The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced the beginning of a limited anti-terrorist operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ministry said the operation aims to ensure the implementation of the trilateral agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of 2020 and the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territory.
Yerevan said that Baku seeks to “complete the policy of ethnic cleansing” and that Armenia doesn’t have any troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia called on the sides to stop the bloodshed and try to work things out diplomatically.
Azerbaijani anti-terrorist measures
On September 19, Azerbaijan announced it was starting to carry out limited anti-terrorist measures in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The country’s Defense Ministry said it plans to ensure the implementation of the trilateral statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of November 9, 2020, as well as suppress “large-scale acts of provocation in the Karabakh economic region.” The goal of the measures, according to the Azerbaijani ministry, is also the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian troops from the area and the neutralization of their military infrastructure.
Baku intends to ensure the “restoration of constitutional order in the Republic of Azerbaijan” and the security of civilians, civil servants and Azerbaijani military personnel.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said civilian facilities wouldn’t be targeted, but the positions held by the formations of the Armenian Armed Forces, their long-term firing points, as well as military equipment and structures will be liquidated.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry also said that it had informed the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the leadership of the Turkish-Russian Monitoring Center about its plans. Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov also notified his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler about the situation. Guler said Turkey is standing by Azerbaijan.
Situation on the ground
Baku stated that Armenian forces are firing their artillery guns at the positions of the Azerbaijani army located in the area of the Agdam District. Azerbaijani forces are retaliating.
To evacuate people from the dangerous areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan has set up humanitarian corridors and pick-up points on Lachin road and in some other places. The civilian population was urged to stay away from military installations.
Azerbaijan also denied reports circulating in the Armenian segment of global social networks about the shelling of civilian facilities in Karabakh by Azerbaijani units. Baku added that “only legitimate military targets are being put out of commission.”
Yerevan stated that Armenia doesn’t have any troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, while “Azerbaijani official reports and news media continue to make false claims” to the contrary. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, as of 2:00 p.m., the situation on the country’s borders was relatively stable.
Armenia said it believes that “Azerbaijan has unleashed another large-scale act of aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, seeking to complete the policy of ethnic cleansing.”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation. He said the situation on Armenia’s borders is stable and Yerevan does not plan to take rash steps. Also, according to Pashinyan, Russian peacekeepers should respond to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
A protest is taking place outside the Armenian government building in downtown Yerevan. About 500 protesters are blaming the country’s leadership including Pashinyan for policies that have led to the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Statements from Russia
Russia is deeply alarmed by the sharp escalation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. Moscow calls on the conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed and return to a political and diplomatic settlement.
Despite the escalating situation, Russian peacekeepers continue to carry out their mission. Russia assumes that the security of the peacekeeping contingent “will be unconditionally ensured by all sides.” Zakharova denied allegations that Azerbaijan had warned Russian peacekeepers ahead of today’s “anti-terrorist operation.”
“This has no basis in reality. The information was communicated to the Russian contingent a few minutes before the start of hostilities,” the spokeswoman said.
According to Zakharova, Russia also is currently in talks on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, including with Azerbaijan. The ministry will make a statement on the results of these talks, she said.
Zakharova also noted that all steps for the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh problem are laid out in the trilateral statements of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, which were adopted in the period from 2020 to 2022. According to the spokeswoman, Russia and other international mediators have recently begun to establish serious conditions for progress in the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, including humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In response to calls by Armenia for Russian peacekeepers and the UN Security Council to take measures to stop hostilities, Zakharova reminded Yerevan in a statement on Telegram that Armenia had officially recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan.
Baku will end its anti-terrorist activities in Nagorno-Karabakh if Armenian fighters lay down their weapons, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to the presidential press service.
“The head of state said that anti-terrorist activities would end if weapons were laid down,” the press service said in a statement.
Aliyev also stated that Armenian units had to disarm. He stressed that civilians and infrastructure facilities weren’t the target of the anti-terrorist activities and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were only destroying legitimate military targets.
The Azerbaijani president pointed out that his administration had repeatedly invited representatives of Karabakh’s Armenian population to engage in dialogue to discuss reintegration but they had refused. Still, in Aliyev’s words, they were once again invited to dialogue after the local anti-terrorist activities had been launched.
Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan was forced to start the local anti-terrorist activities in the region “to put an end to the provocative and inflammatory actions of the Armenian side.” In this regard, he mentioned that an Armenian sabotage and reconnaissance group had laid mines in Karabakh, which resulted in the death of civilians and law enforcement officers, while Azerbaijani army units had come under mortar and small-arms fire.
“President Ilham Aliyev emphasized that these activities, as well as the move to hold the so-called presidential election in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on September 9, were the continuation of deliberate provocative steps by Armenia and the so-called separatist entity that it created and supports, aimed against Azerbaijan’s sovereignty,” the statement said.
According to the Azerbaijani presidential press service, Blinken expressed concern about the situation, called for a ceasefire and said that the US supported direct dialogue between Baku and the Armenian population of Karabakh.
At least seven Nagorno-Karabakh civilians died and 35 were injured as a result of military hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenpress news agency reported, citing data of Nagorno-Karabakh human rights commissioner Gegham Stepanyan.
“Thirty-five civilians were injured: 13 children, 15 women and seven men. Seven civilians died,” the news agency said. It was earlier reported that the mayor of Martuni, Aznavur Saghyan, was among the dead.
On September 19, tensions flared up again in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku announced it was launching what it described as “local anti-terrorist measures” and demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the region. Yerevan, in turn, said there were no Armenian forces in Karabakh, calling what was happening “an act of large-scale aggression.” Residents of the Armenian capital took to the streets to protest outside the Armenian government building, blaming the country’s leadership and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for the situation.
The command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh reported the evacuation of civilians and called on the parties to the conflict for an immediate ceasefire. The Russian Foreign Ministry called on the conflicting sides to prevent civilian casualties and stop the bloodshed, as well as to return to the implementation of the trilateral agreements between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Moscow is calling on the sides to return to compliance with the trilateral agreements of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The most important thing now is to immediately return to compliance with the trilateral agreements signed at the top level in 2020-2022, which lay out all measures for a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” the ministry said in a statement, also urging the sides “to stop armed hostilities and to do everything possible in order to protect the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and defend its interests.”
“Due to a rapid escalation of armed hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, we strongly call upon the conflicting sides to immediately stop bloodshed, cease hostilities and prevent casualties among the civilian population,” the ministry said.
“Currently, the Russian peacekeeping force is assisting the civilian population [of Nagorno-Karabakh], including providing medical aid to them, and is dealing with matters of evacuation,” the ministry said.
A full ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh has been reached through the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“A ceasefire agreement between the Azerbaijani side and representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh has been reached through the mediation of the command for Russia’s peacekeeping mission,” the statement reads.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, “the agreement will be implemented in coordination with the command for the Russian peacekeeping contingent.”
The ministry said earlier that Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh continued to perform their mission amid rising tensions, providing all possible assistance to civilians. According to the ministry, a total of 2,261 civilians, including 1,049 children, are currently staying at the peacekeepers’ base camp.