Heavy fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia continued for the second week on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Armenians.
On Monday night, the spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s president announced the withdrawal of Armenian forces in some locations on the frontline in order to avoid unnecessary casualties and greater losses of enemy troops. “Achievements were significant in both respects,” the spokesman said. Reports Tuesday morning said the situation on the frontline was relatively calm that night.
For several days, Azerbaijani forces heavily shelled Stepanakerdt, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. The city was left without electricity, suffered severe damage, and saw dozens of casualties. In response to the attacks, Karabakh forces destroyed Ganja Airbase in Azerbaijan, which served as a main base for Azeri air attacks, not only on Karabakh civilians but on Armenia’s civilians as well. The attack on Ganja was described by Azeri officials as “fake news” and “provocative”. In parallel, the strategic city of Shushi was rocketed by Azeri forces.
Earlier, Nagorno-Karabakh’s President Arayik Harutyunyan made a statement in which he warned Azeris “for the last time” of the war crimes they are perpetrating. “These crimes will receive powerful reactions. We will win and punish the criminals who threaten our existence,” he said. Before giving orders to his forces to destroy Ganja Airbase, Harytyunyan called on the Azeri population to leave the area.
Several days after fighting erupted between the two countries, Harutyunyan announced he will join his troops on the frontline.
Meanwhile, in a televised address to his nation, President Ilham Aliyev demanded Armenia set a deadline for withdrawing from Nagorno-Karabakh. “Azerbaijan will not cease its military operations until the liberation of its territories. Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan,” Aliyev said. “This is the end. We showed them who we are. We are chasing them like dogs,” he added.
Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, too, addressed his nation. In his speech, Pashinyan stressed the main reason Azeri-Turk forces are fighting this war. “It’s not that they want to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh; their objective is to continue their genocidal policy. And they have set themselves the task of bringing to completion the Armenian Genocide,” he said.
“I want to make a clear statement: Today’s citizens of Armenia and Artsakh are no longer yesterday’s travellers of Deir Zor,” referring to the forced marches exiled Armenians had to undergo through the deserts of Deir Zor, escaping the 1915 Genocide.
SOURCING THE WEAPONS
Based on footage published by Armenia’s Defence Ministry and Nagorno-Karabakh on official social media pages, one rocket that hit the capital Stepanakert over the weekend was made in Israel.
Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel, Armen Smbatyan, who believes that Israel “may stop weapon sales to Azerbaijan”. Israel has strong ties with both countries and is maintaining a neutral position on the conflict.
On Turkish state TV TRT Haber, Aliyev confirmed that Turkish combat UAVs are being used against Armenia, something Armenian official sources stated since day one of the war.
Meanwhile, Canada’s foreign minister suspended his country’s arms exports to Turkey after investigations showed that Canadian military technology is being used by Turkey in its fight, shoulder to shoulder with Azeris, against Armenia.
In other news, Nagorno-Karabakh Human Rights Ombudsman Artak Beklaryan started a campaign, under the hashtag “DontBeBlind”, in which he called upon the international community to focus attention on war crimes committed by Azerbaijani armed forces. “Azeri armed forces started intentionally targeting civilian population and infrastructure… with heavy missiles, including cluster bombs… We are suffering a humanitarian disaster in Artsakh now. My call upon the international community is to react properly, to stop talking and start acting. Don’t be blind.”
After the call of Beklaryan, who is blind himself as a result of an Azerbaijani landmine, Amnesty International experts were able to trace the location of footage published by officials, and identified Israeli-made M095 DPICM cluster munitions that appear to have been fired by Azeri forces.
“The use of cluster bombs in any circumstances is banned under international humanitarian law, so their use to attack civilian areas is particularly dangerous and will only lead to further deaths and injuries,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s acting head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia in a statement. Amnesty has called on both sides to fully respect international humanitarian law.
In the past few days, social media was abuzz with the war of words and propaganda between Azeri and Armenian officials. President Aliyev was personally involved in spreading misinformation on Twitter, the only platform Azeris can use, about positions the Azeri army could liberate, and false news on Armenia firing on Azeri territories. Panic appears to be spreading among Azeri officials, raising speculation of fissures in the military and political establishment. Might a coup be attempted in the coming days?
“Clearly, the Azerbaijani leader is ‘riding the tiger’ of war and conflict,” Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Centre (RSC), an independent think-tank in Armenia, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “This is an inherently risky gamble for President Aliyev. With the sudden emergence of potent ‘people power’ in Belarus, where a national awakening has triggered a massive wave of protests against the questionable re-election of that country’s long-time authoritarian strongman, Alexander Lukashenko, the governing elite in Azerbaijan is now increasingly isolated. After years of authoritarian rule that denied space and liberty to any real political opposition, the father-son Aliyev model of governance in Azerbaijan is particularly vulnerable,” Giragosian added.
Events in Belarus may inspire the population of Azerbaijan, according to Giragosian: “The imperative for demanding change and democracy in the country may pose a genuine threat to the government.”
Calls for a ceasefire from Russia, France and the United States through the OSCE Minsk Group meeting last week produced no practical results, especially amid the continuous interference of Turkey. As a result, the Foreign Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh and Prime Minister Pashinyan called upon the international community “to recognise the independence of the Republic of Artsakh”.
No country officially recognises Karabakh as an independent state — not even Armenia.
“For Armenia and Karabakh, there are few diplomatic options, and as Turkey is strongly supporting Azerbaijan both militarily and diplomatically, and Russia remains passive. Armenia stands alone, both on the military and diplomatic levels,” Giragosian told the Weekly.
Against that backdrop, Armenia has warned that it is considering the formal recognition of an independent Karabakh unless Azerbaijan agrees to an immediate ceasefire. “This is a diplomatic threat because if and when Armenia extends recognition of an independent Karabakh, it will effectively end the long-standing framework of the peace process,” Giragosian told the Weekly.
He added that such a scenario is the last resort and remains an unlikely option. “Armenia fears any isolation that may result from such recognition. And that isolation would be a possibility, with recognition seen as a threat to diplomacy by France, Russia and the United States, as the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group, the sole diplomatic entity empowered to mediate,” Giragosian explained.
Interviews made by international news agencies with anonymous Syrian mercenaries and audio recordings of some of them revealed that Turkey not only sent forces from Syria to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenia over the Karabakh war, it also sent some of them who were originally fighting in Libya against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
“There hasn’t been one Azerbaijani or one Turk with us when we were fighting against the Karabakh forces. Many of us want to return back to Syria, the sons of bitches pulled their weapons on us and forced us to keep fighting,” said a Hamza Division militant in Azebaijan, The Investigative Journal reporter wrote, who had early reports on the possible eruption of the war.
Later, a video went viral on social media that showed escape trails of some mercenaries from Azerbaijan. “Oh God protect us. Armenians slaughtered our youth. Thank you, God, for your help in fleeing from this war, Allahu Akbar!”
As of Monday night, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia officials announced the death toll among Armenian soldiers had reached 230.
Looking at Azerbaijan government pages on social media, it is noted that Azeris do not usually disclose their military losses, while only 25 civilian losses were mentioned.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly