balance in the South Caucasus, a region crisscrossed with critical oil and gas pipelines. Russia, preoccupied with its conflict in Ukraine, is striving to maintain its influence, while Turkey has shown growing interest in supporting Azerbaijan.
Reports from the capital of Karabakh, known as Stepanakert but referred to as Khankendi by Azerbaijan, indicated that heavy shelling was ongoing. Gegham Stepanyan, the Karabakh separatist human rights ombudsman, claimed that two civilians were killed and 11 others were injured due to strikes by the Azerbaijani military.
Azerbaijan's defense ministry issued a statement outlining its intentions, stating it aimed to;
"disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories, (and) neutralize their military infrastructure."
The statement emphasized that their operations were limited to legitimate military targets and that they were employing "high-precision weapons" while not targeting civilians, all in an effort to "restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan." The ministry also announced the establishment of humanitarian corridors for civilians, including one leading to Armenia.
However, Armenia's Prime Minister Pashinyan labeled the offer of humanitarian corridors as another attempt by Baku to encourage ethnic Armenians to leave Karabakh, characterizing it as "ethnic cleansing," an accusation that Azerbaijan has denied.
Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh reported that Azerbaijani forces were attempting to breach their defenses following intense shelling but asserted that they were holding their ground for the time being. Armenia condemned Baku's actions as "full-scale aggression" against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and accused Azerbaijan of shelling towns and villages.
Armenia has called on members of the U.N. Security Council for assistance and has urged Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region to intervene. Russia, which had previously brokered a fragile ceasefire after the 2020 conflict, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Russia, a key mediator in the 2020 ceasefire, has called for an immediate halt to the hostilities and has been in contact with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Moscow emphasizes the need for negotiations and the protection of civilian safety.
Armenia has criticized Russia for being too preoccupied with the Ukraine conflict to ensure its own security and has accused Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh of failing to fulfill their duties.
As the situation continues to develop, concerns over the humanitarian impact of the conflict grow. Civilians in the region face the grim reality of conflict escalation, prompting appeals for international recognition of Karabakh's self-declared independence from Azerbaijan and calls for sanctions on Baku.
This escalation follows the recent delivery of much-needed food and medicine to Karabakh, which had temporarily eased tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Baku had previously imposed restrictions on the Lachin corridor, the only road linking Armenia to Karabakh, citing concerns of arms smuggling, a claim contested by Yerevan.
Armenia had accused Azerbaijan of causing a humanitarian catastrophe by blocking the corridor and termed these actions as illegal. The latest military operation further complicates efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.