The separatist state, known as the Republic of Artsakh, has a population of around 150,000, mostly of Armenian and Christian descent. They are outnumbered by a largely Muslim majority in Azerbaijan.
Heavy tanks, helicopters and rockets were deployed and the capital of Artsakh, Stepanakert, was directly bombed. The unexpected intensity of the latest clashes that erupted along border regions on Sunday has raised fears that other larger regional players, such as Turkey and Russia, may be drawn into the dispute.
“It became clear from the start that this was an entirely different matter, and in Armenia we are treating it as a war,” said Raffi Elliott, 30, a Canadian-Armenian who since 2012 has lived in the capital Yerevan. , where he works for a tech startup.
Elliott says he, his wife and two young children were in the city during the last outbreak in July, and the one before it in 2016, but the fierceness of the opening battles and the heavy losses already suffered by both parties make this situation. feel “unprecedented”.
“My colleagues and I have all gone to donate blood, and people are lining up to help collect food, water, clothing and medical supplies for the people of Karabakh who are being bombed,” a- he told CBC News in an interview.
“You don’t really hear the patriotic podium or whatever it says – it’s more like ‘We face an existential threat and we were ready to face it together,'” he said.
“Existential” is also the word used by Neil Hauer, a Canadian security analyst who follows developments in the Caucasus from his home in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“This is very important as it looks like it is on the verge of full scale warfare,” Hauer said.
Armenia has just signed an ordinance banning men aged 18 and over from leaving the country. Martial law is in place and a large-scale mobilization is underway. Armenians outside the country are trying to return home to enlist. It’s hard to overstate how much this battle exists out there.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders declared martial law and put their nations in full military mobilization, blaming each other for the escalation.
The internet and most communication links have been cut, but some photos and videos posted online claim to show buildings damaged by the current conflict and families huddling together in basements to avoid airstrikes.
Geopolitics via YouTube
The two countries have used dueling YouTube channels to show the destruction each claims to have inflicted on the other and to try to rally their populations with propaganda victories.
On behalf of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, a video purports to show an Armenian truck being destroyed from the air, presumably by a drone above. The Armenian military has released what appears to be video of one of its airstrikes wiping out an Ajerbaijani tank.
WATCH | Armenia says this video shows its military detonating an Azerbaijani tank in Nagorno-Karabekh:
The Azerbaijani foreign minister said on Monday that six Azeri civilians had been killed and 19 injured since the fighting began. The Interfax news agency quoted an official from the Armenian Defense Ministry as saying 200 Armenians were injured.
Nagorno-Karabakh reported on Monday that 28 other soldiers had been killed. He said on Sunday that 16 of his soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded after Azerbaijan launched an air and artillery attack.
Over the decades, Azerbaijan and Armenia have engaged in peace talks in an attempt to settle the status of the territory, but with little progress.
In July, 16 people were killed in clashes, which in turn sparked large street protests in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and called on the government to take back Nagorno-Karabakh by force.
Most independent accounts suggest that the current conflict began with an assault by Azerbaijani troops and armor at several points along the old ceasefire line, although it also appears that several villages in Armenia proper were also targeted.
Turkey suspected of involvement
Hauer says that a significant change in the dynamics of the conflict is Turkey’s decision to take a more direct role in favor of Azerbaijan. Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Armenia “the greatest threat to regional peace”.
“Credible reports seem to suggest that Turkish drones may have been used,” Hauer said, also noting that Turkish TV reporters were on the front lines with Azerbaijani forces in the early battles, as if they had been warned of the attack.
Armenian diplomats have also accused Turkey of sending several thousand rebel fighters from northern Syria to join the battle alongside Azerbaijan, although Turkey and Azerbaijan deny this.
Hauer says that if Azerbaijan persists in its military assault and manages to capture parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, it could turn into a humanitarian catastrophe for the civilian population.
“The statements by Azerbaijani officials over the years have been that they want to wipe out the Armenian presence in the region,” he said.
Haunted by history
The relationship between Turkey and Armenia is haunted by the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks before, during and after the First World War.
Their 300-kilometer-long border has been closed for 30 years and the Turkish government has refused repeated calls from the international community, including Canada, to recognize the genocide for what it was.
But whatever Turkey’s desire to increase its military influence in the region, it will come up against Russia’s partnership with Armenia.
Russia has a permanent military base about 120 kilometers north of Yerevan, where it is stationed around 3,000 troops.
Hauer says the garrison is supposed to deter Turkey from taking action against Armenian territory. A direct attack would almost certainly trigger a response from Russia.
On Tuesday, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Dominic Raab, UK Foreign Secretary, issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned by reports of large-scale military action” in the region.
“We call for an immediate end to hostilities, respect for the ceasefire agreement and the protection of civilians. ”
A group of bipartisan Canadian parliamentarians who make up the Canada-Armenia Friendship Group issued a statement on Monday warning Turkey – a NATO ally – not to get involved.
“The continued rhetoric from Turkish leaders, official channels in particular, is completely unnecessary,” Ontario Liberal MP Bryan May said in an interview with CBC News. The Turkish foreign minister called Armenia an “occupying state” and other Turkish government officials called Armenia’s presence in Nagorno-Karabakh a “crime against humanity”.
Over 60,000 Canadians claim Armenian ancestry, primarily in Montreal and Toronto, and May says the development of strong political institutions in Armenia is something Canada has strongly supported – and must support now.