Baku/Tbilisi, Sep 19 (EFE).- Azerbaijan launched “anti-terrorist activities” in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, sparking allegations from the de-facto government of the disputed enclave that a “large-scale military offensive” was targeting civilians.
The Azerbaijani operation to target “only legitimate military installations” followed two mine explosions that killed six people in an attack blamed on “illegal Armenian armed groups.”
“Local anti-terrorist activities carried out by the armed forces of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are ongoing,” a defense ministry press statement said.
The so-called anti-terror operation follows the deaths of six Azerbaijanis—two civilians and four police officers—in two mine explosions in the Karabakh region. Additionally, there was an attack involving mortars and light weapons in the Agdam region, where Russian peacekeepers are stationed.
Azerbaijan blamed “a sabotage group of illegal Armenian military formations” for the attacks and initiated a criminal case on charges of terrorism, premeditated murder fueled by ethnic hatred, and illegal possession of weapons and explosives.
Gunfire was reported in the de facto capital, Stepanakert (known as Khankendi in Azerbaijani), of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Karabakh foreign ministry reported that Stepanakert and other cities and towns were under heavy artillery bombardment by Azerbaijani armed forces.
Foreign Minister Sergey Ghazaryan claimed that Baku had been moving troops near the enclave for several weeks and spreading propaganda to prepare the ground for a large-scale aggression.
In the past 24 hours, Azerbaijan has disseminated several “false” pieces of information, including reports of alleged attacks by Armenian groups or shootings at Azerbaijani positions in the region, Ghazaryan said.
The Armenian defense ministry dismissed Azerbaijani allegations that Yerevan had a military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“As previously, the Azerbaijani official reports and mass media continue to disseminate false statements that there are Armenian armed force units, military equipment, and personnel in Nagorno-Karabakh,” the ministry said.
This military operation follows a nine-month blockade of the disputed enclave by Azerbaijani authorities after the closure of the only route connecting the region with Armenia.
Images from Stepanakert on social media showed residents running amid gunshots and the sound of air raid alarms.
According to Armenian Telegram channels, residents of the Karabakh capital and other cities have sought refuge in basements to protect themselves from airstrikes.
Russia said it was “deeply alarmed by the sharp escalation” in the contested region amid fears that the Moscow-brokered truce after the 2020 war might fall apart.
The Russian foreign ministry said peacekeeping forces deployed in the enclave were in permanent contact with Azerbaijanis and Karabakhs for a ceasefire.
In the 2020 war, Baku regained control of a significant portion of the disputed territories it had lost during the initial conflict in the early 1990s in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh, historically inhabited by Armenians, was internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
However, the landlocked region in the South Caucasus declared independence in 1991, leading to ongoing disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The two neighbors have fought two wars: one in the early 1990s that ended with an Armenian victory and another in 2020. Azerbaijan reclaimed more than two-thirds of its territory in the mountainous region and its surroundings after the 44-day war in the autumn of 2020.