Azerbaijan Bombards Stepanakert Ahead of Geneva Talks

Attacks on civilian settlements in Artsakh continue to worsen on Thursday ahead of yet another diplomatic attempt in Geneva.

These attacks, which have been inflicting widespread damage and wounding civilians for the past three days, are being conducted with the use of various types of missiles, artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as airforce bombings, as reported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia (MFA). After midnight on October 29 the Azerbaijani military deployed BM-30 Smerch volley-fire systems against Stepanakert, Shushi and surrounding villages. At 8:00 AM local time, civil defense sirens sounded impending attacks throughout Artsakh, as Azeri forces deployed Smerch multiple rocket launcher systems against Stepanakert, Shushi and Martakert. In the capital of Stepanakert, which has endured persistent shelling for the past days, one house was completely demolished and 10 nearby homes significantly damaged. Fortunately, the homeowners had evacuated so no one in that area was wounded, according to Artsakh Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan.

Military aircraft was deployed in the towns of Askeran, Martakert and Martuni, destroying civilian infrastructure. At noon, Azerbaijan shelled Shushi, resulting in civilian casualties. 

Unrelenting attacks on civilian settlements since the beginning of the war have created a humanitarian catastrophe in the region, as officials warn of the existential danger facing the native population of Artsakh. “Azerbaijan’s policy of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing is doomed to failure and will encounter the resolute resistance of the people of Artsakh, which will be carried out through all the means necessary for self-defense,” read a statement from the MFA of Armenia. More than 40 civilians have been killed and 120 injured as a result of Azerbaijani aggression in Artsakh. Approximately 12,000 immovable properties (such as homes and stores) and 2,100 infrastructural, public and industrial objects (including electricity, gas, cultural centers and kindergartens) have been damaged. “Azerbaijan’s purpose is to empty Artsakh of Armenians and annihilate its people. Azerbaijan desires an Artsakh without its native population,” said MFA spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan during an evening press briefing. “The Azeri armed forces are destroying private property with the core purpose of preventing the return of the native population to their place of residence.” 

In her brief remarks, Naghdalyan also noted upcoming talks in Geneva with the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. This new round of talks, which were supposed to be held on Thursday, October 29, was postponed by one day due to logistical issues, per Naghdalyan. FM Zohrab Mnatsakanyan was said to have met with Deputy FM of Iran Abbas Araghchi on Thursday. 

Armenian officials say the nature of military operations has changed since the beginning of the war, as large-scale intense battles have been replaced with individual combat tactics used to neutralize small diversionary groups. “The backs of the adversary’s core, aggressive, large, capable military divisions have been broken,” MoD representative Artsrun Hovhannisyan explained during his daily press briefing. Low-intensity operations proceeded in the southern direction throughout the day from Berdzor to Arax, and the Artsakh Defense Army succeeded in making positional improvements. The Defense Army fought back infiltration attempts in the villages surrounding Martuni and Askeran, as well as in Avetaranots and the hills adjacent to Sghnakh. 

Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan issued a call-to-arms during a video address to the nation “to unite and defend our Shushi, our Artsakh, our national dignity” in the face of an existential threat to the homeland. The president declared that the Azerbaijani military is currently just five kilometers from Shushi— “the beating heart of all Armenians,” he described. “Shushi is not just a town. It is the symbol of the determination of the Armenian people to live in their own cradle, a symbol of the victories of the Armenian people.” During his press briefing, Hovhannisyan clarified that, while subdivisions of the Azeri armed forces are located approximately seven kilometers from Shushi, battles continue every day and in every direction. 

The Artsakh Defense Army published a list of legitimate military targets in the cities of Ganja and Barda in Azerbaijan. Targets in Ganja include an air force base, the MoD combat operations center and MoD military industrial complex. Targets in Barda include a repair and maintenance battalion, a special communication battalion and a tank brigade. These lists were published in response to claims by the Azerbaijani leadership that the Armenian Armed Forces have fired upon these two cities in the past month, resulting in dozens of civilian casualties. 

Artsakh’s Ministry of Defense released the names of another 51 fallen soldiers on Thursday. The military death toll increased to 1,119 as the first transfer of the remains of soldiers killed in combat was facilitated today with the mediation of the Russian government and support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the OSCE. The bodies of 29 deceased Armenian soldiers were handed over to Armenia by Azerbaijan. One civilian, an elderly woman, was transferred to Armenia via Georgia, while a second civilian, an elderly man, has been deemed unfit to travel for the time being. MoD press secretary Shushan Stepanyan reiterated the readiness of the Armenian side to hand over the bodies of Azerbaijani soldiers, begin the process of the recovery of bodies along the Line of Contact and the handover of prisoners of war. ICRC Eurasia Regional Director Martin Schüepp confirmed that the committee is prepared to facilitate similar operations in the future. “Operations like this are hugely important for the families concerned,” he said. “Without receiving the remains of their loved ones, they live with the pain of loss compounded by the pain of uncertainty. Not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones can be agonizing.”

The Human Rights Defender’s Office of Armenia is currently conducting a study of the different methods of inhumane treatment of Armenian prisoners of war detained by the Azerbaijani military at the hands of members of the Azeri armed forces and terrorist groups. Videos of torture and humiliation are disseminated widely with the purpose of instilling panic and gathering praise, according to a statement released by the office. Perpetrators specifically notify family members of deceased soldiers prior to sharing videos exhibiting beheadings with the goal of inflicting emotional suffering. Armenian lawyers submitted another case to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the protection of prisoners of war. Azerbaijan is required to submit information about their conditions of treatment and medical care by November 3.

Back in Yerevan, PM Nikol Pashinyan spoke with US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who assured Pashinyan that the Trump administration, which led in brokering the most recent ceasefire agreement, will continue its mediation efforts without the involvement of third parties. Also on Thursday, the US Embassy in Yerevan issued a security alert for US citizens traveling within the country. Listed on the travel advisory are the provinces of Ararat, Vayots Dzor and Syunik as well as the province of Gegharkunik east and south of Lake Sevan and some areas of Tavush.

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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