Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh – disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan – took shelter in basements on September 19 as the Azerbaijani defence ministry launched a military operation, demanding the total withdrawal of Armenian forces from the region. Fears of a fresh war have been building recently, as Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of amassing troops and blockading the country’s only corridor into the breakaway region. A resident of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, told us more.
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Azerbaijan launched a military operation Tuesday in Nagorno-Karabakh, three years after a previous war broke out in the region. The country has demanded the “total and unconditional” withdrawal of Armenian forces from the contested breakaway region.
“Localised anti-terrorist measures have been launched in the region,” Baku’s defence ministry said in a statement, adding that it had opened corridors to allow civilians to leave.
The fighting came just hours after Azerbaijan said that four of its police officers and two civilians were killed in mine blasts in Nagorno-Karabakh. Authorities blamed Armenian separatist groups.
Armenian separatists have said that two civilians have been killed and at least 23 others wounded in the fighting, despite Azeri promises that they would only act against military targets.
Videos shared on social media show smoke rising near Stepanakert, as explosions are heard in the background. Like these videos, filmed by Marut Vanyan, a freelance journalist in Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘All the people who have air-raid shelters have taken refuge‘
In Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, residents who fear shelling attacks are taking shelter in basements and shelters. One of them is Nonna Poghosyan, an employee at the American University of Armenia, who spoke to us via WhatsApp:
We are in the city of Stepanakert. There is no way out. We are scared. The kids were at school, my kids were at school too. It was 1pm when it all started again. People were at work or at school. It’s a flashback to September 27, 2020 [Editor’s note: the start of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War].
All the people who have air-raid shelters have taken refuge. But it is impossible to shelter all residents. I don’t know how many of them are women and children, or elderly.
We came to the bunker, but it’s not actually a bunker. It’s something just half in the ground. We are all here scared. The kids are in the bunker crying. You can’t imagine the situation. What can I tell you? We’re encircled by the Azeris. In 2020 we were able to have an evacuation. We had a road we could get out on. But now it’s impossible. We are just trapped.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan have disputed the Nagorno-Karabakh region since the late 1980s, leading to the outbreak of two armed conflicts. Occupied principally by ethnic Armenians, the territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
The latest tensions have been focused on the progressive blockade of the Lachin corridor – the principal road linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh – by Azerbaijan since December 2022. In recent months, both sides have accused the other of massing troops in preparation for an offensive.
In 2020, a six-week war culminated in Azerbaijan regaining control of several key areas in Karabakh. The breakaway region has been conflicted for decades. The region is still heavily mined after both sides’ militaries used landmines in a violent conflict in the 1990s.