Battles in Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia declares a state of war

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades. Now the conflict is escalating. Helicopters are shot down, there are bombing raids with dead civilians. Armenia has now declared a state of war. The EU calls for an immediate ceasefire.

The military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the predominantly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region has flared up again: Rebel troops supported by Armenia and Azerbaijan’s army fought fierce battles on Sunday. Armenia’s head of government Nikol Pashinyan declared martial law and ordered general mobilization. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev promised “victory” over the “separatists” in a televised address.

Both sides blamed each other for the flare-up of violence. According to the pro-Armenian regional government, the Azerbaijani army bombed targets in Nagorno-Karabakh early on Sunday morning, including the capital Stepanakert. “The entire responsibility for this lies with the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” said the spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry of Armenia. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said the army had launched a “counter-offensive” to stop “Armenia’s military activities” in the region and to ensure the safety of the population.

Tanks, warplanes, drones and artillery are in use. “Today the Azerbaijani army is fighting on its territory, defending the territorial integrity, and inflicting devastating blows on the enemy,” said President Aliyev. “Our cause is just and we shall win.”

A representative of the Azerbaijani Presidential Office spoke of dead and injured civilians and soldiers. According to the authorities, numerous houses in villages were destroyed. The Armenian Defense Ministry, which supports the rebels, reported the shooting down of two Azerbaijani military helicopters and three drones. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, spoke of only one shot down helicopter.

In the past few weeks the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan had flared up again. Both sides accused each other of attacking villages in the border area. In July, heavy fighting broke out on the border between the warring republics. However, the fighting was hundreds of kilometers north of Nagorno-Karabakh. In April 2016, more than a hundred people died in violent clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2010, the so far last major initiative for peace between Yerevan and Baku failed.

Conflict could have far-reaching consequences

The two Caucasus states Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in a conflict over control of the region for almost 30 years. But the roots go back even longer. As early as 1917, after the end of the Tsarist era, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a civil war over Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1921, the Soviet ruler Josef Stalin struck the region of the socialist Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, from 1923 it enjoyed autonomy.

With Yerevan’s support, pro-Armenian rebels took control of the Armenian-majority area in the late 1980s. There were around 30,000 fatalities. In 1991 Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed its independence. Internationally, however, the area is still not recognized as an independent state. Azerbaijan wants to bring the region back completely under its control, if necessary by force.

A prolonged military conflict between Yerevan and Baku could have far-reaching effects. Russia and Turkey are competing for influence in the Caucasus region. Oil-rich Azerbaijan has upgraded its army in recent years and can count on the support of Turkey. Russia, on the other hand, supports Armenia, where it maintains a military base.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called on both sides to stop the fire immediately. Baku and Yerevan should also start talks to stabilize the situation. The ministry spoke of “intense bombing on both sides of the contact line”. Neighboring Turkey accused Armenia of violating international law. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara said it strongly condemned the “Armenian attack”. The EU called for an immediate end to the fighting and a return to the negotiating table.

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