Azerbaijan demands ethnic-Armenians in Karabakh raise white flag amid military operation

Azerbaijan demands ethnic-Armenians in Karabakh raise white flag amid military operation
In the months ahead of the military move, the territory was subject to a blockade mounted by Azerbaijan by closing off the Lachin Corridor. / DW newscast, screengrab
By bne IntelIiNews September 19, 2023

The Azerbaijani presidential administration has released a statement in response to an appeal to Baku from the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) under the control of ethnic-Armenians to cease the hostilities  that began earlier on September 19 and sit down at the negotiating table.

"In connection with the call of the illegal regime created and still supported by Armenia on the territory of Azerbaijan to ‘begin negotiations’, the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan reports that the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan has several times invited representatives of the Armenian population living in the Karabakh region of our country to enter dialogue with the purpose of discussing reintegration issues. But they refused each time," the statement said.

However, Azerbaijan declared its readiness to meet in Yevlakh [in Azerbaijan] with representatives of the "Armenian population living in the Karabakh region". The administration also put forward surrender as a condition for talks: "However, to stop anti-terrorism measures, illegal Armenian armed groups must raise the white flag, surrender all weapons, and the illegal regime must dissolve itself. Otherwise, anti-terrorist measures will be continued to the end," the statement read.

NKR’s leadership recently appointed Samvel Shahramanyan as the region's new president, following the resignation of Arayik Harutyunyan, to which Azerbaijan objected.

The outbreak of hostilities earlier today was described by Azerbaijan's defence ministry as due to "anti-terrorist" operations it was conducting in areas of Karabakh under ethnic-Armenian control. They include regional capital Khankendi, known as Stepanakert by Armenians.

Tensions in the South Caucasus have been high for months around the breakaway mountainous enclave, recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan.

Defence officials in NKR said the Azerbaijani military had "violated the ceasefire along the entire line of contact with missile-artillery strikes". Some Karabakh representatives referred to a "large-scale military offensive".

The two neighbours, Azerbaijan and Armenia, have gone to war twice over Nagorno-Karabakh. The first conflict occurred in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. The second, brought to a halt by a Moscow-brokered ceasefire as Azerbaijan threatened to sweep the battlefield, took place in late 2020.

Since December, Azerbaijan has maintained a blockade of the only route into the enclave from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry describing its version of today’s events accused Armenian forces of "systematic shelling" of its army positions. It said it responded by launching "local, anti-terrorist activities... to disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia's armed forces from our territories".

The ministry claimed it was not targeting civilians or civilian buildings. It insisted that the "only legitimate military targets are being incapacitated by the use of high-precision weapons".

In a brief televised address, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refuted claims Armenia’s armed forces were involved in the clashes. He accused Azerbaijan of conducting a "ground operation aimed at ethnic cleansing of Karabakh Armenians".

An estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians live in the enclave.

Russia's foreign ministry stated that it had been warned of the Azerbaijani offensive only minutes in advance. It urged both countries to respect the ceasefire signed in 2020.

EU regional special representative, Toivo Klaar, said the need for an immediate ceasefire was “urgent”.

South Caucasus commentator Laurence Broers wrote on platform X that the Armenian population in Karabakh had been weakened by the blockade and that the Azerbaijan operation had been launched "seemingly to retake Armenian-populated Karabakh in its entirety".

Hikmet Hajiyev, special adviser to Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, called on the separatist ethnic-Armenian administration to "dissolve itself".

Some 3,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed to monitor the 2020 ceasefire. However, Moscow's attention has been diverted by its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Pashinyan said recently that Russia was "spontaneously leaving the region".

Azerbaijan, which is strongly backed by “brother nation” Turkey, had denied building up troops in the region.

On the eve of the operation, hopes were rising that tensions over the enclave might ease, but Azerbaijani officials then announced six people, including four police, were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine in the Khojavand area. The defence ministry released images of the destroyed vehicle. NKR officials insisted that it was Azerbaijan that violated the ceasefire.