Azeri forces continue attacks on Stepanakert, ECHR tells Turkey to stand down

YEREVAN—Despite reports of relative calm along the front line on Tuesday morning, Azerbaijan resumed its offensive in Artsakh later in the day. At around four in the afternoon, the Artsakh Defense Ministry announced that it was engaging an armored Azerbaijani thrust into the southernmost section of the front line, in the vicinity of the ghost town of Fizuli, claiming it had inflicted heavy material and personnel losses on the invaders.

Armenian Defense Ministry press secretary Shushan Stepanyan said the attacks by the Azerbaijani Air Force are also spilling into Iranian territory, which drew the ire of Defense Minister Amir Hatami, who reportedly said, “It would not be acceptable for Iranian citizens to be harmed, even by mistake.” 

Concurrent with the assault in the south, Azeri forces resumed their artillery barrage on the capital Stepanakert. The city has been under constant attack by Azerbaijani rocket-systems including the 300mm Smerch multiple-rocket launcher and Belarussian-built Polonez system for 10 days. On Monday evening, Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan announced that the Defense Army had trapped the advancing Azerbaijanis into a pocket by feigning a tactical retreat before obliterating the column with concentrated artillery. As many as 200 Azerbaijani bodies have been recovered from the battlefield, the Artsakh MOD reports. 

Amnesty International has confirmed the use of cluster munitions by Azerbaijan—largely considered a war crime—and said it could not verify a similar claim by the Azeri authorities against Artsakh. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Europe and Central Asia, warned of an impending humanitarian crisis, stating “civilians must be protected, not deliberately targeted or recklessly endangered.” UNICEF has also called for a ceasefire in a statement, urging “all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from further harm, in line with international and humanitarian law.”

Azerbaijan, for its part, countered that Armenia was deliberately targeting cities away from what they consider to be the conflict zone. Azerbaijani Presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev accused Armenia yet again of firing a variety of munitions at civilian infrastructure which, he claimed, were either shot down or failed to detonate. Evidence presented by the Azeris was widely ridiculed in Armenia, whose military experts demonstrated the improbable range and payload limitations of the projectiles implicated in the accusation.

Moreover, Armenian military officials have been dismissing Azeri claims over Jabrayil in the south. Armenian Defense Ministry Spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan suggested that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was “either unaware of the tactical situation, or being fed inaccurate intelligence reports by his staff.” Of note, the announcement over Jabrayil was first posted to the Turkish Defense Ministry’s Twitter account and only later repeated by Aliyev.

Turkey’s role in these attacks was essentially recognized today by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which released its decision to apply Rule 391 per Armenia’s request filed over the weekend. The ECHR is now calling “on all States directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, including Turkey, to refrain from actions that contribute to breaches of the Convention rights of civilians, and to respect their obligations under the Convention.” Interim measures, the ECHR defined, “apply only where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who is currently on a working visit to Baku, has been backing the Azerbaijani stance: “OK, let the ceasefire take place, but what will be the result? Can you [the international community] tell Armenia to immediately withdraw from Azerbaijani territories, or can you produce solutions for its withdrawal? No.” A joint call by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, the United States, France and Russia, for an immediate ceasefire was welcomed by Armenia, but flat out rejected by Azerbaijan.

Here in Yerevan, refugees from Stepanakert and surrounding areas have been welcomed by locals, while several citizen initiatives have sprung up to provide families with food, clothes and shelter. One woman told the Armenian Weekly that she fled the city with her children on September 28 when the shelling intensified. Her husband stayed behind to fight. “We were under the impression that big city life had made Yerevantsis rather cold, but we were pleasantly surprised,” she said. While worried about the situation, none of the women expressed any doubt about the outcome of the conflict, fully expecting to return soon to their homes. “Buildings can be rebuilt, this war is about saving lives.” 

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

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