Shushi damage

War Shows No Sign of Abating with Increased Turkish, Mercenary Involvement

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STEPANAKERT (Combined Sources) — The war in Artsakh (Karabakh) has shown no signs of slowing down, despite the declaration of a third cease fire earlier in the week, following the meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Geneva.

The Azerbaijani use of cluster bombs has destroyed huge chunks of Shushi and Stepanakert, including the latter’s central market.

Throughout the evening of November 3 the Azerbaijani air force bombed Martuni, Shushi was bombarded, and the Shahumyan region’s residential areas with PC30 missiles.

The shelling again has extended into Armenia.

One civilian was killed and several others were injured in Azerbaijan’s shelling of the village of Davit Bek, Syunik Province in Armenia, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said Monday, November 2.

“Today, at around 6:10 p.m., the Azerbaijani side opened artillery fire in the direction of the positions of the Armed Forces of Armenia and the settlement of Davit Bek, as a result of which one civilian was killed and two others were wounded,” Stepanyan said on Facebook.

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On November 3, Azerbaijani troops attempted to launch an assault against the Nagorno-Karabakh army three times within one hour but were successfully repelled.

According to information provided by the Defense Army, at 1:30 p.m., Azerbaijani soldiers fired smoke bombs to try to retrieve the bodies of their peers from a gorge in the direction of Karvachar. However, the Armenian side’s artillery fire made the group turn back, leaving two more bodies.

At 1:40 p.m., the Azerbaijani forces tried to break through with a group of 30 men in the same direction, but their advance was stopped with high-precision grenade fire from the Artsakh Defense Army units, as a result of which the adversary, suffering losses, retreated to their original positions.

At 2:30pm, the Artsakh servicemen spotted the accumulation of Azeri troops and destroyed four enemy soldiers who were trying to hide.

“The operative situation in Karvachar and other areas is under the control of units of the Artsakh Defense Army,” Karabakh authorities said.

Russia, Turkey Consultations

Russia will continue cooperating with Turkey and use its entire influence in the region to prevent a military solution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview to Komersant newspaper.

Lavrov said that Moscow and Ankara are close partners and are able to display a flexible and pragmatic approach and cooperate with each other in a strategic vision.

He pointed out Syria and Libya to be the obvious examples of practical and substantive cooperation between the Russian and Turkish diplomats, militaries and intelligence agencies.

“The situation in case of Nagorno Karabakh principally differs, and I’ve partially spoken about this in my answers to the previous questions. I repeat, we have never hidden and we aren’t hiding that we are not in favor of a solution to the crisis by force, we seek a speedy halt in combat operations,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov emphasized that both the parties to the conflict, as well as their foreign partners should steadily adhere to the agreements on ceasefire, the creation of verification mechanisms and the re-launch of substantive negotiations by a concrete timetable.

“And although it wasn’t possible to achieve a stable ceasefire at once, we will continue using our entire influence in the region, we will work with our Turkish colleagues, in order to stop the further development of a military scenario, so that dialogue gets established between the sides, and so that we convince Baku and Yerevan to come to the negotiations table,” Lavrov said.

Aliyev on November 1 repeated Baku’s demand that Armenia withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas and warned that Azerbaijani troops would “go to the end” if negotiations cannot achieve that goal.

He was speaking during a meeting with the delegation led by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu in Baku.

Armenia has a security guarantee from Russia through a bilateral treaty and via the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on October 31 formally asked Moscow to start consultations on the “type and amount” of assistance that Moscow can provide to Armenia.

According to Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a letter sent to Putin Pashinyan presented in detail the current situation and challenges created by the “Azerbaijani-Turkish military aggression” against Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian leader particularly emphasized the deployment in the conflict zone of “foreign terrorist fighters” from the Middle East and their involvement in military operations against Nagorno-Karabakh, the Ministry said.

