Half of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh has been displaced by the hostilities between the separatist territory populated by Armenians and Azerbaijan, authorities said on Wednesday, a conflict described as a “tragedy” by Vladimir Putin.
NGOs, the Red Cross and the Franco-American-Russian mediator in this crisis have denounced in recent days the growing number of civilian victims since the start of the clashes on September 27. The belligerents, for their part, ignored all calls for a truce.
“It is a huge tragedy,” ruled the Russian president. “We call, I insist, for a ceasefire. And we have to do it as soon as possible. “
On the 11th day of the fighting, “about 50% of the population [du Haut-Karabakh] has been displaced – 90% of women and children, “Artak Belgarian, the mediator of the self-proclaimed republic, told AFP.
Nagorno-Karabakh is populated by around 140,000 people, 99% ethnic Armenians, Azeris having fled in the war of the 1990s.
Rain of rockets
The authorities in that territory accuse Azerbaijan of indiscriminately shelling their capital Stepanakert since Friday, forcing most of the estimated 50,000 residents to leave and the rest to hide in caves.
This city suffered rocket strikes, including those of large caliber – 300 mm – Smertch, throughout the night from Tuesday to Wednesday.
After a morning respite, shots, presumably from drones, followed, noted an AFP journalist, who saw a plume of smoke, preceded by a double explosion, rise after the attack of one of these machines with the characteristic noise of lawn mowers. Air defense was attempting to bring down the aircraft (s), invisible in the cloudy sky. Almost every hour at night the warning sirens sounded. A series of loud explosions followed.
A group of houses was destroyed on the heights of Stepanakert, near the parliament. In the backyard of a house, a device fell, apparently without any casualties, except for a dog whose remains lay gutted on the roadway.
In Azerbaijan, too, the adversary is accused of targeting civilians. Azerbaijani prosecution spokeswoman Gounay Salimzade announced that 427 homes housing 1,200 people had been destroyed since the outbreak of hostilities.
In the village of Jojoug, Marjanli Joumchoud Gehramanov, the owner of a store, assures us that “do not be afraid” despite the strikes. “Our young people are ready. We are waiting for the order to be given to us so that we also help the military, “he proclaimed.
Nagorno-Karabakh, populated in Soviet times by a majority of Christian Armenians and an Azeri Shiite minority, seceded from Azerbaijan after the fall of the USSR, leading to a war that left 30,000 dead . The front has been almost frozen since a ceasefire in 1994, despite regular clashes.
The two sides mutually blame each other for the resumption of hostilities on September 27 and have not followed through on calls for a ceasefire.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian further accused Turkey, a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, in an interview with AFP of having “by its active engagement” caused “war”.
With Ankara’s support, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev ruled out any truce without Armenian withdrawal from Karabakh.
An escalation could have unforeseeable consequences, given the number of competing powers in the Caucasus: Russia, Turkey, Iran and the West.
Russia, the regional arbiter, enjoys good relations with the two belligerents, but remains closer to Armenia, which is part of a military alliance dominated by Moscow. Mr. Putin also noted that his country would “keep its commitments” within the framework of this Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the event of a direct attack against Armenia. “If a member country of the treaty is attacked […], then the other members of the treaty have an obligation to defend it, ”argued the Kremlin.
Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis claim to inflict heavy losses on themselves, but no belligerent seems to have gained a decisive advantage, even though Baku claims the conquest of multiple towns and villages and the recapture of a section of the border with Iran.
The death toll of 288 remains very partial. Baku, which reports no military casualties, has recorded the deaths of 29 civilians. Karabakh has counted 240 soldiers and 19 civilians killed. However, both sides claim to have each eliminated thousands of opposing soldiers.