A view shows aftermath of shelling in Stepanakert, October 4, 2020 (RFE/RL Photo)

War Enters Second Week with No End in Sight

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) —  According to official Armenian sources, some 3,454 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in the fighting since September 27 when Azerbaijan launched missiles, artillery shells, and suicide drones against civilian populations in Artsakh’s capital Stepanakert as well as other civilian populations in and around Artsakh, as well as against certain areas of the Republic of Armenia’s town of Vardenis, causing death and injury to dozens of civilians.

Civilians flee bombs in Stepanakert

Armenian troops of Artsakh wounded 5,000 Azeri soldiers, destroyed 368 tanks and armored vehicles, 4 MLRS Smerch, Uragan, and 3 MLRS TOS-1A, 126 UAVs, 16 helicopters, 17 aircraft.

According to the defense departments of Armenia and Artsakh, more than 220 Armenian servicemen were killed, several hundred were wounded. As a result of war crimes by Azerbaijan, 21 civilians were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia and over 80 wounded.

Armenian Minister of Healthcare Arsen Torosyan has voiced about the Azerbaijani military’s war crimes against Artsakh, particularly the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and health workers. He said ambulances very often come under bombardment and are unable to reach injured civilians.

Speaking at a press conference in the Armenian town of Goris on October 6, Torosyan said the Azeri forces are periodically bombarding with artillery and missile strikes Stepanakert City.

“I personally returned to Armenia from Stepanakert yesterday late in the evening, and this was my third visit since the attacks began,” he said. “The adversary is striking civilian, especially infrastructure facilities, disrupting the normal life of the civilian population. The fully mobilized medical community of Artsakh, as well as our colleagues who have left to Artsakh from Armenia to support them, are sometimes unable to provide help to people in need because Stepanakert and other cities are in permanent air raid alert and bombardment. Even ambulance vehicles are unable to reach the citizens who require medical assistance,” Torosyan said.

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Armenians from Karabakh in Goris

Torosyan said he personally witnessed an Azeri missile strike that hit very close to the Republican Hospital of Stepanakert. He said the explosion from the strike rocked the hospital building.

“The strike could’ve very likely hit the hospital. We, the medical personnel, upon witnessing the Azerbaijani military-political leadership’s intentions, have an impression that a direct, deliberate strike on medical infrastructure can’t be ruled out. This is a war crime against the peaceful population,” Torosyan said.

He displayed shrapnel from the prohibited cluster munitions that are used by the Azeris to bombard the cities in Artsakh. Torosyan said the Azeri forces are firing the banned munitions at virtually everything.

“Destroyed residential buildings, various civilian infrastructures that have been leveled to the ground – this is the situation there. We stand by our compatriots no matter what. The entire medical community of Armenia and Artsakh has set aside the less essential work and is dealing with the evacuation and treatment of those wounded.

Rising International Voices

Armenia welcomed on October 6 the latest calls for an “immediate and unconditional” halt to hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone made by France, Russia and the United States.

In a joint statement issued on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Jean-Yves Le Drian of France condemned “in the strongest terms” the escalation of violence and, in particular, “disproportionate” shelling of civilian areas.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry hailed the statement, saying that the strong condemnation applies to Azerbaijan’s “unprecedented massive targeting of the civilian population and infrastructure” in Karabakh.

Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, second from right, oversees military plans.

“We once again stress that there is no alternative to the peaceful settlement and the peace process, and any attempt to resolve the conflict by military means will be resolutely averted,” said the ministry.

As of Tuesday morning, the Azerbaijani government did not react to the joint appeal by the top U.S., Russian and French diplomats. Baku has until now made the end of the hostilities conditional on Armenian withdrawal from Karabakh.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday joined Armenia and France in accusing Turkey of sending Syrian rebel fighters to fight in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone on Azerbaijan’s side.

Assad also blamed Ankara and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular for the war in Karabakh that erupted on September 27.

“They [the Turks] are the ones who started this conflict,” he told the Russian RIA Novosti news agency. “They encouraged this conflict.”

“We can say for sure that they have been using terrorists of Syrian and other nationalities in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.

In recent weeks Western media and Syrian opposition sources have quoted members of Islamist rebel groups in areas of northern Syria under Turkish control as saying that they are deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with the Turkish government. Most of them have given financial reasons for agreeing to participate in hostilities in and around Karabakh.

Armenia has seized upon those reports and presented its own purported evidence of Syrian mercenaries recruited by Ankara.

