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2023 Nagorno-Karabakh clashes

Military offensive by Azerbaijan
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300px-2020_Nagorno-Karabakh_war.svg.png2023 Nagorno-Karabakh clashesPart of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Military situation in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020

  Areas captured by Azerbaijan during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War
  Areas ceded to Azerbaijan under the 2020 ceasefire agreement
  Areas in Nagorno-Karabakh proper remaining under the control of Artsakh at the start of the conflict
  Lachin corridor and Dadivank monastery, patrolled by Russian peacekeepers

For a more detailed map, see the detailed map

Date 19–20 September 2023 (2023-09-19 – 2023-09-20)
Location
Result

Azerbaijani victory

Territorial
changes
Per Azerbaijan: 90 combat positions captured by Azerbaijan[3]

Belligerents
 Azerbaijan
 ArtsakhCommanders and leaders

Units involved

 Artsakh Defence ArmyCasualties and losses
Unknown

Per Artsakh:[4]

  • 190+ servicemen killed
  • 360+ servicemen wounded

Per Azerbaijan:[5][6]
1 Azerbaijani civilian killed
1 Azerbaijani civilian injured

Per Artsakh:[4]
10 Armenian civilians killed
40 Armenian civilians injured

Between 19 and 20 September 2023, Azerbaijan initiated a military offensive against the self-declared breakaway state of Artsakh. The offensive took place in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, but populated by Armenians.[7][8] The attacks occurred in the midst of an escalating crisis caused by Azerbaijan blockading the Republic of Artsakh, which has resulted in significant scarcities of essential supplies such as food, medicine, and other goods in the affected region.[9]

One day after the offensive started, on 20 September, an agreement on establishing a complete cessation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh was reached at the mediation of the Russian peacekeeping command in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Nagorno-Karabakh Presidential Office said.[10] Azerbaijan said that a meeting will be held with representatives of Artsakh on 21 September in Yevlakh.[11][12]

Background

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an ethnic and territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is entirely claimed by and partially de facto controlled by the breakaway Republic of Artsakh but is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan de facto controls one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh region as well as the seven surrounding districts.

The conflict escalated in 1988, when the Karabakh Armenians demanded the transfer of the region from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia, triggering the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. In late 2020, the large-scale Second Nagorno-Karabakh War resulted in thousands of casualties and a significant Azerbaijani victory. An armistice was established by a tripartite ceasefire agreement on 10 November, resulting in Armenia and Artsakh losing the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh as well as one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh itself.[13] Ceasefire violations in Nagorno-Karabakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border have continued following the 2020 war, with intermittent but ongoing casualties.

Since the 2020 war, Azerbaijan has rescinded its offer of special status or autonomy to its indigenous Armenian residents and instead insists on their “integration” into Azerbaijan.[14][15] International mediators and human rights organizations have emphasized self-determination for the local Armenian population[16][17] and do not believe that Artsakh Armenians can live safely under the dynastic, authoritarian regime[18][19] of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.[20][21]

Prelude

Since December 2022, Azerbaijan has blockaded the Republic of Artsakh from the outside world, in violation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement and international legal rulings.[22] The Azerbaijani government seized territory around the Lachin corridor both within Artsakh and Armenia, blocked alternative bypass routes, and installed a military checkpoint.[23] Azerbaijan has also sabotaged critical civilian infrastructure of Artsakh, including gas, electricity, and Internet access.[24][25]

The blockade has created a humanitarian crisis for the population of Artsakh; imports of essential goods have been blocked, as well as humanitarian convoys of the Red Cross and the Russian peacekeepers, trapping the 120,000 residents of the region.[26][27] Shortages of essential goods – including electricity, fuel, and water reserves – are widespread and emergency reserves are being rationed, alongside massive unemployment, and closures of schools and public transportation.[28][29]

Azerbaijan claims its actions are aimed at preventing the transportation of weapons and natural resources;[30][31] Azerbaijan also says its goal is for Artsakh’s “integration” into Azerbaijan, despite opposition from the population, and has threatened military action if the Artsakh government does not dissolve.[32][33]

Numerous countries, international organizations, and human rights observers have condemned Azerbaijan’s blockade and consider it to be a form of hybrid warfare,[34][35] ethnic cleansing,[36] and genocide.[37][38] Multiple international observers also consider the blockade and the inaction of the Russian peacekeepers to be violations of the tripartite ceasefire agreement signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, which ended the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and guarantees safe passage through the Lachin corridor.[39][40] Azerbaijan and Russia have ignored calls from various countries and international organizations to restore freedom of movement through the corridor.[41][42]

