Over the past few days, footage has circulated across Azerbaijani social media appearing to show increased movement of Azerbaijani troops around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the border with Armenia.
Military shipments from Israel to Azerbaijan appear to have increased simultaneously, raising fears among Armenians of another impending attack from Azerbaijan.
At a government session on September 7, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pointed to these developments and said that "the military and political situation in our region has been significantly aggravated over the past week."
"The rhetoric of anti-Armenian hatred has intensified in the Azerbaijani press and propaganda platforms. The policy of encroachment on the sovereign territory of Armenia continues," he added.
The military buildup has triggered particular alarm in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The region has effectively been under Azerbaijani blockade since December, and the blockade has been particularly intense since mid-June.
Armenian and Karabakhi officials have long spoken about Azerbaijani designs to ethnically cleanse the region using force if necessary.
"It is obvious that Azerbaijan is preparing military operations, and simultaneously trying to exert psychological pressure on the governments and peoples of the Republics of Artsakh and Armenia, as well as to gauge the reaction of the Armenian parties and regional and global actors," wrote Artak Beglaryan, a former senior Karabakh official. (Artsakh is an alternative Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh.)
In case of an offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, the local forces are unlikely to be able to mount much of a resistance given Azerbaijan's numerical and power dominance over the roughly 120,000 Karabakhis.
There have been numerous clashes since Azerbaijan's victory in the 2020 Second Karabakh War, both in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and on the border between Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia. Several of the latter have resulted in Azerbaijani troops taking up positions inside Armenia.
Several previous escalations were preceded by Azerbaijani media reports about "revenge operations" or claims of Armenian forces preparing to stage acts of "provocation."
This time, Azerbaijani media is mirroring Armenian allegations. State channel AzTV suggested that Armenian reports of Azerbaijani military buildup and the Armenian defense minister's cancellation of a planned trip abroad are signs that Yerevan is laying the groundwork for its own escalation.
And Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry characterized Pashinyan's warnings as "an integral part of Armenia's false political manipulation."
The EU's civilian monitoring mission deployed on the Armenian side of the border has reported to Brussels its concerns over "rising tensions and shootings in the border regions of Armenia and Azerbaijan" and stepped up its patrols. It has not sought to blame either side for the current spike in tension, though.
The current reports of Azerbaijani military buildup come on the heels of an Azerbaijani attack on September 1 near the Armenian border town of Sotk that left three Armenian soldiers dead.
Five days after that, Armenia announced it would hold the Eagle Partner military exercises jointly with the United States on September 11-20. The Defense Ministry said the purpose of the drills was to prepare Armenian forces for international peacekeeping missions.
The US has become a key player in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace processes since the 2020 war, overseeing an Azerbaijan-Armenia peace process together with the EU.
A separate negotiating track is managed by Russia, which has maintained a 2,000-strong peacekeeping presence in Nagorno-Karabakh since the end of the war.
Russia is also Armenia's traditional military and economic strategic partner, but Armenian leaders are more and more openly questioning the efficacy of the alliance given Moscow's refusal to help it against Azerbaijani incursions and the peacekeepers' alleged failure to protect the Armenians of Karabakh.
While prospects for peace seem bleaker than ever, the Armenian prime minister reiterated in his September 7 remarks that he was ready to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan and end the decades of hostility between the neighboring countries.
The Israel factor
Israel is one of Azerbaijan's strategic allies and key weapons suppliers.
In March 2023 Israel's Haaretz newspaper published a report detailing the extent of the Israel-Azerbaijan military partnership. It found that 92 military cargo jet flights took place between Ovda, a military air base in southern Israel, and airports in Azerbaijan between 2016 and the time of publication.
The Armenian investigative outlet Hetq has been monitoring flights between Ovda and Azerbaijan since then. It recently found that one particular Azerbaijani Silk Road Airlines plane landed at Ovda and returned to Azerbaijan four times between August 15 and September 2. On two of these return flights, it landed in Ganja, a city close to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Haaretz's article noted that over the years intensified Ovda-Azerbaijan flights coincided with periods of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the April 2016 escalation, the 2020 war, and several post-war escalations.
Elsewhere, a post on the site formerly known as Twitter by Turkish nationalist politician Sinan Ogan is being seen by Armenians as another ominous signal from a strategic partner of Baku's.
It features an image of Ogan with the words "Khankendi is the Turkish world's pride" alongside an upside-down A, which is a symbol painted on Azerbaijani military vehicles. (Khankandi is the Azerbaijani name for Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto capital Stepanakert.)
Ogan, who is of Azerbaijani origin, placed third in the Turkish presidential election in May 23 and threw his support behind the incumbent and ultimate victor Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the second round.
Heydar Isayev contributed reporting.
Lilit Shahverdyan is a journalist based in Stepanakert.