France has also alleged such deployment, with President Emmanuel Macron saying that at least 300 “Syrian fighters from jihadist groups” were flown from Turkey to Azerbaijan ahead of the flare-up of violence in Karabakh.

Russia has similarly expressed serious concern over the reported presence of Middle Eastern “terrorists and mercenaries” in the Karabakh conflict zone and demanded their “immediate withdrawal from the region.”

Asked to comment on the reports, Assad said: “Definitely we can confirm it. Not because we have evidence. Sometimes if you don’t have evidence you have indications.”

“Turkey used those terrorists coming from different countries in Syria. They used the same method in Libya. They used Syrian terrorists in Libya, maybe with other nationalities,” he told RIA Novosti.

“So it’s self-evident and very much probable that they are using them in Nagorno-Karabakh,” added the Syrian leader.

Assad’s regime has been at odds with Ankara but strongly backed by Moscow throughout the Syrian civil war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on Assad’s statements later in the day. “We attentively familiarize ourselves with all statements by heads of state,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reacted cautiously to Macron’s claims backed up by Western media reports. “I hope it’s not the case,” Pompeo told reporters on Friday.

“We saw Syrian fighters taken from the battlefields in Syria to Libya,” he said. “That created more instability, more turbulence, more conflict, more fighting, less peace. I think it would do the same thing in the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as well. So I hope that reporting proves inaccurate.”

Commenting on Turkish involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute, Pompeo said Washington disapproves of “third parties bringing ammunitions, weapon systems, even just advisors and allies” to the conflict zone.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave several international interviews, including with the Globe and Mail (Canada), France 24 and Le Monde (France) and Bild (Germany).

He actively linked Turkey’s involvement with the Armenian Genocide of a century ago.

“Azerbaijani-Turkish bandits are not here to deal with Karabakh or the Karabakh issue. They have not come with the objective of capturing villages, cities. Their key target is the Armenian nation. And they have set themselves the task of bringing to completion #ArmenianGenocide,” he wrote on Twitter on October 4.

In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro, he said Armenia has proof that Turkey is supporting Azerbaijan militarily.

Armenians Deny Targeting Civilians

Artsakh says it would under no circumstances resort to targeting the civilian population of Azerbaijan.

“Because we aren’t like them, but we know how to break their terrorist army,” Artsakh presidential spokesperson Vahram Poghosyan said, strongly ruling out the Artsakh army’s targeting of peaceful civilians amid their own civilians being under heavy Azeri fire.

“And our rocket strikes at military facilities of Azerbaijan which are located in large cities aren’t yet subject to disclosure,” he said, adding that details could be released after the war.

He said that these strikes at Azeri military facilities have “neutralized large numbers of military reserve forces.”

On October 6, the Azeri forces again started to bombard Stepanakert City, the capital of Artsakh. The capital city of Artsakh has come under numerous attacks since the Azeri offensive began on September 27. Civilian casualties and heavy damages to civil infrastructure have occurred.

“In case of further escalations, the entire responsibility will be borne by the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” Armenia’s Defense Ministry Spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan wrote on Facebook.

The Armenian side said Azerbaijani forces launched a “large-scale attack” at the southernmost section of the “line of contact” bordering Iran. Stepanyan said that Karabakh Armenian forces are “methodically” destroying “enemy capabilities.”

Stepanian reported about an hour later that the Azerbaijani army resumed rocket strikes on the Karabakh capital Stepanakert. Earlier in the day she strongly denied Baku’s claims that the Armenians are again shelling civilian areas of Azerbaijan.

It also emerged that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited Karabakh on Monday, October 5, for the first time since the start of the war. A short video released by the Armenian government showed Pashinyan meeting with Karabakh’s top political and military leaders and discussing the situation on the frontlines.

Turkish FM in Baku

Visiting Baku on Tuesday, October 6, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu reaffirmed Ankara’s strong support for Azerbaijani military operations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh.

“Turkey and the Turkish people are ready to provide any assistance to Azerbaijan in any sphere if need be,” Çavusoglu was reported to say at a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Speaking in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, the Turkish FM again voiced support for Azerbaijan, indirectly confirming that Ankara is no longer covering up its involvement in war crimes committed against Artsakh’s civilian population.

Çavusoglu also criticized the OSCE Minsk Group for what he described as not having a clear plan for settling the conflict, ignoring the Co-Chairmanship’s recent efforts for preventing bloodshed and calls for non-intervention of third parties.

(Stories from RFE/RL, Armenpress, Panorama.am and Arka were used in compiling this report.)

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