| 23 September 2023, Saturday |

Azerbaijani forces strike Armenian-controlled Karabakh, raising risk of new Caucasus war

Azerbaijan sent troops backed by artillery strikes into Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday in an attempt to bring the breakaway region to heel by force, raising the threat of a new war with its neighbour Armenia.

Karabakh is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory but part of it is run by separatist Armenian authorities who say the area is their ancestral homeland. The region has been at the centre of two wars – the latest in 2020 – since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Loud and repeated shelling was audible from social media footage filmed in Stepanakert, the capital of mountainous Karabakh, called Khankendi by Azerbaijan, on Tuesday amid an air raid warning.

Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, said Baku had deployed ground forces who he said had broken through Armenian lines in several places and achieved some of their main goals, something Armenian separatist forces denied.

A Baku defence ministry statement said Azerbaijani forces had so far seized more than 60 military posts and destroyed up to 20 military vehicles with other hardware.

Reuters could not immediately verify the Azerbaijani battle reports.

Karabakh separatist authorities said 25 people had been killed, including two civilians, and 80 injured from Baku’s military action. Inhabitants of some villages had been evacuated, they said. Reuters could not verify these assertions.

It was not clear whether Baku’s actions would trigger a full-scale conflict dragging in Armenia. But there were signs of political fallout in Yerevan where Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – viewed as too pro-Western by Russia, Armenia’s traditional supporter – spoke of calls for a coup against him.

The fighting could also alter the geopolitical balance in the South Caucasus region, which is crisscrossed with oil and gas pipelines, and where Russia – distracted by its own war in Ukraine – is seeking to preserve its influence in the face of greater activity from Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan.

  • Reuters