19 September, 2023
Azerbaijan Launches “Anti-terrorist” Military Operations in Nagorno-Karabakh
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What has Happened?
On September 19, Azerbaijan announced the launch of “local anti-terrorist activities” in the breakaway region Nagorno-Karabakh. The stated objectives include “disarming and securing the withdrawal” of Armenian armed forces and “neutralizing” military infrastructure, “restoring constitutional order”, and “evacuating” Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakh, ethnically Armenian but internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, has been de facto outside Baku’s control since the first Karabakh war in the 1990s.
What is the Context?
The new Azerbaijani offensive, potentially foreshadowing a continuation of the second Karabakh war in 2020, follows many complicated political developments. These include weeks of instability and border skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, stalemates in both peace processes held concurrently by the European Union (backed by the United States) and Russia, months-long Azerbaijani supply restrictions to Nagorno-Karabakh, and increasing Western, and decreasing Russian, influence in the region and the conflict.
The Azerbaijani attack also occurs during a time marked by multiple crises and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The breakdown of the cease-fire agreement, and Azerbaijan’s seizure of the Lachin Corridor – the only transportation route in and out of the region to Armenia – have led to aid organisations reporting being unable to deliver supplies of food and fuel, and to growing Armenian fears of “ethnic cleansing” by Azerbaijan. Furthermore, Armenia has recently shown greater interest in diversifying its foreign relations and reducing its dependence on Russia in security policy.
What Is the View From Baku?
Since its victory in the 2020 war and the Russian-brokered ceasefire deal, Azerbaijan has grown increasingly frustrated, impatient and worried about the unsolved question of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The frustration stems from perceived Armenian delays and deception, while the impatience is fuelled by a desire to utilize the current window of opportunity provided by Azerbaijan’s strong position and the possibility to extract concessions from Armenia’s current leadership. Meanwhile, Baku is also worried about potentially destabilizing developments that might threaten Azerbaijan’s aims, such as the end of the five-year mandate of the Russian peacekeeping forces in 2025, and growing tensions with both Russia and Iran. These are some of the factors that might have led Azerbaijan to conclude that military action was necessary, justified or advantageous in the current situation.
What Is the View From Yerevan?
From the Armenian side, the Azerbaijani attack is viewed as an attempt to cleanse Nagorno-Karabakh of ethnic Armenians. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday afternoon in response to Azerbaijan’s actions, the Ministry of Defense denied Azerbaijani claims regarding the presence of Armenian armed forces, and Armenia’s Foreign Ministry released a detailed statement condemning the offensive for having ethnic cleansing as its sole aim, and calling for members of the United Nations Security Council, and Russian peacekeepers, to “take clear and unequivocal steps to end Azerbaijan’s aggression.” Meanwhile, the de-facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azerbaijan of seeking to commit genocide by “moving towards the physical destruction of the civilian population and the destruction of civilian objects.”