YEREVAN—Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated his country’s support for a return to negotiations as the ongoing conflict rages for its 18th day. In a televised address to the nation, Pashinyan said that while Armenia was committed to peace, the forces of Artsakh and Armenia, despite the combined resources and manpower of the Azeri, Turkish and jihadist opponents, will not tolerate any attempted incursion into the Republic of Artsakh.
“We definitely proved to the Azeris that there is no military solution to the issue when they were—to their shock—decisively defeated in the clashes that took place in Tavush back in July,” he stated. The Prime Minister added that rather than heed the warning, the Azerbaijanis understood that, while they could not defeat Armenia militarily, they would try with Turkish military and tactical support. He alluded to Turkey’s control over the planning for this current war and its import of thousands of Syrian Jihadists in order to reduce the burden on Azerbaijan’s military, whose battlefield effectiveness remains in doubt.
“We can say now, without a doubt, that the Turkish-Azeri-Jihadi plan to take Artsakh in a Blitzkrieg has categorically failed,” the Prime Minister said. It is estimated that Azerbaijani forces have occupied less than three percent of the territory held by Artsakh since the fighting began on September 27. He added that while Armenian forces were successful in halting any real Azeri incursion, the cost has been heavy. Over 500 Armenian servicemen and women have been confirmed killed, though some fear that the numbers may be higher as more names are released each day. Armenia has positively identified the bodies of at least 700 Azerbaijani soldiers; the official total is likely many times higher as the war drags on into its third week. At least 70 civilians on both sides of the contact line have been killed with over one hundred wounded.
In Stepanakert, doctors have reported treating wounds which they had seldom seen before, whose descriptions are consistent with the shrapnel caused by exploding cluster munitions—which are banned under international treaty. However, their efforts have been helped with the arrival of medical experts as well as medical equipment from the diaspora. In a video published by the Armenian Unified Information Center, a volunteering doctor from Moscow described his treatment of a soldier waking up from a coma and asking him how he could take away his pain. “That emotional moment reinvigorated my faith in our victory,” the doctor said of the encounter.
The Red Cross has warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe as the war continues to impact civilians. “Civilians are dying or suffering life-changing injuries. Homes, businesses and once-busy streets are being reduced to rubble. The elderly and babies are among those forced to spend hours in unheated basements or to leave their homes for safety,” said Martin Schuepp, ICRC Eurasia Regional Director in a statement on Tuesday. The Red Cross, which is providing emergency medical care and distributing supplies to civilians, was tasked with overseeing the exchange of prisoners and casualties.
Almost four days since the ceasefire signed on Saturday came into effect, fighting continues across the region, but has dropped somewhat in intensity, with the Azerbaijani offensive having failed to take the Armenian-populated town of Hadrut. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in two interviews given on the same day both vowed that his forces were respecting the truce and announced a number of villages that he claims to have been “liberated.” The Armenian Ministry of Defense reported that the front line was relatively calm, yet tense across Artsakh on Wednesday morning despite continuing shelling in the north—in particular, in the Martuni area, including a hospital. “If they would target a church, then they would definitely target a hospital,” said MoD spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan, referring to last week’s bombing of Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi. Stepanakert, uncharacteristically, has been spared bombings for the first time in days. Hovhannisyan mentioned that a sustained Azerbaijani advance, supported by tanks, artillery and drone cover on the Mrav mountain range that forms Artsakh’s northern boundary was soundly pushed back. “Indescribable attacks have been launched, the likes of which are only seen in movies,” described Hovhannisyan.
Footage from one of the hospitals located in the north-eastern direction which today was targeted by #Azerbaijan. Here civilians have also been receiving treatment. This attack constitutes a gross violation of norms and principles of international humanitarian and customary law pic.twitter.com/rQj4VCeZbg
— Armenian Unified Infocenter (@ArmenianUnified) October 14, 2020
Armenia did confirm an Azerbaijani claim that they had struck a Scud R-17 tactical missile battery within the international borders of the Republic of Armenia near Vardenis. A 14 year-old was injured during the attack and has been hospitalized in serious condition. In a briefing held for foreign military attachés in Baku, Deputy Airforce Commander Ikram Aliyev argued that the strike was necessary as the missile was in firing position and could have reached Baku if allowed to enter the territory of Artsakh. While Scud R-17—an antiquated Soviet short-range ballistic missile system—would likely have the range to hit Baku from within parts of Armenia, it is notoriously imprecise. Armenia does possess more modern ballistic missiles such as the Iskander-E which could, if necessary, strike targets anywhere in Azerbaijan without leaving the territory of Armenia.
Armenia’s response to the attack on its soil was both swift and determined. In a Facebook post, Armenian MoD spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan announced that in attacking Armenian territory for the fifth time, Azerbaijan had crossed a red line. Stepanyan said that Armenia now reserves the prerogative to strike at any military target across Azerbaijan.
The Russian military is investigating the attack on Armenian territory according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Depending on the results of the inquiry, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) mechanisms may come into force. Meanwhile Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia would be willing to commit military observers to monitor the enforcement of the ceasefire agreement in Artsakh.
During an evening press briefing, the High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs Zareh Sinanyan thanked the diaspora for its immense support and requested that assistance efforts continue to be coordinated through his office. A total of 700 tons of humanitarian assistance have arrived in Armenia from around the world. A flight carrying an additional 100 tons of aid from the United States has been delayed since Turkey has prohibited the use of its airspace, even for the purpose of humanitarian assistance. The Armenia Fund has collected 120 million dollars so far, yet it is difficult to evaluate the aid based on need because it is unclear when the war will be over. He welcomed the arrival of medical teams from the United States, Russia and Europe whose work is critical in light of the high number of military injuries and casualties.
Back in the US, Presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris each released separate statements on the ongoing hostilities on Tuesday. Biden deplored the United States’ passivity and lack of leadership in resolving the conflict. “The Trump administration must tell Azerbaijan that it will not tolerate its efforts to impose a military solution to this conflict,” read his letter, also calling on Armenia to negotiate an eventual return of the buffer-zone surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
At the State Department, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the conflict for the second day in a row. “We’ve watched Turkey begin to reinforce Azerbaijan. We’ve asked every international player to stay out of the region, not to continue to reinforce trouble,” said Pompeo, referring to the Trump administration’s use of a “diplomatic toolkit” to achieve a ceasefire and a “solution based on international law.”