Azerbaijan / Armenia: no respite in the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijani army continued their clashes relentlessly on Monday, the day after a day marked by bombing of urban areas with civilian casualties.

The Karabakh separatists’ foreign ministry said that in the morning their capital, Stepanakert, populated by 50,000 inhabitants, was targeted by “intensive rocket fire”.

According to a witness interviewed by AFP, the town suffered three hours of bombing and many residents chose to leave. The others hide in the shelters. Many buildings bear the scars of two days of strikes: collapsed buildings, shards stuck in the facades, blown windows …

On Sunday, on both sides of the front, artillery fire had already targeted towns, in particular Stepanakert and its neighbor Shusha, and in Azerbaijan: Gandja, the country’s second city 60 km from the contact line, or Beylagan.

According to Baku, strikes on Azerbaijani urban areas resumed on Monday in these same cities, and others, such as Agjabedi.

Azerbaijani presidential adviser Hikmet Hajiyev broadcast on Twitter a video presented as having been filmed in the central market of Gandja, the windows of which were blown out, denouncing an attack “the sole purpose of which is to kill civilians”.

On both the Armenian and Azerbaijani side, AFP journalists saw houses ripped open by gunfire.

According to official reports, the bombings on Sunday left four people dead in the self-proclaimed republic, five in Azerbaijan, as well as many injured.

As they have done since the conflict resumed on September 27, the belligerents are blaming themselves for the escalation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Karabakh conflict mediator, made up of France, Russia and the United States, was preparing a new statement and “concrete steps that can be taken to prevent blood from spreading. sink ”. On Sunday evening, he worried about “the rise in the number of civilian casualties”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the “indiscriminate bombing” which destroyed or affected hundreds of homes and key infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.

In Goris, the last town in Armenia before Karabakh, food distributions are organized for the displaced. Siroun Kotcharian, a 65-year-old retiree displaced by the conflict, says she had to flee the fighting on day one when a “bomb fell on the house next door”.

No truce on the horizon

The separatists, supported politically and militarily by Armenia, and the Azerbaijanis, gave no sign of wanting to work for a truce.

Nagorno-Karabakh, largely populated by Armenians, seceded from Azerbaijan after the fall of the USSR, leading to a war in the early 1990s that left 30,000 dead. The front has been almost frozen there since despite regular clashes.

The current hostilities represent one of the most serious, if not the most serious, crises since 1994.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in a televised speech, assured Sunday that the offensive would continue until the Armenian withdrawal from Karabakh, further demanding “an apology” from Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. “We hunt them like dogs!” “, He still launched about his opponents.

Baku claims a number of successes on the ground, including the capture of towns and villages, which the Armenian side denies.

On Monday, however, the military for the first time released footage from Talich, a locality reportedly taken on Friday, where Azerbaijani soldiers can be seen patrolling deserted streets, waving the country’s flag.

The Armenian Ministry of Defense had estimated Monday morning that “the Azerbaijani side proclaims imaginary victories and spreads false news about Armenian bombings of Azerbaijani inhabited areas”.

The death toll – still very partial, Baku not disclosing its military losses – stands at 266, including 221 Karabakh soldiers, 18 civilians from the separatist territory and 25 Azerbaijanis. But each side claims to have killed 2,000 to 3,000 enemy soldiers.

The powder keg of the Caucasus

An escalation of the conflict could have unforeseeable consequences, several powers competing in the Caucasus: Russia, the traditional regional arbiter, Turkey, allied with Azerbaijan, or even Iran.

The Turks are already accused of aggravating the conflict by encouraging Baku to go on a military offensive and are strongly suspected of having deployed Syrian mercenaries in Karabakh.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday urged alliance member Ankara to “use its influence to calm tensions.”

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