De facto Nagorno-Karabakh surrendered to Azerbaijan following one day of war
On September 19, Azerbaijan launched a massive assault on the Armenian-populated de facto Nagorno-Karabakh region. Before the operation, the Azerbaijani side reported that a “KamAZ” vehicle carrying personnel from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan, while en route to the location of an attack that occurred on the same day, resulting in the deaths of State Road Agency employees, was detonated by a mine at around 04:30 am on the new tunnel road constructed in the village of Taghavardi/Taghaverd in the Khodjavend district, located on the 58th kilometre of the Ahmedbeyli-Fizuli-Shusha road.
The population of Nagorno-Karabakh – which has been under siege for the past nine months, enduring acute food and supply shortages – was left to its own devices to resist despite the presence of Russian peacekeepers stationed there since the last full-scale war in 2020. Azerbaijani troops and hardware movements and supplies of weapons from Israel presaged the offensive. It started at about 1 pm local time when the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced the launch of “local anti-terrorist operations aimed at restoring constitutional order” in Karabakh.
In the ensuing hours, Azerbaijani media outlets and social media users circulated Defense Ministry videos purporting to show explosions of military installations belonging to the “Armenian armed forces.” (The phrasing is a pointed refusal to differentiate between Armenian and Karabakh armed forces.)
Meanwhile, images of Nagorno-Karabakh showed damage to apartment blocks and other civilian infrastructure. Towards evening, a former official wrote that 26 civilians, including 11 children, had been wounded and two civilians, one of them a child, had been killed.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter) about four hours after the assault began, Azerbaijani presidential advisor for foreign affairs Hikmet Hajiyev reiterated Baku’s longstanding demand that the “illegal separatist puppet regime” (the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh) dissolve itself and that all units of “Armenian armed forces” there be disarmed.
A short time later, Hajiyev told Turkish television that most military targets in Nagorno-Karabakh had been neutralised and that now smaller surgical operations were underway. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s first public reaction to the fighting was to reject any notion that the Republic of Armenia was involved or planned to intervene. He reiterated that Armenia has no troops in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Then, a statement of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan was conveyed to the participants: “The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan states that considering the appeal by the representatives of the Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, conveyed by the Russian peacekeeping contingent, an agreement has been reached as of 13:00, September 20, 2023, to stop the anti-terror measures under the following terms:
- The formations of Armenia’s armed forces stationed in the Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan and illegal armed groups lay down their arms, withdraw from their battle positions and military outposts, and are subjected to complete disarmament.
- Simultaneously, all the ammunition and heavy military equipment is handed over.
- Conducting the above-mentioned process in coordination with the Russian peacekeeping contingent is ensured.”
At the end of the briefing, it was noted that the leadership of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan gave the troops relevant instructions in this regard.
The number of casualties of the war remains unknown. The authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have confirmed that at least 200 people were killed and over 400 wounded. Of those killed, at least 10 were reportedly civilians, including five children. Azerbaijani authorities have not released casualty figures. However, independent Azerbaijani news site MeydanTV reported to have confirmed the identity of 80 soldiers killed in the fighting by checking with local municipal authorities, family members of those killed, and other sources. Independent journalist Habib Muntazir said he had already confirmed the deaths of over 100 people.
According to the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, over 10,000 people were displaced, while many remain missing. The Russian peacekeeping mission said that 1,340 people were at their base in the region, including 607 children. On Wednesday, there were widespread reports that thousands of people had gathered at Stepanakert airport. Tigran Grigoryan, a Yerevan-based political analyst from Nagorno-Karabakh, said they were stuck without food or water.
Several Russian peacekeepers were also killed after their vehicle came under fire. Azerbaijan has claimed that they were killed by forces from Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in a phone conversation on September 21, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev apologised to Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered to compensate their families.