Early on September 19, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev gave the signal for a blitzkrieg as part of a plan prepared months ago to redraw the geopolitical map and avenge his father's humiliating defeat nearly 30 years ago.

Aliyev, who has been in power for two decades and has already fought a successful war, has often spoken of returning the Nagorno-Karabakh region to full control of Azerbaijan after its ethnic Armenian population seceded from Baku rule in the early nineties.

Personal dimension

The decision to restore the breakaway region has a personal dimension for President Aliyev, crystallized over months as the diplomatic reality changed, according to two senior officials and a source working with Aliyev.

Reuters quoted one of the sources, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to comment to the media, as saying President Aliyev was completing something his father could not do because time had not given him.

Karabakh escaped Azerbaijan in the chaos that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Some 30,1988 people were killed and more than a million displaced, more than half of them Azerbaijani nationals, during a war that lasted from 1994 to <>.

Heydar Aliyev, Ilham Aliyev's father and then president of Azerbaijan, was forced to agree to a ceasefire that cemented Armenia's victory.

For years, Moscow's alliance and defense treaty with Armenia, in which Russia owns military facilities, have deterred Baku from using force even as Russian authorities sold weapons to both countries.

But Moscow's relations with Armenia began to deteriorate in 2018 when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan led street protests that brought him to power at the expense of many pro-Russian Armenian leaders.

As Azerbaijan's army intensified its campaign to modify and modernize its ranks, Armenia soon fell into one crisis after emerging from another, and noting that hatred is mutual between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pashinyan, who favored relations with the West, Aliyev tested the sensitivity of the situation before moving forward.

In 2020, he launched a 44-day war, in which his army won with the help of advanced Turkish drones, leading them to retake part of the territory of Karabakh.

Russian authorities brokered a ceasefire that appeared to be a victory for Moscow, allowing it to deploy nearly two thousand peacekeepers to Karabakh. The move gave Russia a military presence in Azerbaijan, apparently calming any further military moves by Azerbaijan.

But Russia's war on Ukraine, which began in February 2022, changed the equation again, as Moscow was preoccupied with a fierce war with Kiev.

Sensing the opportunity

The problem has been boiling for months, and Aliyev appeared to sense an opportunity as Russia preoccupied with its war in Ukraine.

Last December, Azerbaijanis describing themselves as environmental activists unhappy with illegal mining began closing the Lachin Pass, the only road connecting Karabakh to Armenia.

Karabakh officials said at the time that the protesters were a cover, including Azerbaijani officials. Baku denied the accusation.

Russian armed peacekeepers, seemingly reluctant to risk escalating the situation, did not move to disperse the protesters by force.

In an attempt last May to jumpstart peace negotiations, the Armenian prime minister made what appeared to be a breakthrough: Armenia was prepared to recognize Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan if Baku guaranteed the security of the region's ethnic Armenians.

Aliyev appeared to seize what he saw as a long-delayed recognition of the fait accompli as a sign of Armenia's weakness. The source working with Aliyev called the shift "very important."

On the morning of September 19, residents of Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh, known as Khanakandi in Azerbaijan, woke up to the sound of artillery fire that repeated in foggy weather.

It began what Aliyev described as an "anti-terror" operation led by ground forces backed by drones and artillery to overrun Karabakh's defensive lines.

Five Russians were killed in the ensuing violence in what appeared to be an incident for which Aliyev apologized to Putin.

Baku declared victory within 24 hours, and Armenian Karabakh fighters agreed to a ceasefire that obliged them to surrender their weapons. Karabakh Armenians said they felt betrayed by all sides.

David Babayan, an adviser to the leader of the Karabakh government, told Reuters a day after the operation: "Karabakh was left alone, Russian peacekeepers practically did not fulfill their commitments, the democratic West abandoned us, and Armenia also turned a blind eye to us."

Favorable conditions

Azerbaijan's ambassador to Britain, Ellen Suleymanov, told Reuters that a combination of factors had convinced Aliyev, 61, that the time was right.

"History takes turns and turns," Suleymanov said, adding: "We couldn't do this before, and it probably wouldn't be a good idea to do it later."

Suleymanov, who previously worked in Aliyev's office, added, "The conditions became favorable for certain reasons and President Aliyev seized the opportunity."

Among these notable "circumstances" is the inability or unwillingness of Russia, the West, or Armenia to intervene to protect Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan said the Karabakh autonomous region had 10,120 fighters at its disposal, but Azerbaijan's army, estimated by Western experts to be more than <>,<> soldiers, looked like a giant compared to the region's fighters.

Speaking to the people of Azerbaijan a day after the military operation, Aliyev said he had ordered his soldiers not to harm civilians. Baku later said 192 of its soldiers had been killed during the operation. Karabakh Armenians said they had lost more than 200 people.

Russia, which has peacekeepers on the ground but is preoccupied with its war with Ukraine, has stepped aside during the operation.

Aliev's foreign policy adviser Hikmet Hajiyev said Azerbaijan had sent the Russians "a notice minutes in advance" of the operation.

The prime minister of Armenia, which has fought two major wars over Karabakh, did not respond to calls by opposition politicians to intervene and said his country needed to be "conflict-free" for its independence.

The West, which had previously tried to mediate, only called on Aliyev to stop the operation, but it reached a deaf ear.

Four days after the operation, some of Karabakh's 4,120 Armenians began a mass exodus by car towards Armenia, saying they feared persecution and ethnic cleansing, despite Azerbaijan's pledge to ensure their safety. Yerevan authorities said 98,10 people had fled to Armenia <> days after the Azerbaijan attack.

For Azerbaijan, the recapture of Karabakh paves the way for the return of tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis who had previously fled, a return that Heydar Aliyev has repeatedly vowed.

Suleymanov, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Britain, said: "President (Ilham) Aliyev has kept his father's pledge."