Two weeks before the clashes, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention issued a report in which it said “There is alarming evidence that President [Ilham] Aliyev may be planning a military assault on Artsakh in the very near future,” noting that Aliyev recently had signed a new decree ordering all eligible citizens 18 years of age or older to report for military service between 1 October and 31 October 2023. The Lemkin Institute also warned that “A military assault on Artsakh could lead to the mass murder stage of genocide. It would almost assuredly result in the forced displacement of Armenians from Artsakh and the widespread commission of genocidal atrocities…[and]…Artsakh’s Armenians would lose their distinct identity as Artsakhsis, an identity that has been forged through centuries—millennia—of independent cultural flourishing in their mountains and valleys.”[43]

Events

19 September

On 19 September 2023, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale offensive against Republic of Artsakh. The Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense claimed to be undertaking “local anti-terrorist activities” and alleged Armenian land mines caused the death of two Azerbaijani civilians and four policeman as a pretext.[44][45] The ministry demanding the disarmament and withdrawal of all ethnic Armenian soldiers, as well as the unconditional surrender and dissolution of the Republic of Artsakh.[46] The statement ended with a notice that the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the Turkish-Russian Monitoring Center were informed about the ongoing activities,[47] but Russia denied this, adding that its peacekeepers were only informed of the matter a “few minutes” before it started.[48]

Azerbaijan claimed that no civilian positions were being attacked with weaponry, but it was clear that strikes were being carried out in close proximity to large cities and densely populated areas.[9] The attacks occurred in the midst of an escalating crisis caused by the Azerbaijani government effectively blockading the Republic of Artsakh. This blockade has resulted in significant scarcities of essential supplies such as food, medicine, and other goods in the affected region.[9] Azerbaijan said that it had set up “humanitarian corridors and reception points on the Lachin road and in other directions” which will “ensure the evacuation of the population from the dangerous area”.[49] These announcements were distributed through SMS, leaflets, and social media and triggered fears of ethnic cleansing among the residents.[50] Artsakhi authorities warned its residents that “the Azerbaijani propaganda machine uses large-scale information and psychological influence measures.”[51][52] The Cyber Security Service of Azerbaijan [az] temporarily restricted access to TikTok in Azerbaijan.[53][54]

Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership offered to negotiate with Azerbaijan after it launched its military offensive. “The Karabakh side appeals to the Azerbaijani side to immediately cease the hostilities and sit down at the negotiation table with the aim of settling the situation”, it said in a statement issued late in the afternoon. The office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev responded by saying that it is ready to meet with Karabakh Armenian representatives in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh. It stressed at the same time that the Azerbaijani offensive will continue unless the Karabakh Armenians disband their government bodies and armed forces.[55] The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry later said that its forces had captured more than 60 military posts and destroyed up to 20 military vehicles.[56] The Armenian daily Azg (“Nation”) reported there were claims that Azerbaijan had captured the villages of Charektar and Getavan.[57] The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office claimed Armenian forces attacked Shusha with large-caliber weapons, killing one civilian.[58]

Artsakh authorities said the state’s de facto capital, Stepanakert, and other cities were being heavily shelled, accusing Azerbaijan of attempted ethnic cleansing.[59][60] Artsakh’s human rights ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said two civilians, including a child, were killed,[61] while 11 others were injured,[62] eight of which were children.[63] By the end of the day, Artsakh reported that 27 people had been killed and more than 200 were injured.[64]

Artsakh authorities reported that they had evacuated over 7,000 people from 16 rural settlements,[65] while Russian peacekeepers evacuated 5,000 others.[66] Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova announced that Russian food and medicine arrived in Artsakh via the Lachin and Agdam routes.[67]

20 September

Armenian sources reported that Aznavur Saghyan, the mayor of Martuni, was killed[68] by an Azerbaijani sniper.[69] It was also reported that the Amaras Monastery near Sos had fallen under Azerbaijani control.[70] Azg reported that Azerbaijani forces had captured the settlements of Chankatagh, Chapar, Charektar, Getavan, Karmir Shuka, Khachmach, Machkalashen, Sarushen Shosh and Vaghuhas.[71] Furthermore, the Armenian daily Aravot reported that the Kashen mine,[72] one of the biggest sources of tax revenue for the Artsakhi government,[73] had fallen under Azerbaijani control.[72] Artsakhi president Samvel Shahramanyan said “Nagorno-Karabakh will have to take relevant steps to ensure physical security of population”.[74]

Artsakhi authorities agreed to a proposal by Russian peacekeeping forces to establish a ceasefire from 13:00 on 20 September.[75] Under the terms of the agreement, the government of the Republic of Artsakh agreed to disarm and to enter into talks with the government of Azerbaijan regarding the reintegration of the territory.[76] Among the Azerbaijani demands was a requirement for Arsakh and Armenia to surrender a list of individuals to Azerbaijan for prosecution and trial, including former and current Artsakhi civilian and military leaders.[77][78] Large masses of Armenian civilians began fleeing Artsakh after the ceasefire announcement, with many of them gathering at Stepanakert Airport.[79][80] The Armenian government said it was not involved in the drafting of the ceasefire agreement, while Azerbaijani presidential envoy Elchin Amirbekov said that Russian peacekeepers helped facilitate the ceasefire.[81]

