Armenia is waging two battles at the moment: one against Azerbaijani aggression in Artsakh, and the other against the coronavirus pandemic, the spread of which has peaked in wartime.
In violation of the humanitarian ceasefire and the legal mandate to protect civilians in wartime, Azerbaijan has shelled various civilian settlements in Artsakh in the past 24 hours. At 7:00PM on Thursday, the Azerbaijani military fired cluster missiles from a BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher at the Karmir Shuka, or “Red Market,” village in Martuni. One civilian was killed in the attack. Earlier in the day, one civilian was injured as a result of an aircraft bombardment in the Knavaran village in Shahumyan. Meanwhile rockets continue to devastate civilian infrastructure in the capital city of Stepanakert.
Fierce fighting persists along the Line of Contact, particularly in the southern direction in the greater Arax region. During his evening press briefing, Ministry of Defense representative Artsrun Hovhannisyan said that the adversary launched military operations in two to three directions on Thursday, deploying artillery fire, infantry and air force capabilities. As of Thursday evening, total military losses on the Azerbaijani side include 184 unmanned aerial vehicles, 16 helicopters, 21 airplanes and 551 armored vehicles as well as 6,189 casualties. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 126 of those deaths are among Syrian mercenaries recruited by Turkey and transported to the frontline to fight alongside Azeri forces. The Artsakh Defense Ministry released 49 names of Armenian soldiers killed in combat today, bringing the total number of fatalities to over 600. “We are losing our precious friends during this time, defending our land with their blood,” Hovhannisyan shared at the end of a somber press briefing. “I believe that we will be victorious.”
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan announced that his office has obtained video and photographic evidence documenting the treatment of Armenian prisoners of war by the Azerbaijani military. According to a statement, members of the Azerbaijani army “humiliate prisoners of war at maximum and then brutally kill them with extreme cynicism.” The killing, torture or inhumane treatment of prisoners of war is strictly prohibited under international law.
Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh was initiated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the severe public health ramifications of which have been aggravated by the war. As stated by the deputy director general of the Armenian Health Ministry’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention Gayane Sahakyan during a press conference, the number of recorded COVID-19 cases has doubled in Armenia in the past 14 days. In the past two days alone, unprecedented numbers of positive cases have been reported—1,058 cases yesterday and 1,371 cases today. Members of Artsakh’s Defense Army have not been tested due to the difficulties of conducting COVID-19 testing at the frontline. According to Sahakyan, the declaration of martial law in Armenia created favorable conditions for the spread of the virus, due to factors including resettlement, large gatherings, close contact between people and an overburdened public transportation system. “We must always remember that we coexist alongside the coronavirus,” she warned. “It poses as grave of a threat as the war, because in both instances we are struggling against an invisible enemy.”
Today the Armenian Civil Aviation Committee announced that a flight carrying 100 tons of humanitarian assistance from Los Angeles to Yerevan through Qatar Airways scheduled for October 15 was cancelled by the airline with no reason provided. The plane was meant to pass through Turkish airspace. “We have reason to believe that Turkey deliberately closed the air route,” the Civil Aviation Committee press release states. “Even before the start of the war, Turkey began to create obstacles, requesting a detailed list of cargo from airlines when passing through Turkish airspace.”
Despite calls from the Armenian and Russian Foreign Ministries for the establishment of ceasefire verification mechanisms, no negotiations are underway to reach an agreement on monitoring the ceasefire, according to the Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova. “We need to immediately organize a meeting between the military and agree on a mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire,” Zakharova stated.
In the meantime, the Austrian Parliament voted unanimously to adopt a resolution condemning Turkey’s role in “pouring fire on the fuel” of the conflict and advocating that the “European Union use its influence on all actors involved, in particular Turkey, to stop external interference in the conflict, such as arms deliveries to the conflicting parties, and to work toward rapid deescalation.” The Flemish Parliament, on its end, unanimously adopted a resolution identifying Azerbaijan and Turkey as the aggressor countries in the conflict and censuring the violations of international humanitarian law committed by Azerbaijan in targeting the peaceful civilian population of Artsakh.
For the third day in a row, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the conflict, expressing his hope that the “Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing” during an interview on the Erick Erickson Show on WSB Atlanta. “We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight over this place called Nagorno-Karabakh,” he acknowledged.