“Taking into account the fact that hostilities are approaching the borders of Armenia as well as the encroachments on the territory of the Republic of Armenia that have already taken place, the prime minister of the Republic of Armenia has turned to the president of the Russian Federation for an immediate holding of consultations in order to define the type and amount of assistance that the Russian Federation can provide to the Republic of Armenia to ensure its security based on the allied relations between Armenia and Russia and Article 2 of the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of August 29, 1997,” the statement released by Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Russia has reaffirmed its commitment to Armenia under the treaty invoked by Pashinyan.

In a statement issued later on Saturday Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “under the treaty Russia will render all necessary assistance to Yerevan if military operations take place directly on the territory of Armenia.”

At the same time, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs again called on the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to halt military operations immediately, deescalate the situation and return to “substantive negotiations” to achieve a peaceful settlement.

War Crimes by Azerbaijan

The U.N. human rights chief said on Monday, November 2, that artillery strikes in Nagorno-Karabakh could amount to war crimes and she urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to halt attacks on civilian areas, schools and hospitals.

Despite a dealt reached in Geneva last Friday by Armenia and Azerbaijan to refrain from deliberately targeting civilians, artillery salvoes against populated areas were reported over the weekend, Michelle Bachelet said, citing strikes on the central market in Stepanakert and the city of Tartar.

“While many faked images have been circulating on social media, in-depth investigations by media organizations into videos that appeared to show Azerbaijani troops summarily executing two captured Armenians in military uniforms uncovered compelling and deeply disturbing information,” Bachelet said in a statement said, noting it could also be a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

Senior Commander Dies

The Artsakh military’s press service on November 2 released the names of 11 more servicemen killed in action since the start of hostilities on September 27, which raises the total death toll among their forces to 1,174.

Among those 11 is also deputy commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Army, Colonel Artur Sarkisyan. Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Jalal Harutyunyan was replaced last week after being wounded.

The Azerbaijani military death toll is estimated to be 7095.

Mercenaries

Meanwhile, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called for an international inquiry into the alleged participation of mercenaries from Syria and Libya on Azerbaijan’s side in the conflict.

“This issue should be the subject of an international inquiry,” Pashinyan said on Facebook after the Armenian side had shown videos of interrogations of two Syrian fighters that Armenians say were taken prisoner on the battlefield.

Both Azerbaijan and its ally, Turkey, have denied the involvement of mercenaries in the hostilities.

Armenia has accused Turkey and Azerbaijan of seeking to give the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh an inter-religious character by bringing in jihadists from the Middle East to fight there.

In a statement released on November 1 Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that at least two mercenaries from Syria had been captured by Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian defense army during the fighting with Azerbaijan in the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto ethnic Armenian authorities showed videos of two men whom said they had been recruited in Syria by Turkey to fight for Azerbaijan for a monthly pay of $2,000. One of them said they were also promised an extra payment for each “beheaded infidel.”

“The transfer of jihadists to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone reveals the intentions of the Turkish-Azerbaijani leadership to give the conflict an inter-religious character,” Armenia’s ministry said.

“This is a completely new manifestation of the expansion of terrorism, when foreign terrorist fighters and jihadists from the Middle East have been deployed to the conflict zone in the OSCE area; it is a serious threat to international and regional security and stability,” the statement added, stressing that “Armenia will continue to undertake consistent steps in the fight against international terrorism, in that regard cooperating with all interested partners.”

Russia, France, the United States, Iran and other countries and international organizations have also voiced their concern about credible reports of Syrian mercenaries being involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting.

Yerevan’s arguments on the presence of mercenaries on the Azerbaijani side have also been supported by multiple investigative reports by Western journalists, some of which alleged that Turkey began recruiting jihadist fighters to be later deployed in Azerbaijan as early as July.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) last month one such journalist, Lindsey Snell, estimated that the number of Syrian mercenaries fighting for Azerbaijan at one point was around 2,000.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based human rights organization, at least 217 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have been killed in the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

(RFE/RL, Reuters, Armenpress and Panarmenian.net contributed to this report.)

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