Azerbaijan vowed to continue a military attack until Armenians in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region surrendered, defying growing international demands to halt the violence.
(Bloomberg) — Azerbaijan vowed to continue a military attack until Armenians in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region surrendered, defying growing international demands to halt the violence.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led diplomatic efforts to restore a cease-fire in the long-running conflict over the territory, telling Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in a phone call to stop military actions “immediately and deescalate the situation.” Aliyev replied that operations will stop once Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh “lay down their weapons and disarm,” according to a statement from his office.
While Russia expressed concern about the violence and called for a cease-fire, there was no sign of Moscow intervening to try to end the fighting. It has almost 2,000 troops deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh to maintain peace since President Vladimir Putin brokered a truce to end a 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that killed thousands.
The escalation began when Azerbaijan announced a “local anti-terrorist operation” Tuesday aimed at “restoring the constitutional order” in Nagorno-Karabakh. The region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has a majority Armenian population who declared independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union more than three decades ago. Azerbaijan took back part of the region and seven surrounding districts in the 2020 war before Putin negotiated the cease-fire.
Azerbaijani troops are advancing and destroying Armenian military positions and equipment in the region, the Defense Ministry in Baku said Wednesday. Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army acknowledged in a statement that they were losing ground while continuing to defend against attacks along the entire line of contact.
At least 27 people, including seven civilians, have been killed and 35 injured in the shelling and missile attacks, according to Gegham Stepanyan, the human rights ombudsman in Artsakh, as Armenians call Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan denied attacking civilians and said it’s only targeting military positions.
Turkey, which has a defense pact with Azerbaijan, backed its ally. “Karabakh is Azerbaijan’s territory,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly. “We support the steps taken by Azerbaijan to protect its territorial integrity.”
France, Germany and the European Union called on Azerbaijan to stop its offensive and return to negotiations aimed at resolving the confrontation with Armenia. The EU warned Baku against using the campaign as “a pretext to force the exodus of the local population.”
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the Azerbaijani attack “in the strongest terms” in a phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. France has requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the risks posed to regional security by the crisis, according to a statement from his office.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said it has also requested an emergency session of the Security Council that will convene on Thursday.
Blinken also spoke by phone with Pashinyan, saying the US “fully supports Armenia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.”
Iran urged both sides to honor their cease-fire agreement and offered to host peace talks in a Foreign Ministry statement.
The US and the EU have mediated peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 2020 war without reaching an agreement. They also pressed Baku to end a blockade of the Lachin corridor, Nagorno-Karabakh’s only road link to Armenia, that had lasted nearly nine months until aid trucks entered the region’s capital, Stepanakert, on Monday.
Pashinyan denied Azerbaijan’s assertion that units of Armenia’s military are in Nagorno-Karabakh in a televised address Monday. He accused Baku of seeking to provoke Armenia into a “military escalation” and said the country wouldn’t be drawn into the fighting despite “emotional” pressures to support the people in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Even so, his government is facing growing tensions in the capital, Yerevan, where large-scale protests broke out demanding Pashinyan’s resignation and accusing Russia of failing to support Armenia, with which it has a mutual-defense pact.
Armenia is host to Russia’s only foreign military base in the Caucasus but relations with Moscow have soured recently as Pashinyan has nurtured deeper ties with the US and the EU.
–With assistance from Sara Khojoyan.
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