Heavy explosions were reported from Stepanakert and other parts of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) on Tuesday as Azerbaijan announced a large-scale military operation against the Armenian-populated region.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said that its troops are taking “counterterrorism measures” against Karabakh Armenian forces in order to restore the Azerbaijani “constitutional order” in Karabakh.
“On September 19, at around 1 p.m., the Azerbaijani armed forces violated the ceasefire along the entire Line of Contact by launching rocket artillery attacks,” read a statement released by Karabakh’s Defense Army. It said its units are putting up “stiff resistance” to Azerbaijani attempts to advance into Karabakh.
“The sound of explosions can be heard in Stepanakert right now,” a local journalist, Marut Vanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Screaming children, their parents went down to basements for cover.”
“Heavy artillery is working nonstop,” he said.
Karabakh officials confirmed the shelling. The office of the local human rights ombudsman said that at least two Karabakh civilians, including a child, were killed and 11 others wounded as of 4 p.m.
“The whole Stepanakert is shelled from all directions,” said Metakse Hakobian, a local parliamentarian. “Parents and children have lost each other. The situation is terrible. People have no fuel to look for their kids.”
An Armenian opposition lawmaker, Tigran Abrahamian, said that the Azerbaijani army is targeting Karabakh’s military installations.
“It’s not yet clear whether civilian facilities are also being targeted,” Abrahamian wrote on Facebook.
Abrahamian said later in the afternoon that Karabakh forces are engaged in “heavy combat” with the Azerbaijani army at various sections of the Karabakh “line of contact.” “At a number of sections the enemy’s advance was stopped by intensive gunfire.” He said.
Baku claimed earlier in the day that six Azerbaijanis were killed in an Azerbaijani-controlled part of Karabakh after hitting landmines planted by Karabakh forces. It did not identify the victims. The authorities in Stepanakert strongly denied the claims.
Shortly afterwards, fighting reportedly broke out in Karabakh’s eastern Askeran district, with the Karabakh army saying that Azerbaijani troops opened mortar fire at its positions in the area.
Russia’s peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh did not immediately react to what appeared to be the worst fighting in and around Karabakh since the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire. Baku said that it informed the peacekeepers about its offensive.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said Moscow is in touch with the conflicting sides and is urging them to stop the fighting. She also said the peacekeepers are continuing to do their job.
The European Union expressed serious concern about the dramatic escalation through its special envoy to the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar.
“Tragic reports of loss of Azerbaijani lives from mine explosions today,” Klaar wrote on the X social media platform. “However, ongoing military action will only worsen the situation. Urgent need for immediate ceasefire to allow genuine dialogue between Baku and Karabakh Armenians as only way to achieve peaceful coexistence.”
“Military actions of Azerbaijan must be stopped immediately to allow for a genuine dialogue between Baku and Karabakh Armenians,” EU Council President Charles Michel said later in the day.
Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry insisted on the “complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces” from Karabakh. Armenia’s Defense Ministry again strongly denied having any troops there.