A damaged residential apartment building following shelling is seen in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, declared that it started what it called an "anti-terrorist operation" targeting Armenian military positions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and officials in that region said there was heavy artillery firing around its capital. (AP Photo/Siranush Sargsyan)
Azerbaijan launches operation against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh
02:43 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

At least 200 people have been killed and over 400 others wounded in a military operation by Azerbaijan in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to an official in Armenian-controlled territory there.

Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said Tuesday it had begun an “anti-terrorist” campaign in the region, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and which has been the cause of two wars between the neighbors in the past three decades, most recently in 2020.

The office of the ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh said at least 200 people had died, including ten confirmed civilian deaths and five children, in a statement online late on Wednesday, after Armenian media and local authorities reported heavy bombardment of the regional capital of Stepanakert.

Tensions have been simmering around the region for months, after Azerbaijani troops blockaded the Lachin corridor in December, cutting off the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and preventing the import of food to its roughly 120,000 inhabitants.

Russian peacekeepers, who deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, have been tasked with preventing a fresh conflict breaking out. But Moscow has been accused of being unable or unwilling to intervene to protect Armenia, its long-term ally, in the face of continuing aggression from Azerbaijan.

Karabakh authorities said they have asked for immediate talks with Azerbaijan, amid continued shelling of the region.

In response, the Azerbaijani Presidency said it is willing to meet with Karabakh Armenians, but added in a statement: “To stop anti-terrorist measures, illegal Armenian armed groups must raise the white flag, surrender all weapons, and the illegal regime must dissolve itself. Otherwise, anti-terrorist measures will be continued until the end.”

CNN has been unable to verify the claims of either side in the conflict.

A girl embraces her relative sitting in a shelter during shelling in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh.

‘Systematic shelling’

An Azerbaijani presidential adviser on Tuesday played down reports of civilian casualties inside Nagorno-Karabakh, but said “collateral damage” is a possibility in any military operation.

Confronted with reports of civilian casualties during Azerbaijan’s military operation in the disputed region on Tuesday, Hikmet Hajiyev, a political adviser to the president of Azerbaijan, told CNN’s Matthew Chance in an exclusive interview that he doubted their accuracy.