Defeats in late March already had the Azeri military evacuating civilians out of the region to the northern town of Yevlakh and Azerbaijan's second largest city, Ganja. The Armenians had assembled a force of several hundred men to enter Kelbajar from four different directions: Melkonian's own detachment of tanks and troops from Karabakh would attack from the southeast, one fifty-man unit from the town of Vardenis, Armenia would enter from the west; the third force would attack from the village of Aghdaban in the north, and the primary attacking force would come from the village of Narınclar.
The battered village of Charektar in Kelbajar had already seen extensive fighting in earlier weeks and was reinforced by both Azerbaijani and foreign fighters as the Armenian offensive commenced on March 27. However, instead of launching a simultaneous attack, only the units in Aghdaban and Narinclar moved out. Melkonian's armored column did not move out until later on and his units faced tenacious resistance on an embankment of entrenched defenses where his forces were forced to retreat. The troops in Vardenis began their assault shortly thereafter but their advance was slowed since they had to trek through the snowy passes of the Murov Mountains.
On March 28, Melkonian's forces counterattacked Charektar and an eight-hour battle ensued until his forces were able to break through the defenses. The stretched out Azeri forces deployed through the region allowed them to advance twenty-nine kilometers, reaching the Tartar River on March 31. Within another twenty kilometers of his forces' positions was the Kelbajar's namesake capital, a crucial road intersection that led to Lachin and the village of Zulfugarli. By March 29, Armenian forces encircled the town of Kalbajar. A journalist reported seeing intensive bombardment of Kelbajar, including Grad artillery, originating from Armenia proper.
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