Azerbaijan Pounds Karabakh as Russia and US Call for Calm
15:57 JST, September 20, 2023
YEREVAN, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Azerbaijan on Wednesday pounded Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region controlled by ethnic Armenians, despite calls from Russia and the United States for both sides to halt a spiral into war.
Azerbaijan began its “anti-terrorist” operation on Tuesday against Nagorno-Karabakh after some of its troops were killed in what Baku said were attacks from the mountainous region. Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Karabakh was being shelled intensively in an attempt to provoke a war. He demanded that Russian peacekeepers do their job and warned that unidentified forces were talking about a coup in Yerevan.
Ethnic Armenians in Karabakh said Azerbaijan had triggered a new war against the 120,000 people living in an area they consider their homeland. Nearby Turkey backed Azerbaijan, with which it has strong linguistic, cultural and economic ties.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to “immediately cease hostilities” and told Pashinyan that Washington supported Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Russia – distracted by the war in Ukraine – also called for calm but some Russian officials scolded Armenia for flirting with the West and said this could lead to serious problems.
“We urge the conflicting parties to immediately stop the bloodshed, stop hostilities and eliminate civilian casualties,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its Telegram messaging platform.
Another war in the former Soviet Union could disrupt the geopolitical balance in the South Caucasus, an area where Russia, the United States, Turkey and Iran are jostling for influence.
Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said on Wednesday that military measures “continue successfully,” with weaponry and military equipment destroyed.
Armenians in Karabakh, known by Armenians as Artsakh, said fighting was continuing with varying intensity. At least 27 people have been killed in Karabakh and 200 wounded, they said. Residents of some villages have been evacuated, they said.
Russian news agencies cited the Azeri presidential administration as saying Aliyev had told Blinken that Azerbaijan would halt its operation only after Armenian fighters lay down their weapons and surrender.
Azerbaijan said its intention was to “disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories, (and) neutralize their military infrastructure.”
Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, called “for an immediate end to the fighting” after the European Union, France and Germany condemned Baku’s military action.
As the Soviet Union crumbled, what is known as the First Karabakh War erupted (1988-1994) between Armenians and their Azeri neighbors. About 30,000 people were killed and more than a million people displaced.
In 2020, after decades of skirmishes, energy-rich Azerbaijan began a military operation which became the Second Karabakh War, swiftly breaking through Armenian defenses.
Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, won a resounding victory in the 44-day war, taking back parts of Karabakh. Russia brokered a ceasefire then – and has called for both sides to return to it.
But Armenia has accused Moscow of being too distracted by its own war in Ukraine to protect it and said Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh were failing to do their job.
Protesters unhappy about what they saw as Moscow’s failure to stop Azerbaijan chanted anti-Russian slogans outside Russia’s embassy in Armenia on Tuesday evening, Russia’s state TASS news agency reported.
“We should not allow some people, some forces, external and internal, to put Armenia’s statehood under attack,” Pashinyan said in a national address on Tuesday.
“I have to record that, as expected, calls for a coup d’état are already being heard from different places, even in Armenia.”
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