Armenia’s Fight Against Azerbaijan, COVID-19 Intensifies

Life in an underground shelter in Shushi (Photo: Government of Armenia, October 22)

As the international community awaits with bated breath the results of a diplomatic attempt in Washington DC, Armenia continues to fight for life and freedom in Artsakh amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is reaching staggering heights in the embattled region.

During an evening press briefing, Lusine Paronyan, doctor-epidemiologist of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the Armenian Ministry of Health, warned that the healthcare system may soon collapse due to the combined needs of wounded soldiers and infected patients. Currently 2,000 patients are hospitalized and receiving care. The Health Ministry is continuously increasing its bed capacity as 500 new COVID-19 cases are registered per day. “Our healthcare workers are indispensable to our soldiers and to the battlefront,” Paronyan asserted. “We need to do everything possible to stop this unprecedented rise and lessen the cases.” Armenian health officials say 2,036 new cases of COVID-19 were registered in the past day. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has commented on the developing crisis, stating that the dramatic escalation in COVID-19 transmission precipitated by the war burdens the healthcare systems already stretched thin by the pandemic and undermines the human right to access vital health services. “Continued cycles of violence and subsequent population displacement will exacerbate the precariousness of the health situation,” the statement by the WHO Regional Director for Europe read. “WHO calls for no time lost nor efforts unspent in protecting lives and livelihoods from a public health threat unprecedented in our lifetimes.”

As Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministers prepare for a meeting with United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his hope that the U.S. act in coordination with Russia and help reach a settlement of the conflict. During a discussion at the Valdai Club, he noted that the conflict did not begin as a territorial dispute, but rather as an interethnic confrontation, with crimes against humanity committed against Armenians. “Sadly, this is a fact, when first in Sumgait and then in Nagorno-Karabakh brutal crimes were committed against the Armenian people,” he said. “We must certainly never forget what happened in the fate of the Armenian people during World War I, the tragedy of the Armenian people.” Nonetheless, he upheld that Armenia and Azerbaijan are considered equal partners to Russia, and that a resolution must involve a compromise. 

As Russia continues to take diplomatic steps toward a peaceful settlement, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the participation of third parties in mediation can only take place with the consent of the leadership of Armenia and Azerbaijan. While Russia has offered to send peacekeepers to Artsakh several times since it brokered a failed ceasefire agreement on October 10, Armenia and Azerbaijan disagree on the presence of a peacekeeping force. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the entry of Russian peacekeepers is acceptable to Armenia, since Russia has healthy relations with both parties to the conflict. In contrast, President Ilham Aliyev declared on Wednesday that while Azerbaijan accepts the introduction of peacekeepers “in principle,” it cannot take place if Azerbaijan’s preconditions are not accepted “when the time will come.”

Amid these diplomatic statements, the battle rages at the frontline, as military officials release the names of 66 fallen soldiers, bringing the total number of Armenian casualties to 900.

According to Ministry of Defense (MoD) representative Artsrun Hovhannisyan, the Azerbaijani military launched offensives along the entire Line of Contact (LoC) throughout the day on Thursday. Some of these attacks proceeded in the direction of civilian settlements as Azeri diversionary groups penetrated towns and roads, including near the villages of Shekher and Jivani in the Martuni region. In the southern direction of the LoC, the Artsakh Defense Army halted or pushed back various incursion attempts. The Artsakh Defense Army also shot down another Turkish-manufactured Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle today. 

In his update, Hovhannisyan responded to President Aliyev’s claim that Azerbaijan has secured total control of the state border with Iran and asserted that intense fighting continues along the entirety of this border. “If in some sections [Azeri] forces can see the Arax River, that does not indicate total control,” he remarked. 

Hovhannisyan also advised viewers not to be distressed by photos taken by members of the Azeri armed forces in towns along the LoC for the purpose of inciting alarm. It is common practice for small Azerbaijani diversionary groups to infiltrate settlements, he said, to create an atmosphere of panic and quickly flee without returning, as evidenced by Hadrut and Fizuli. 

Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, for his part, appeared in a rather uplifting video message from the frontlines. “Our faith is strong,” he said. “I believe that we will win, and I want you all to believe that too,” he continued in his call to all Armenians to pray for a victorious conclusion and the safety and security of Armenia’s Armed Forces.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

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