The former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia return to arms. Starting this Tuesday, September 19, these two countries in the South Caucasus resume their armed dispute over the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh (or Upper Karabakh). This breaks the peace agreement that, with the mediation of Russia, put an end to its last war, that of 2020, and in which the forces of Baku recovered a large part of the territory lost in the conflict of the 90s.
After accusing Armenia of violating the 2020 trilateral agreements, Azerbaijan announced this Tuesday morning the start in Nagorno Karabakh of a "local anti-terrorist operation", as its Ministry of Defense called it in a message on Telegram.
Minutes earlier, the former minister of state (former head of government) of the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, businessman Rubén Vardanián, reported on the massive bombing against that territory.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of strengthening fighting positions in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as systematically shelling Azerbaijani army positions.
He also claimed that an Armenian sabotage group had placed a mine on the road linking the towns of Ajmedbeili, Fizuli and Shusha, in the part of the region controlled by Azerbaijan. A repair technician vehicle exploded, killing six civilians, he said. Baku accused Yerevan of carrying out a "terrorist policy" and violating the provisions of the agreement they reached, mediated by Moscow, in November 2020.
Later, he accused the Armenian Army of having started shelling Azerbaijani positions in the Agdam district with artillery. And he claimed that the Armenians had fired from the areas where, after the peace agreement three years ago, the Russian peacekeeping contingent is temporarily stationed.
Nagorno-Karabakh's Defense Ministry accused Azerbaijan of lying and called Baku's statement on ceasefire violation false.
"Right now the capital, Stepanakert, and other cities and towns are under massive artillery bombardment," he said in a statement.
According to the Armenian publication Aravot, the Azerbaijanis had begun attacking Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert, with artillery and drones. The Verelq media outlet writes that aerial alarms had been activated in the city.
After the start of fighting, Vardanián urged the Government of Armenia to "recognize Artsakh (Armenian name for Nagorno Karabakh) and join in the protection of its citizens." Although Armenia has always advocated that Nagorno Karabakh (with a majority Armenian population) be separated from Azerbaijan (to which it belonged when the Soviet Union divided), the truth is that Armenia has never recognized Nagorno Karabakh as an independent country.
Russia, meanwhile, said it was alarmed by the sudden worsening of the situation. She called on the parties to stop the bloodshed and return to the path of a diplomatic solution. "We are deeply alarmed by the sharp worsening of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. She urged "the warring parties to stop the bloodshed, immediately stop hostilities and return to the path of political and diplomatic solution."
In the current situation, the Russian peacekeeping contingent continues to fulfill its tasks, Zakharova stressed. "We proceed from the fact that the safety of our peacekeepers will be unconditionally guaranteed by all parties. The command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent is in constant contact with the representatives of the Karabakh Armenians and with the Azerbaijani authorities, with the aim of a ceasefire and the return to the implementation of the trilateral agreements," he noted.
Traditionally, Russia has been an ally of Armenia. In fact, both are part of the military alliance led by Moscow, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are also members. That alliance, however, has deteriorated in recent years. Following Azerbaijan's decision, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called an urgent meeting of the Armenian Security Council.
At the same time, Armenia has turned to Russia and the United Nations Security Council for help. "Under the tripartite declaration of November 9 (2020), Russian peacekeepers deployed in the region must take clear and unequivocal measures to end Azerbaijan's aggression," the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.