Why are they fighting?
Though some see the conflict as strictly over borders, experts have emphasized that religion also plays a central part in the war between Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan.
According to Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Armenia wants to retain its influence in Artsakh, while Azerbaijan wants to expel the Armenian Christian population to solidify its hold on the region.
In 2020, with the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan reignited the long-simmering conflict by invading Nagorno-Karabakh. A six-week conflict ended in Azerbaijan seizing control of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The war killed 6,800 combatants, displaced 90,000 people, and left approximately 120,000 Armenian Christians cut off from the rest of Armenia. A narrow road less than four miles long, called the Lachin Corridor, connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and is the only way to get food and supplies to the Armenians living there.
In December 2022 pro-government Azerbaijanis, ostensibly protesting Armenian environmental violations, began blockading the Lachin Corridor, cutting off all access to aid. In April, the protests ended after Azerbaijani troops, defying warnings from the international community, established a military checkpoint on the road, continuing the blockade.
Since December the Christian Armenians have been trapped, without food or medicine, behind the Lachin Corridor blockade.
What is the latest?
This week’s escalation shows the first indications of large-scale outright military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh since 2020.
According to multiple sources on the ground, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital city of Stepanekert has taken heavy shelling.
The Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported on Tuesday: “Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military offensive against the Republic of Artsakh. At this moment the capital Stepanakert and other cities and villages are under heavy shelling.”
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Robert Nicholson, president of the human rights group the Philos Project, said on Tuesday that “Azerbaijan has finally launched the war intended to erase Armenians from #NagornoKarabakh — and with Russian and Turkish permission.”
Brownback said: “I denounce in the strongest possible terms this unprovoked attack by Azerbaijan on the peaceful Armenian Christians of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)! This is wrong. It is an attack on civilians and it must cease immediately.”
Azerbaijan justifies actions as ‘anti-terrorist operations’
For its part, Azerbaijan has denied targeting civilians and has labeled its activity in Nagorno-Karabakh “anti-terrorist operations.”
In a Tuesday press release, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense said: “Local anti-terrorist activities carried out by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are ongoing.”
“As part of the activities,” the release went on, “only legitimate military installations and infrastructure are targeted and incapacitated using high-precision weapons.”