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, a mountainous area in the volatile wider South Caucasus region, is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory. But part of it is run by separatist Armenian authorities who say the area is their ancestral homeland.
Karabakh has been at the centre of two wars – the latest in 2020 – since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Azerbaijan to halt its operation immediately, saying it was worsening an already dire humanitarian situation in Karabakh – a reference to a lengthy de facto blockade of the region by Baku.
The European Union, France and Germany also condemned Azerbaijan's military action, calling on it to return to talks on the future of Karabakh with Armenia.
Loud and repeated shelling was audible from social media footage filmed on Tuesday in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh, called Khankendi by Azerbaijan.
Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, said Baku had deployed ground forces which 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.
Karabakh separatist authorities said 25 people had been killed, including two civilians, and 138 injured due to Baku's military action. Inhabitants of some villages had been evacuated, they said.
Reuters could not verify either side's 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.
Some Armenians gathered in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, to demand action from the government amid reports of violent clashes between police and crowds which resulted in injuries on both sides.
Last updated: 2023-09-20 HKT 09:10