The town of Kelbajar (Karvadjar) was an important strategic point for the Armenian side. After its liberation, a strong link was established between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The front line was significantly reduced, and the rear of the Martakert region was secured.
On March 27, 1993, Armenian troops launched an operation to liberate Kelbajar, the center of the district of the same name. By March 29, the town had been surrounded. Within 3 days, the Armenian forces occupied Kelbajar. The population of the town was evacuated by helicopters or left it through mountain passes.
By March 30, Azerbaijani units had been driven out of Bagrlu, Kechiligaya, and Chorman. By this, they had been deprived of artillery firing points from which the civilian population of Armenian villages in the west of the Martakert region was bombarded.
By April 2, the units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army had blocked the intersection of the Kelbajar-Ganja road. A division of the Azerbaijani army composed of 500 soldiers with the support of 8 armored vehicles attempted to break through the encirclement. However, a 30-men Armenian detachment repulsed the attack. The Azerbaijanis had 60 soldiers killed and 140 wounded. Three of their armed vehicles were destroyed.
On April 3, the Azerbaijani firing points were suppressed in the town of Kelbajar. Armenian Defense Army fighters captured 15 armored vehicles.
And on April 5, Armenian units reached the Omar Pass, driving the units of the Azerbaijani army out of the boundaries of the Kelbajar district. In addition, they occupied the intersection connecting Kelbajar with Ganja.
The liberation of Kelbajar was necessary to ensure the security of the northern and northeastern borders of Armenia and Artsakh. From Kelbajar, Azerbaijanis threatened the directions of both Vardenis and Martakert. Liberating Martakert without establishing control over Kelbajar was impossible. Ensuring the security of Vardenis was also impossible without control over Kelbajar.
Samvel Babayan, the commander of the NKR Defense Army, later recalled: “We began the preparation of the Lachin and Kelbajar operations in winter. And although we were negotiating with the Azerbaijani side, we knew that the enemy was simply playing for time, preparing for a decisive strike. And we were right: the negotiations were eventually thwarted.
Azerbaijan concentrated its forces in the north of Martakert and Askeran districts, deploying over 5 thousand soldiers, tanks, and heavy artillery there. In late January, the battles began. The enemy had 4 aircraft units, two of which were shot down. Round-the-clock fighting went on for twelve days. The task of the liberation of Martakert’s heights was fulfilled by 90%.”
In general, the Kelbajar operation became one of the turning points of the Artsakh war. From a strategic point of view, Kelbajar plays a major role for Artaskh. It dominates the Northern Artsakh, providing control up to Gandzak, a strategically important communication hub of the Caucasus.
After the successful implementation of the Kelbajar operation, the military-political situation changed in the region drastically. The strategic initiative in the war finally went over to the side of Artsakh, which the international community and superpowers were definitely realizing.