Azerbaijan on Wednesday claimed full control of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region after local Armenian forces agreed to lay down their weapons following the latest outbreak of fighting in the decades-long separatist conflict. The attack left “at least 200 killed and more than 400 wounded”, Nagorno-Karabakh separatist official Gegham Stepanyan said.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev trumpeted victory in a televised address to the nation, saying that “in just one day, Azerbaijan fulfilled all the tasks set as part of local anti-terrorist measures” and “restored its sovereignty.” He claimed that most of the Armenian forces in the region had been destroyed and said the withdrawal of separatist troops had already begun.
On Tuesday, the Azerbaijan army unleashed an artillery barrage and drone attacks against outnumbered and undersupplied pro-Armenian forces, which have been weakened by a blockade of the region in the southern Caucasus Mountains that is recognized internationally as being part of Azerbaijan.
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The hostilities worsened an already grim humanitarian situation for residents who have endured food and medicine shortages for months as Azerbaijan enforced a blockade of the road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Thousands of Nagorno-Karabakh residents flocked to a camp operated by Russian peacekeepers to avoid the fighting, while many others gathered at the aircraft of the regional capital, Stepanakert, hoping to flee the region.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a speech to the nation that fighting decreased following the truce, emphasizing that Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh are fully responsible for its residents security.
“If peacekeepers have proposed a peace deal, it means that they completely and without any reservations accepted the responsibility of ensuring the security of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, and provide the conditions and the rights for them to live on their land and in their homes safely,” he said.
Pashinyan, who has previously recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, said Armenia wouldn’t be drawn into the fighting. He said his government didn’t take part in negotiating the deal, but “has taken note” of the decision made by the region’s separatist authorities.
He again denied any Armenian troops were in the region, even though separatist authorities said they were in Nagorno-Karabakh and would pull out as part of the truce. Protesters rallied in the Armenian capital of Yerevan for a second straight day Wednesday, blocking streets and demanding that authorities defend Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the mountainous region. Azerbaijan’s move to reclaim control over Nagorno-Karabakh raised concerns that a full-scale war in the region could resume between the two neighbors, which have been locked in a struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh since a separatist war there ended in 1994.