Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said Tuesday it had begun an “anti-terrorist” campaign in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as Armenian media and local authorities reported heavy bombardment of the regional capital of Stepanakert.
Two civilians, including a child, were killed, and 11 people were injured, amid shelling by the Azerbaijan military, according to Gegham Stepanyan, the Ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been the cause of two wars between the neighbors in the past three decades, most recently in 2020.
Tensions have been simmering around the region for months, after Azerbaijani troops blockaded the Lachin corridor in December, cutting off the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and preventing the import of food to its roughly 120,000 inhabitants.
Russian peacekeepers, who deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, have been tasked with preventing a fresh conflict breaking out. But Moscow has been accused of being unable or unwilling to intervene to protect Armenia, its long-term ally, in the face of continuing aggression from Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani defense ministry demanded in a statement Tuesday “the complete withdrawal of ethnic Armenian troops and the dissolution of the government in Stepanakert.”
“The only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is the unconditional and complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the dissolution of the puppet regime,” it said.
“As part of local anti-terrorist measures carried out in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, regular long-term firing points and military installations of the Armenian armed forces were destroyed by precise strikes by units of the Azerbaijan Army,” the ministry added.
The ministry claimed its army had come under “systematic shelling” from Armenia’s armed forces, adding that its action was designed to “neutralize their military infrastructure” and “ultimately restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
“Only legitimate military targets are being incapacitated,” it added.
It said Armenia had fortified its positions, “bringing units to a high level of combat readiness,” and that mines had been planted in previously de-mined areas. The ministry also claimed one Azeri vehicle had struck a mine and two civilians had been killed.