The Armenian separatist forces of Nagorny Karabakh and the Azerbaijani army on Sunday intensified the exchanges of artillery fire, targeting in particular the independence capital and the second city of Azerbaijan, on the eighth day of deadly fighting.
The two camps have also multiplied the bellicose declarations, ignoring the calls for a truce of the essential part of the international community, and rejecting the responsibility for the conflict.
Since Friday, Stepanakert, the main town in Karabakh, has been the target of strikes, forcing the population to hide in caves and shelters. From the night of Saturday to Sunday, the city has also been deprived of electricity.
Rocket fire resumed with new intensity on Sunday around 9:30 a.m. local time, AFP journalists noted in the city, where sirens sound almost incessantly. The center and the periphery were hit and, to the northeast, black smoke rose into the sky.
The inhabitants take refuge in the existing shelters, such as the crypt of a church where several families have taken refuge in a resigned atmosphere.
“Azerbaijani forces are targeting civilian targets,” Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Arstroun Hovhannissian accused.
According to local authorities, this is fire from the Smertch and Polonez multiple rocket launcher system. Drones also fly over the city.
The president of the self-proclaimed republic, Araiyk Haroutiounian, announced that in retaliation his forces would now target the military infrastructure installed in the “big cities” of Azerbaijan, located further from the front, calling on “civilians to immediately leave these cities”.
“This is only the first”
Soon after, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced that the country’s second city, Gandja, was “under fire from Armenian forces.” Baku accused Armenia of carrying out the shootings, which Yerevan denies.
Karabakh presidency spokeswoman Vagram Pogossian claimed the strikes were the work of separatists, and claimed that the military airport had been “destroyed”.
“It’s only the first,” she proclaimed.
Azerbaijan also reported rocket attacks on “the towns of Terter and Horadiz, in the Fizouli region” from Stepanakert.
On the front, as in previous days, both sides claimed success on various battlefields.
Saturday evening, the president of the self-proclaimed republic assured that “the army has improved its positions, preparing the ground for advances”.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, for its part, said that since the start of the fighting on September 27, 14 villages had been conquered, as well as a mountain range described as strategic, the Mourovdag.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced on Twitter on Saturday evening the conquest of seven villages in this single day.
Withdrawal from “occupied territories”
A few hours earlier, he had reaffirmed that only a withdrawal of Armenian forces from the “occupied territories” could put an end to the conflict dating from the 1990s.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, meanwhile, said Armenia was facing “perhaps the most decisive moment in its contemporary history”, calling for mobilization for “victory”.
Nagorny Karabakh, mostly 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 two sides accuse each other of the resumption of hostilities on September 27, a crisis among the most serious, if not the most serious, since the ceasefire of 1994, which raises fears of an open war between Armenia and the United States. Azerbaijan.
Regarding the balance sheet – still very partial – Baku does not communicate its military losses, 245 dead were recorded: 209 separatist fighters, 14 civilians from Karabakh and 22 Azerbaijani civilians. But each side claims to have killed more than two thousand opposing soldiers.
An open war between the two ex-Soviet countries of the South Caucasus raises fears of a major destabilization, with multiple powers competing in the region: Russia, traditional regional arbiter, Turkey, allied with Azerbaijan, the Iran or even the West.
Ankara is already accused of adding fuel to the fire by encouraging Baku to go on a military offensive and is strongly suspected of having deployed pro-Turkish Syrian mercenaries in Karabakh.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), at least 64 of them have been killed in this territory since the fighting began.