Colonel Anar Eyvazov [az], Spokesperson for the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, announced that during the operation, Azerbaijan had captured 90 combat positions. He also said that Azerbaijani forces had captured seven combat vehicles, one tank, four mortars and two infantry fighting vehicles from Armenian military units as trophies.[82]

Shelling of Stepanakert continued until the city’s electrical grid was knocked out several hours after the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect.[83][84] According to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, several peacekeepers were killed near the village of Chankatagh in Tartar District after their vehicle was attacked while they were returning from an observation post.[85][86][87] The Azerbaijani ministry of defense reported that “As a result of the shelling, the Russian servicemen in the vehicle were killed,” and expressed condolences to Russia and vowed to launch a probe into the circumstances of the deaths.[88][89][90][91] News.am reported that the peacekeepers were killed by Azerbaijani shelling prior to the Azerbaijani announcement.[92][failed verification] One of the killed Russian peacekeepers was Captain First Rank Ivan Kovgan, the deputy commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet submarine forces.[93] With Azerbaijani cooperation, Russian peacekeepers detained suspects, and an Azerbaijani commander was suspended.[94] President Aliyev subsequently apologized over the attack to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call.[95]

Armenia accused Azerbaijan of firing at its soldiers in the border town of Sotk, which Azerbaijan denied.[66]

Davit Davtyan, mayor of Mets Shen, reported that the village was still an active combat zone and besieged by Azerbaijani forces. He also reported that the village of Yeghtsahogh was razed by Azerbaijani forces before its residents could be evacuated.[96]

In a televised address that evening, President Aliyev reiterated that “Karabakh is Azerbaijan”, adding that his “iron fist” had consigned the idea of Karabakh being a separate Armenian state to history.[97]

21 September

Negotiations between representatives of the Karabakh Armenian community and the Government of Azerbaijan took place in Yevlakh to discuss security, rights and “issues of re-integration”.[98] The Karabakh Armenian delegation included Artur Harutyunyan [az; hy], Sergey Martirosyan [hy] and Davit Melkumyan [hy], and was escorted by Russian peacekeepers.[99][100] The talks ended without a formal agreement, however a statement by Azerbaijani Presidency said the they were “constructive and positive” and would negotiations continue.[101].

The Nagorno-Karabakh Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that the Azerbaijani military, having violated the ceasefire agreement, continued to shell Stepanakert “with different types of small arms”.[102] Rheinische Post reported that information was received from residents of Stepanakert that Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire, and there was shooting in the city.[103]

It was reported that electricity in Artsakh cannot be supplied because a number of substations that feed the electrical grid were under Azerbaijani control, with “Artsakhenergo” CJSC carrying out restoration works in Stepanakert.[104]

Analysis

Various political analysts and Artsakh residents consider Azerbaijan’s underlying goal for the offensive to be ethnic cleansing.[49][105]

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, noted that Azerbaijan was possibly emboldened to start its offensive during a downturn in relations between Russia and Armenia, and the loss of the Russian peacekeeping force’s “best commanders” to the invasion of Ukraine. He also said that Russia could use such a crisis to instigate regime change in Armenia.[63]

Reactions

Armenia

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the Armenian Armed Forces were not involved in the fighting and that its forces were not stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh. He also reiterated that the situation in the Armenia-Azerbaijan border was stable and said that Azerbaijan was trying to ethnically cleanse the region.[59] Pashinyan also said that Azerbaijan’s motivation for the attack was to draw Armenia into a military confrontation.[51] Armenia’s Ministry of Defense accused Azerbaijani officials of spreading misinformation, saying that there is no Armenian military equipment or personnel present in Nagorno-Karabakh.[59][106] The Armenian foreign ministry accused Azerbaijan of unleashing “large-scale aggression” against Karabakh and attempting “ethnic cleansing” in the region.[59][60] Armenia called on the United Nations Security Council and Russia to take action in order to end the military operation, while Pashinyan called an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council.[59] The council’s secretary, Armen Grigoryan accused Russian peacekeepers of failing to protect Nagorno-Karabakh.[107]

