A completely burnt house in Sotk

Azerbaijan’s September Bombardment of Sotk Leaves Many Homeless, 6 Civilians Dead

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SOTK, Armenia — The village of Sotk was bombarded from September 13 to 15 as part of a broader Azerbaijani attack on Armenian borders at the cities of Vardenis, Goris, Sotk and Jermuk. Six civilians and an unknown number of Armenian soldiers were wounded at Sotk, while many buildings were damaged or destroyed.

An Azerbaijani missile

Historical Background

Sotk is located in the Vardenis region of the Gegharkunik Province of the Republic of Armenia, on the road leading to the ancient Armenian town of Karvachar. Located at an altitude of over 2,000 meters above sea level, this village had 1,118 registered residents in the 2001 census, and 824 registered residents in 2011, which is still quite a large number for the region. Most of the Armenians who live in the village were forcibly displaced from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1988 and lost all their possessions. A small number moved to Sotk from the neighboring city of Vardenis.

Despite the relatively recent settlement of Armenians in Sotk, historically it has been identified over several millennia with Armenian populations. Items from the Bronze Age have been found there. Historians identify the ancient city of Suta or Shuta mentioned in Hittite sources with Sotk. Լater, Sotk formed part of the Sotk district on the northwestern side of the Syunik region of Greater Hayk and was the seat of a ruler or prince.

The Holy Bethlehelm Monastery in Sotk, was rebuilt in 1276 funded by one Baron Arakel and included the Holy Mother of God Church (Sourp Astvatsatsin). There are beautiful khachkars from the 13th century and later times found around the church. In the area of the village there are ruins of old settlements and buildings. Furthermore, to the east of the village is the Sotk gold mine, which was developed as early as the 2nd millennium BC.

Located near a gold mine, with fertile land, extensive pastures and a significant water supply, the village has developed rapidly over the past three decades and even managed to become an important center of tourism. People in the village were mainly engaged in cattle breeding and potato and grain cultivation, while some of them worked in the gold mine.

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During the Artsakh Liberation War, the village was repeatedly subjected to the attacks of the Azerbaijani armed forces, being bombarded, shot at and shelled. During the 2020 Artsakh war, Azerbaijanis again began targeting Sotk along with the main battle fronts. After the Armenian surrender of Karvachar, the position of Sotk became more precarious. After May 12, 2021, when Azerbaijani armed forces advanced a kilometer from their positions of December 2020, as per the information of the Armenian Ministry of Defense, the Azerbaijanis were able to view everything in the village, including its school, kindergarten, roads, and municipal headquarters.

September Attacks

Starting on September 13, 2022, at 12:05 p.m., the Azerbaijani occupation forces began to attack the city with mortars, Howitzers, reactive firing control systems, and drones.

Resident Manik Khojoyan declared: “It was a nightmare, chaos. We were all asleep when we heard the first shots. It was as if the sky was tumbling down. We all gathered quickly and ran to the car, but my father-in-law had not gotten out of the house when the shell exploded and injured his head and arm. We didn’t know what to do. Now we are all scared, especially the children. We won’t take them back there.”

Results of the shelling

Villager Gayane Vardanyan said: “Shooting, or rather shelling, started at 12:05 p.m.. Our house is located near the military unit. The first strike was on the military unit. In only a few more seconds, the second fell right next to the house. The windows were shattered. We already understood that they were attacked. We tried to get out with the children half-asleep and wrapped in blankets, but the blows were so strong and close that we could not go down to the basement. We tried to go through the house, but we couldn’t open it. We tried to approach the front door. The balcony windows were broken. We got out and went to the basement.”

A home struck by rockets in Sotk

The enemy shelled the village throughout the night, and this continued with partial breaks until September 15. On September 13, the women, children and the elderly were taken out of the village of about 1000 inhabitants, while the men remained in the village to defend it and their homeland. Sevak Khachatryan, the municipal head of Sotk, stated, “After the first blow, we realized that this is not an ordinary thing. We started organizing the evacuation of people. I took part in it myself. It was quite a difficult situation, but we did everything possible.” It was done without state aid through the local means available.

Sevak Khachatryan, municipal head of Sotk

Resident Hakob Avetyan later related: “In those days, there were almost no people left in the village. The women and children were evacuated, and the men were fighting. It was a terrible situation. Shells were exploding and pulverizing people’s hard labor of thirty years. And more painfully, our shining boys who fell on the battlefield were permanently losses. They destroyed the military unit.”

Hakob Avetyan

More than 60 inhabitable residences were damaged, many of which were completely destroyed or burnt. The municipal headquarters, the school, the kindergarten, the electric power station, and the warehouse of grains were attacked, and the only asphalt road serving the village came under intense fire.

The municipal government building in Sotk

Villager Suren Galstyan testified: “At 12:05 p.m. shelling began. One of the first shells fell near the house. The explosion was very strong. The windows of the house were blown out. I got my family members out of the house at that time, and then, in the morning, I found out that our house has completely burnt. The enemy hit our house with a Grad MM21 rocket launcher. I am 22 years old. I have lived my entire life in this house, but today it has been turned completely into a pile of ashes.”

The gas pipeline of the village has not been repaired to date. Until September 17, there was no electricity in the village. In Sotk alone, hundreds of children are deprived of the right to education.

Despite the relaxation of tension in the border situation, at this moment, the sounds of shooting are still heard from time to time on the line of contact, which creates a state of psychological terror for the remaining population of the village. At the moment, it is not clear how many people have returned to the village, but according to the information we have, many of them refuse to go back, because they have no guarantee that the enemy will not repeat the same terrorist attacks again. They had first gone to Vardenis and Martuni, and later dispersed further to Harzdan, Abovyan, Charentsavan, Yerevan and other places.

The fact that more than sixty residential houses were damaged and destroyed indicates that a significant part of the villagers is without homes. Therefore they cannot return, and some do not want to because they are worried about attacks.

On the other hand, Ruslan Kehvayan declared, “I am a resident of this village. I keep many cattle. The house is damaged, the pastures are occupied, but I don’t want to leave this village. Tell me, how will this end?”

At this moment, the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia continue to defend the borders, freedom and sovereignty of the Republic in all possible and impossible ways.

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