Azerbaijani offensive against Armenia marks worst fighting in a year

Short but high-casualty war between the two countries in September 2020 shocked the world

Ethnic Armenian volunteer recruits gather at a centre near Hadrut, self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. AP
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Azerbaijan’s army launched an assault against Armenian territory on Tuesday in the worst fighting between the two countries since the end of last year’s Karabakh war.

Armenia’s defence ministry announced that at 1pm local time, Azerbaijani units “launched another provocation” against the eastern border of the country.

Artillery and armoured vehicles were reportedly used, while the Armenian defence ministry shared a video of a guided missile strike on an Azerbaijani vehicle. Geolocation of the strike placed it several kilometres inside Armenia’s borders.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, meanwhile, said that “all responsibility” for the situation fell on Armenia.

The Armenian defence ministry said that at least 15 Armenian soldiers have been killed or wounded, with another 12 taken prisoner.

It further confirmed that the Armenian side had lost two military positions. Azerbaijan did not provide figures for its loss, though Armenia claimed it had inflicted “heavy losses” on Azerbaijani troops.

Some reports from Russian state-linked media claimed that Russia’s 102nd Military Base, located in north-west Armenia, had been placed on combat alert.

The fighting has sparked renewed panic in southern Armenia, at the heart of a dispute dating back to the deal that ended last year’s war on November 10.

The last point of the trilateral agreement between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan stipulates that “all economic and transit connections in the region shall be unblocked”.

The agreement also mentions that Azerbaijan shall have “transport connections” to its enclave of Nakhchivan, which is separated from the mainland by a 30km-wide stretch of Armenian territory.

That stretch is precisely the location of the present fighting, leading to speculation that Azerbaijan intends to create its land link by force.

Over the past year, Baku has repeatedly pushed for the creation of the “Zangezur corridor” — using an alternate name for southern Armenia’s Syunik province — something that Armenia has denied, arguing that the term “corridor” implies Azerbaijani sovereignty over the territory.

That has led to Azerbaijan ramping up pressure in other ways, most recently by closing several crucial Armenian roads that pass into its territory.

Before that, in May, Azerbaijani forces occupied two sections of Armenian territory — one in the north-east of the country and one in the south-east — in a situation that persists to the present day.

Daily shoot-outs also take place on another section of the Armenian border near Nakhchivan, with Azerbaijani soldiers continually firing on the border village of Yeraskh.

The Kremlin has said that the two countries, with Russian guidance, were to hold new talks aimed at signing an agreement on border delimitation on November 9, the anniversary of the end of the war, in Moscow. These talks did not occur for reasons that are unclear.

At the time of writing, local militias throughout southern Armenia were being mobilised amid fears Azerbaijan could advance further.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 10:56 AM