Hundreds of protesters gathered for a rally outside government buildings in the capital Yerevan denouncing Pashinyan as being soft on Azerbaijan and weak in Nagorno-Karabakh, including what Pashinyan characterized as calls for a coup d’état and his removal from office. Pashinyan denounced such calls stating that “We must not allow certain people, certain forces to deal a blow to the Armenian state.”[108] The protesters were met by a police cordon, and clashed with the police in an attempt to storm the Government House.[109] The protesters and police exchanged glass bottles and stun grenades and several of the building’s windows were smashed.[110] Protesters also surrounded the Russian embassy criticizing Russia’s refusal to intervene in the conflict.[111] Among the participants were members-elect of the Yerevan City Council, elected two days prior during the 2023 Yerevan City Council election.[112] After Russia complained that the security of their embassy was lacking and impacting its operations, Armenian police were sent to form a cordon around the embassy, resulting in a clash between the protesters and police.[113] More than 30 people were reportedly injured in the protests,[64] which resumed the following day.[114]

As the protests entered the second day, the crowd in Republic Square began to number in the thousands with increasing calls for the removal of Pashinyan and for Armenia to intervene militarily, as it did during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.[115][116][117] The police started detaining protesters, stating that the rally was illegal.[118] Some protesters called for Armenian rejection of the Alma-Ata Protocol, and withdrawal from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which Pashinyan rejected, stating that calls to withdraw from the CSTO “are calls to abandon Armenia’s independence.”[119][120][121]

Russia

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that Russia was “deeply alarmed by the sharp escalation.”[59][122] Chairman of the Security Council of Russia Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia will not defend Armenia from the Azerbaijani offensive, while strongly criticizing Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan.[123] This comes despite Russia and Armenia both being members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization mutual defense pact and Russia stationing several thousand soldiers in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh as peacekeepers.[124]

Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied accusations from Armenia that the country’s peacekeepers had failed to protect Nagorno-Karabakh from the Azerbaijani attack, calling them “unfounded”.[107] A week before the fighting, President Vladimir Putin said that the country could do nothing if Armenia had already recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, referring to statements made by Pashinyan in May that appeared to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for security guarantees towards the Armenian population.[81]

The independent Russian media outlet Meduza said it had obtained a guidance document from the Kremlin circulated on 19 September to state media outlets that recommended blaming Armenia and the West, rather than Azerbaijan, for the escalation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.[107]

Turkey

Hakan Fidan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, offered diplomatic support to Azerbaijan, stating that their military operation was “justified” and that “Azerbaijan has taken the measures it deems necessary on its own sovereign territory.”[125] Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated “As everyone now acknowledges, Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory. Imposition of another status [to the region] will never be accepted,” and that “[Turkey] support[s] the steps taken by Azerbaijan — with whom we act together with the motto of one nation, two states — to defend its territorial integrity.”[126]

Other countries

  •  Argentina: President Alberto Fernández condemned Azerbaijan for the blockade of the Lachin corridor and urged the international community to “act preemptively” to avoid “new persecutions.”[127][128]
  •  Canada: Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed grave concern with the Azerbaijan’s military intervention, calling for immediate cessation of hostilities, asking the Azerbaijan government to refrain from any actions and activities that pose a risk to the safety and welfare of the civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, labelling the military action as “unjustifiable” and the Lachin corridor blockade as “illegal”.[129][130]
  •  France: The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the military operation and called for Azerbaijan “to immediately cease its assault and return to respect for international law” and requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. It stated that France had been “working closely with its European and American partners” to effectively respond to the attack, which it described as “unacceptable”.[131] Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said it would hold Azerbaijan “responsible for the fate of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.”[64]
  •  Germany: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Azerbaijan of breaking its promise not to resort to military action in Nagorno-Karabakh and called on it to stop and return to negotiations.[132]
  •  Japan: Foreign Minister of Japan Yōko Kamikawa expressed serious concern over the worsening of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, calling for the immediate discontinuation of hostilities and asking Azerbaijan to cease the current military activities.[133][134]
  •  United Kingdom: In a statement to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the U.K. said that the military offensive by Azerbaijan was “unacceptable” and urged Azerbaijan to return to dialogue, welcoming the announcement of a ceasefire.[135]
  •  United States: Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish diplomats about the crisis.[131] Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations called on the U.S. and the international community to act to stop Azerbaijan while Representative Brad Sherman stated that the renewed fighting makes clear that “Azerbaijan cannot receive U.S. military aid until it ends the crisis it has created.”[136]

Supranational organizations

  •  European Union: President of the European Council of the European Union Charles Michel condemned Azerbaijan’s hostility and urged the country to immediately stop its military activities and return to dialogue, through a social media post.[59]
  •  Organization of Turkic States: Secretary General Kubanychbek Omuraliev expressed “serious concern regarding the Armenian provocations against Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and condemned “the recent terror acts committed against Azerbaijan”. He also expressed the “anti-terror measures conducted by Azerbaijan, will ensure reintegration of the Armenian residents living in the into the constitutional system of the Republic of Azerbaijan”.[137]
  •  United Nations: U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Al Jazeera that the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was “very concerning”. He urged both sides to halt hostilities and go back to “sustained dialogue”.[59]

See also

References

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