27 Sep, 2020
Azerbaijan launched “an offensive” against Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday morning, Armenia has claimed. There have been reports of Azeri aircraft being shot down. Baku says it is taking “retaliatory measures” in the disputed region.
Long the subject of an uneasy ceasefire, hostilities have resumed along the border of the mostly Armenian-populated enclave, home to around 145,000 people, with top officials in both Armenia and Azerbaijan confirming the news. Although internationally recognised as Azeri territory, Baku has had no control over the region since 1988.
“The enemy has started an attack on Artsakh,” Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, wrote on Facebook, referring to the Armenian name for the territory. Nagorno-Karabakh forces “successfully repel(ed) the attack,” and the situation is under control, he said.
Separately, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said the military has launched “a counteroffensive operation along the entire front” in a bid to safeguard civilians and contain Armenian forces. The counterattack involves infantry and armored units supported by its air force, Baku says.
As the crisis unfolded, top officials in Baku alleged that Armenian forces have been shelling Azerbaijani Army positions and populated areas, a claim Yerevan is yet to confirm.
Leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh said Stepanakert, the region’s largest city of over 55,000 people, has also been hit by Azerbaijani artillery. “We urge the population to remain calm and take cover,” a spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh president wrote on Facebook.
Later on Sunday, Nagorno-Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan declared martial law and announced a general conscription call for all males over the age of 18. “We’re not a party of war, but we are ready for war,” he said.
Baku, meanwhile, received words of support from Turkey, which views Azerbaijan as a culturally close nation. “Azerbaijan is not alone,” Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, wrote on Twitter, adding, “we wish God’s mercy to our brothers who lost their lives in the attacks.”
There were conflicting casualty reports from both sides later in the day. Azerbaijan’s military confirmed that a combat helicopter was shot down but that its crew survived, adding there have been an unspecified number of victims among civilians. It also claimed 12 Armenian air defense systems were hit and destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Armenian Army insisted the Azerbaijani losses were much higher, amounting to two helicopters, three tanks, and three drones. “The enemy sustained casualties in manpower,” Shushan Stepanyan, the spokeswoman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, stated.
The Armenian Defense Ministry has circulated a video purportedly showing an Azerbaijani tank being hit by an armor-piercing projectile. The vehicle stops moving and is seen emitting large clouds of black smoke in the footage, which could not immediately be verified. But Baku has rejected the report.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been sworn enemies since gaining independence in the 1990s. The focus of their conflict is Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian region landlocked inside Azeri territory, which Baku considers to be under its sovereignty and Yerevan treats as an independent friendly nation.
Armenian militias in Nagorno-Karabakh fought a successful six-year guerrilla war against Azerbaijan, from 1988-1994.
The latest major flare-up between Armenia and Azerbaijan happened in April 2016, when the nations fought for four days and deployed heavy weapons, including tanks and aircraft. The fighting claimed the lives of over 90 troops on each side and killed over a dozen civilians.