Armenia and Azerbaijan were on the brink of war on Sunday as deadly clashes erupted between Azerbaijani forces and the Yerevan-backed breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh.
The belligerents have reported military and civilian casualties. According to the Armenian side, a woman and a child were killed.
A major conflict involving Azerbaijan and Armenia could lead to the intervention of competing powers in the Caucasus region, Russia and Turkey. The conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, which seceded from Azerbaijan with Armenian backing, has fueled regional tensions for 30 years.
After the announcement of the first fighting on Sunday morning, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian decreed “general mobilization” and the establishment of “martial law”, as did the authorities in Karabakh.
“Let us firmly support our State, our army […] and we will win. Long live the glorious Armenian army! ”He wrote on Facebook.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev also pledged victory.
“The Azerbaijani army is now fighting on its territory, defending its territorial integrity, delivering devastating blows to the enemy. Our cause is just and we will win, ”he said, in a speech on television.
Moscow called on Sunday morning “for an immediate ceasefire” and for talks, while the two camps are rejecting responsibility for the hostilities.
France, mediator in the conflict with Russia and the United States within the framework of the Minsk Group, also called for “an immediate end to hostilities”.
A spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a traditional Baku ally, on Twitter denounced an “attack on Armenia”.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said for its part that it had launched a “counter-offensive along the entire front line” of Karabakh, in order to “put an end to military activities of the Armed Forces of Armenia”.
Civilian and military casualties
“Deaths and injuries have been reported among civilians and soldiers,” the Azerbaijani presidency added, while the Karabakh public ombudsperson said there were “civilian casualties”.
No figures have been put forward, while the Karabakh Defense Ministry said it had inflicted “heavy losses” on the opponent.
Azerbaijan had previously reported that one of its helicopters was shot down but its crew was unharmed. He claims to have destroyed 12 anti-aircraft batteries.
“Early this morning, the Azerbaijani side launched bombings […] we call on the population to take shelter, ”the spokesman for the separatist presidency said on his Facebook page.
Nagorno Karabakh is a secessionist region of Azerbaijan, populated mostly by Armenians and supported by Armenia.
30 years of conflict
It was the scene of a war in the early 1990s that left 30,000 dead, and since then the Azerbaijani authorities have wanted to regain control, by force if necessary. Peace talks have been deadlocked for many years.
Fights regularly oppose separatists and Azerbaijanis, but also Yerevan and Baku.
In 2016, serious clashes had already almost degenerated into war in Karabakh, and deadly fighting also pitted Armenians and Azerbaijanis on their northern border in July 2020.
Both sides are used to blaming each other for these outbreaks of violence.
President Aliyev on Friday threatened Armenia with reprisals for his “aggressive behavior” and accused Yerevan of “deliberately failing the negotiations” for the Karabakh peace.
He estimated that Armenia was preparing “tens of thousands of men” to attack Azerbaijan.
Baku has used its immense oil reserves to spend lavishly on armaments. Azerbaijan can also count on the support of the Turkish president, who sees Armenia as a threat to the stability of the Caucasus.
Much poorer Armenia, on the other hand, is closer to Russia, which has a military base there. Yerevan also belongs to a politico-military alliance led by Moscow, the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
The Kremlin, which positions itself as a regional arbiter, delivers arms to both countries.