An armed incident took place on Sunday in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan after a confrontation between the Azerbaijani troops and a group of Armenian saboteurs who were attempting to smuggle weapons, ammunition and personnel from Armenia to the Karabakh region.
According to Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, the items were being transported through a dirt road bypassing the Lachin road – the only route that can be used between the Karabakh region and Armenia.
“Operative information has been received regarding the transportation of military equipment, ammunition, and personnel from the Republic of Armenia to the territories of Azerbaijan, where the Russian peacekeeping forces are temporarily stationed, using the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu dirt road,” the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
“In the morning of March 5, to verify the information received, the Azerbaijan Army Units attempted to stop and inspect the vehicles transporting illegal military supplies. The opposing side opened fire and there were casualties and injuries from both sides as a result of the firefight,” the statement said.
The ministry informed the command of the temporary Russian peacekeeping mission in the Karabakh region about the incident and reminded that “the only road that can be used between the Karabakh economic region and the Republic of Armenia is the Khankendi-Lachin road,” adding that the transportation of supplies to the Karabakh region on other routes is absolutely inadmissible.
The ministry reminded the command of the Russian peacekeepers that the implementation of the provisions of the 2020 Trilateral Statement must be unconditionally and completely ensured.
“The fact that Armenia is still transporting military supplies to the Karabakh economic region of Azerbaijan is a continuation of the aggression and terror policy of this country against Azerbaijan.”
“The Armenian military-political leadership bears the entire responsibility for the committed provocation,” the Defense Ministry concluded.
According to media reports, three Armenian militants were killed in the clash. They were said to be disguised as police officers tasked to oversee the illegal arms shipment to the Karabakh region. Reports said "lieutenant colonel" Armen Babayan, "major" David Danielyan, and "lieutenant" Ararat Gasparyan were killed in the shootout.
Two servicemen of the Azerbaijan Army Alibeyli Shakhriyar and Huseynov Eshgin were killed by Armenian armed groups.
The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan condemned the incident as the reflection of Armenia’s continuous occupation policy and demanded immediate withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
“Such acts of aggression and provocations demonstrate that Armenia did not give up its occupation policy against Azerbaijan, Armenia’s views regarding the peace agenda are nothing but hypocrisy, and Armenia is not interested in establishing peace and security in the region. These actions once again prove the necessity for the establishment of the border checkpoint regime between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
During the plenary discussions on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February, President Ilham Aliyev proposed installing checkpoints at the intersection of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to facilitate the border delimitation process.
However, the proposal was rejected by Armenia as an attempt to “renegotiate” the Lachin road.
In the meantime, the proposal by the Azerbaijani president came amidst the ongoing protest of the Azerbaijani eco-activists, civil society members, and volunteers on the Lachin road connecting Armenia with the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The participants of the rally have been demanding an immediate end to the illegal exploitation of the mineral resources of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region and the misuse of the road.
The illegal mineral extraction in the Karabakh region and the transfer of the ores through the Lachin road to Armenia prompted a serious backlash from the Azerbaijani society and authorities who demanded more effective control of the Lachin road by the Russian peacekeepers. Baku-based Caliber.Az news agency has reported that eight Kamaz trucks made their way from the Khankendi city of Azerbaijan to Armenia between November 10 and November 14, 2022. Moreover, on November 16-18, the same vehicles were seen along the Lachin road from Armenia to Khankendi.
Furthermore, the Lachin road was used for massive illegal arms supplies for the separatists in the Karabakh region, including landmines produced in Armenia in 2021. In November 2022, the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan discovered a large minefield in the Saribaba high ground near the district of Shusha in the Karabakh region. Back then, the ministry’s sapper units unearthed 350 units of PMN-E anti-personnel mines produced in Armenia in 2021.
Silence of Russian peacekeepers
Today’s incident came days after the separatists in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan have been seen installing and equipping a new combat position in the vicinity of the post of the Russian peacekeepers. The surveillance camera videos that went viral on March 3 revealed the equipment of an all-new firing point by the armed separatists.
The Russian peacekeeping contingent was deployed in parts of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region partially populated by ethnic Armenians following the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The contingent of 1,960 Russian peacekeepers aims to safeguard peace and observe the ceasefire in the region.
According to the 2020 Trilateral Statement, they had to ensure withdrawal of the Armenian armed groups from the zone of their temporary responsibility. However, no relevant measures were taken over the past two years.
There are still remnants of the illegal armed formations of the Armenian forces in territories within the perimeter of the peacekeeping contingent’s monitoring zone. The illegal formations have repeatedly resorted to armed provocations against the Azerbaijani military, including the shelling of the army positions, terror activities, and infiltration attempts. Also, they have carried out engineering and fortification works, trying to build new positions, digging trenches, and creating a defensive zone under the direct cover of the Russian peacekeeping contingent.
Shortly after the end of the 2020 war, Azerbaijani troops deployed in the country’s liberated territories discovered a group of more than 60 armed Armenians who had been dispatched from Armenia, mainly its Shirak region, after the end of hostilities. They carried out three separate attacks on Azerbaijan’s positions killing four servicemen and a civilian, at different times, before being detained by the Azerbaijani forces. Another group of armed Armenians was captured during an attempt to infiltrate the Azerbaijani borders on November 16, 2021.
In November 2021, Armenian citizen Norayr Mirzoyan, who was reportedly involved in the 2020 war, threw an RGD-5 anti-personnel fragmentation grenade at the Azerbaijani soldiers stationed next to the Russian peacekeepers along the Lachin road near the Shusha city. At least three Azerbaijani servicemen were injured in the terrorist attack.