Azerbaijani forces push into Nagorno-Karabakh despite international criticism

Azerbaijan on Wednesday (20 September) continued its push into the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh despite criticism from the international community, and pressure to cease all hostilities.

Throughout the night explosions could be heard across the territory as Azerbaijani artillery continued neutralising military objectives of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which was set up by Armenians in the territory thirty years ago when they seceded from Azerbaijan. The world community still recognises Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

Unconfirmed reports say that yesterday, only hours after the start of the operation, Azerbaijan managed to break through the line of contact around Martuni and Askeran, to the north and east of the main administrative town of the territory, Stepanakert. Since the Azerbaijani forces already hold the heights over Stepanakert from the south side, due to their control of the town of Shusha, this may suggest Azerbaijani forces are trying to encircle Stepanakert.

There has been widespread condemnation of the Azerbaijani military offensive by the international community, with all countries, except Turkey, calling on Azerbaijan to end hostilities immediately. The UN Security Council is expected to meet tomorrow (Thursday, 21 September) in the afternoon New York time. It is not clear if a binding UN resolution can emerge, since the position of Russia and China remains ambiguous. It appears Azerbaijan is trying to achieve as many of its objectives as possible before that.

In a conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that the main objective of the operation was to disarm the illegal armed formations of the Armenian separatists. Azerbaijani spokespersons have repeatedly said that Azerbaijan is not seeking to expel the Armenian community from the territory and wants to see them properly integrated in Azerbaijani society. But the concern of the international community is that in the current atmosphere, it is more likely that the Armenians will leave as the Azerbaijanis advance. Such a scenario would mean that everyone has lost – the next hours will say how it is likely to go.

In the meantime, Armenia has decided not to get involved directly militarily in the conflict, although it continues to put diplomatic pressure on the international community to take the necessary steps to end hostilities. This position of the Armenian government is not to the like of many in Yerevan. Anti-government protests took place overnight in front of the main government building in the Armenian capital, but the government says it has the situation under control.

source: with agencies
photo: People running for cover during the shelling of Stepanakert on Tuesday, 19 September (picture courtesy of Artsakh TV)

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Opinion: Azerbaijan needs to provide its vision on the future of Karabakh Armenians

"The current impasse on the movement on the Lachin corridor can lead to the complete evacuation of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Besides the legal, moral, and logistical impediments to implementing such an initiative, it will become a geopolitical disaster for the region. It will only deepen the mistrust and hatred between Armenians and Azerbaijanis and prepare a subsequent cycle of violence in the future, as Armenians will take all steps to avenge such a national humiliation", writes Benyamin Poghosyan, in this op-ed for KarabakhSpace. There are no optimal solutions that will satisfy all sides. The choice will be made between bad, worse, and the worst options. The only way out is to find a "middle way," which may include restoring the supply of goods to Nagorno Karabakh via the Lachin corridor and simultaneously using other routes. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan should finally present its vision of the future of Nagorno Karabakh Armenians, with a detailed description of their rights and mechanisms to protect them. The general statements about Armenians having the same rights as any other Azerbaijani citizen according to the Azerbaijani constitution are not sufficient. Otherwise, even if a short-term solution alleviates the humanitarian disaster in Nagorno Karabakh, the crisis will remain there,with no light at the end of the tunnel.