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Wednesday July 17, 2024

Azerbaijan launches Karabakh operation, urges surrender

By AFP
September 20, 2023

BAKU: Azerbaijan on Tuesday launched an operation against the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region and demanded the surrender of Armenian separatists, warning it would “continue until the end”.

Separatists said Azerbaijan was using artillery, combat aircraft and attack drones and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called it a “ground offensive”.

Fears of a fresh war have been growing recently, with Armenia accusing Azerbaijan of a troop build-up around the disputed Armenian-majority territory. An AFP journalist in the separatist stronghold of Stepanakert said blasts could be heard in the town.

Several hours later, the AFP journalist said: “The shelling is continuing”. Azerbaijan´s defence ministry said it was using “high precision weapons on the front line and in depth”.

“Localised anti-terrorist measures have been launched in the region,” the defence ministry said in a statement. Armenian separatists said five civilians were killed and 80 were wounded by the fighting, accusing Azerbaijani forces of “trying to advance” into Karabakh.

“Fighting continues along the entire line of contact,” the Armenian separatist army in Karabakh said on social media. Azerbaijan said a construction worker was killed by shrapnel in the town of Shusha.

Baku´s presidency urged Karabakh separatists to lay down their arms and offered talks in the town of Yevlakh. “Illegal Armenian armed forces must raise the white flag,” it said.

“Otherwise, the anti-terrorist measures will continue until the end.” The ex-Soviet Caucasus rivals have been locked in a decades-long dispute over Karabakh, fighting two wars over the mountainous territory in the 1990s and in 2020.

Pashinyan in a televised address on Tuesday accused Azerbaijan of engaging in “ethnic cleansing of Karabakh Armenians”. But he said the Armenian army was not involved in the fighting and the situation on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan was “stable”.

He urged Russia and the UN to “take steps” and spoke on the phone to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French President Emmanuel Macron. “Both sides emphasised the inadmissibility of using force,” press secretary Nazeli Baghdasaryan said in statements about both calls. In the Armenian capital Yerevan, hundreds of people gathered outside the government building, calling on Pashinyan to resign over the crisis.

Pashinyan responded to the protest in his televised comments, saying: “We must not allow certain people, certain forces to deal a blow to the Armenian state. “There are already calls, coming from different places, to stage a coup in Armenia.”

Armenia´s foreign ministry condemned Azerbaijani “aggression” against Karabakh. Meanwhile, protesters in Armenia´s capital Yerevan called on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign on Tuesday, hours after he denounced calls for a “coup” as Azerbaijan launched a military operation in Armenian-populated Karabakh.

Hundreds of people gathered in Yerevan´s Republic Square, outside Pashinyan´s offices, to denounce his handling of the Karabakh crisis, according to an AFP journalist on the scene, with demonstrators shouting “Nikol traitor!” and “Nikol resign!”