Azerbaijan on Tuesday launched “anti-terrorist operations” in its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, nearly three years after fighting a brief but brutal war with Armenia over the mountainous region that killed thousands.
The Azerbaijani army’s operation was “aimed at destroying Armenian military positions in the disputed territory and “restoring the constitutional order”, the defence ministry in Baku said on its website.
Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert, are under “mass artillery fire”, Ruben Vardanyan, the former Moscow investment banker who briefly headed the local administration, said from the city in a message on Telegram.
Azerbaijan said its forces were not targeting civilian areas.
The defence ministry statement came just hours after security services said four police officers and two civilians were killed in mine blasts in Nagorno-Karabakh, with the authorities blaming separatists.
Nagorno-Karabakh is heavily mined, with hundreds of Azerbaijanis wounded or killed in the last 30 years by landmines laid by Armenian forces.
Azerbaijan justified its mission, citing “systematic” shelling by Armenian-backed forces, and accused them of carrying out “reconnaissance activities” and fortifying defensive positions.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus rivals have been locked in a decades-long dispute over Karabakh with large-scale hostilities breaking out in the 1990s and in 2020.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has a majority Armenian population, declared independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union more than three decades ago.
Azerbaijan took back most of the region and seven surrounding districts during six weeks of fighting in 2020 before Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered a truce deal and deployed almost 2,000 troops to maintain peace.
While Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks under US and European Union mediation since the conflict, no agreement has yet been reached.
Fears of a fresh war have been building in recent months with Armenia accusing Azerbaijan of a troop build-up and decrying a blockade of its only land link to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Regional power brokers Russia and Turkey, which oversee a fragile peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, have been informed about Azerbaijan’s military activities in Karabakh, Baku said.
Moscow has asked the parties to the conflict to end the “bloodshed”.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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