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IMMINENT WARNING: AZERBAIJAN'S "ANTI-TERROR" OP IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH RAISES FULL-SCALE WAR CONCERNS

September 19, 2023

Sophia Ritscher, Gabriel Helupka, Megan Khalife, EUCOM and Behavior/Leadership Teams

Alya Fathia Fitri, Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor


Map of Nagorno-Karabakh[1]


Event: On September 19, 2023, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry (MoD) announced military operations against Armenian military targets in the Nagorno-Karabakh Region to restore constitutional order and demobilize Armenian armed forces. The MoD reiterated that the “local anti-terrorist activities” are not directed against the civilian infrastructure populations, which can leave the area through humanitarian corridors.[2] Azerbaijan launched these military activities after the death of four soldiers and two civilians in a landmine explosion earlier the same day.[3] Violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia has been increasing over recent months, with Armenian allegations against Azerbaijan of preventing aid deliveries by blocking access to the Lachin corridor, the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The ongoing and escalating hostilities stem from the 2020 six-week territorial conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This resulted in a Russian-sponsored ceasefire, Armenia ceding territories, and establishing a Russian peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh.[4]


Significance: Azerbaijan's military operation very likely aims at seizing operational control of Nagorno-Karabakh, likely using the “anti-terrorist” mandate to advance into Karabakh, reinforcing its territorial integrity and strengthening its national identity. Azerbaijan very likely exploited a perceived weakness of Russia’s Nagorno-Karabakh peacekeeping efforts to launch the operation, likely viewing Russia as preoccupied with Ukraine to focus on peacekeeping. Russia will very likely attempt to mediate the conflict to maintain its status as a regional peacekeeper, likely wanting to project its ability to contain the conflict. Azerbaijan will likely limit internet access and some social media platforms within the region, very likely controlling the operation’s information flows. There is a roughly even chance that these restrictions will extend nationwide, likely increasing if contradictory narratives about the operation’s goals arise. Civilian infrastructure in Karabakh will likely face indiscriminate targeting, likely resulting in accusations of ethnic cleansing. The Azerbaijan MoD will very likely continue issuing regular statements on the progress of its "anti-terrorist" operation. These statements will very likely attempt to reassure the population that civilians and local infrastructure are not operational targets. The MoD will likely outline steps to assist civilians and provide proof of only targeting legitimate military infrastructure and points of interest. Armenian citizens will likely protest Azerbaijan’s military action, likely demanding an Armenian military intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh to protect Armenians. The Armenian government will likely emphasize the need for a diplomatic solution, likely preventing the spread of the conflict beyond Nagorno-Karabakh and direct military confrontation. Armenian separatists in Karabakh will likely call for renewed ceasefires and diplomatic negotiations, likely echoing Armenia’s sentiments. Azerbaijan’s unilateral military action will very likely prompt strong condemnations from the EU, UN, and Western countries. The UN Security Council (UNSC) will likely host an urgent meeting to propose a response to the military action, likely resulting in division among permanent Western UNSC members and Russia over its peacekeeping role and the potential UNSC reaction to Azerbaijan’s behavior.


Recommendations

  • The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends civilians within the affected area seek immediate shelter and avoid unnecessary travel. We recommend civilians exercise caution and heightened situational awareness while traveling in the region. Civilians should carry identification cards and cooperate with local security forces on both sides to avoid unintentional escalation.

  • CTG recommends civilians prepare for a potential evacuation and pack a personal emergency relocation kit, a several-day supply of water and non-perishable food, first-aid material, a power bank, and items of personal value.

  • CTG recommends that neighboring countries, international organizations, and non-government organizations provide humanitarian aid to affected civilians using humanitarian corridors.

  • CTG recommends that Western countries and international organizations conduct intelligence assessments of the situation to inform potential policy actions. We recommend that the UNSC convenes to debate policy actions for the situation. We advise the UNSC to consider statements and potential sanctions, negotiations, or peacekeeping recommendations.

  • CTG recommends Western governments directly engage in diplomatic discussions with Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders. We recommend officials discuss de-escalation measures regarding Nagorno-Karabakh.

  • If there is any additional and or critical information please contact us at The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-2848 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

 

[2] Statement by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, September 2023, https://mod.gov.az/en/news/statement-by-azerbaijan-s-ministry-of-defense-49350.html

[3] Azerbaijan announces an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ targeting Armenian positions in Nagorno-Karabakh, AP, September 2023, https://apnews.com/article/nagorno-karabakh-armenia-azerbaijan-mines-deaths-477fd82368be90f88163e50a5fcb6353

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