After an all-day closed door meeting in Geneva with co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed that their armed forces would not deliberately target civilian populations or non-military objects in accordance with international humanitarian law.
While calling for the immediate implementation of the humanitarian ceasefires that were previously established and reaffirmed on October 10, October 17 and October 25, the co-chairs, including Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, Stephane Visconti of France and Andrew Schofer of the United States of America, mediated the agreement to a certain number of steps to be taken on an urgent basis. These include undertaking the recovery and exchange of the remains of soldiers killed in combat, delivering a list of prisoners of war to the International Committee of the Red Cross within one week and providing comments and questions in writing regarding possible ceasefire verification mechanisms.
Indeed during a meeting with several reporters from European news outlets today, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated Armenia’s readiness to welcome Russian peacekeepers to the conflict zone if Azerbaijan would agree to it. Earlier this week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that discussion of the dispatch of military observers is “premature” while Armenian forces remain in Artsakh.
Meanwhile, Azeri war crimes raged on the 34th day of attacks on the peaceful populations of Artsakh. An 84 year-old citizen of Hadrut who had been captured by Azeri forces died in captivity on Friday, according to Artsakh Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan. “Let Azerbaijan reflect on how after executing an elderly man in Hadrut, they expect to live peacefully alongside his grandchildren in Hadrut, which they wish to conquer,” said Armenian Defense Ministry (MoD) spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisyan during his evening press briefing.
Additionally, in the village of Aknaghbyur, one civilian—a 60 year-old—was killed from Azeri shelling. Six others were wounded, as well two people in the village of Sghnakh in the region of Askeran. Stepanakert continues to remain a significant target for Azeri forces, as the capital suffered more injuries and damage to civilian infrastructure on Friday. Armenian military officials, however, were unable to provide information on casualties or damage in David Bek—a village in the Armenian region of Syunik which was subjected to Azeri artillery fire on Friday.
In an attempt to verify evidence of human rights violations against the peaceful population of Artsakh, the Human Rights Defenders of both Armenia and Artsakh have issued a joint statement entreating all heads of diplomatic representations and international organizations accredited in Armenia to carry out a humanitarian mission in the region. Citing the widespread devastation already inflicted upon the civilian population by means of banned weapons, including killings, injuries and mass destruction to infrastructure, as well as the proliferation of anti-Armenian hate speech on Azerbaijani and Turkish media, the statement by Beglaryan and Arman Tatoyan warns of a policy of ethnic cleansing and terror-inspiring means.
Fighting along the Line of Contact (LoC) persisted overnight, according to MoD press secretary Shushan Stepanyan. The Azerbaijani military launched attacks in the southeastern and northern directions that were pushed back with a high number of casualties and losses of military equipment. Hovhannisyan reported the Azeri armed forces staged new offensives along the LoC throughout the day on October 30 at a more severe intensity than in previous days. In the northern direction, an attempt to take over several positions in the rear was immediately pushed back, resulting in a significant number of casualties. In the southern direction, the Artsakh Defense Army gained positional advantages at several heights north of the Arax River. Battles persist in the center of the LoC, where the Azerbaijani armed forces fired in the direction of Martuni and Chartar using heavy artillery. Efforts to neutralize the small diversionary groups infiltrating the forested villages leading to Shushi from Karmir Shuka westward continue.
The Defense Ministry announced that it captured a mercenary from Hama, Syria. During an interrogation captured on video, he admitted that he was transferred to the conflict zone alongside 250 terrorists from Syria by Turkish officials, who promised him $2,000 in compensation that was never delivered. According to Hovhannisyan, the detainee confirmed the MoD’s knowledge that terrorist fighters are used by the Azerbaijani armed forces as cannon fodder to take on Armenia’s first line of fire.
Defense Army divisions captured another terrorist the interrogation of who leaves no doubt about presence of terrorists on the front line.
The name of the captured Islamist-extremist terrorist is Mehred Muhammad Alshkher. He was born in Syria’s Hama town. pic.twitter.com/u7yruGlNZb
— Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) October 30, 2020
Rumors sparked on Friday of Azeri forces presumably using white phosphorus munitions and setting fires to forested areas. In a tweet confirming this claim, Tatoyan said there are civilians hiding in these forests. White Phosphorus is typically used as tracer ammunition to hinder visibility. It is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention if used as an incendiary weapon on civilian populations.
URGENT: #Azerbaijan is using, as current data confirms, Phsophorus munitions over #Artsakh/#Karabakh setting fires to forests next to civilian communities.@OmbudsArmenia investigation & @ArtsakhOmbuds fact-finding confirmed also that many civilians are hiding in these forests pic.twitter.com/XAZy6jdubh
— Arman Tatoyan (@atatoyan) October 30, 2020
Also on Friday, Hovhannisyan responded to reports that Armenia fired on the city of Ganja in Azerbaijan on October 28, resulting in dozens of civilian casualties. Based on an analysis of photos of munition remnants, Human Rights Watch confirmed that Armenia either fired or supplied internationally banned cluster munitions and at least one other type of long-range rocket in the attack. “If aggression is launched from these locations [on Azerbaijan’s territory] against the peaceful population of Artsakh, it is Artsakh’s right to target and destroy those [military] objects,” Hovhannisyan asserted. Several military targets are located in Ganja, including an air force base from which Azerbaijani and Turkish aircraft are deployed to shell civilian settlements in Artsakh. In turn, the Azerbaijani armed forces have been conducting attacks on locations far from any military objects. “Evidently they did not hit Shushi’s church by accident. Evidently they did not hit the maternity ward by accident,” he said.
Following comments from Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan yesterday that the Azeri forces are just five kilometers from Shushi, his adviser Davit Babayan announced that the Artsakh Defense Army, with the support of civilian militias, halted a planned attack on the city of Shushi. The capture of Shushi would have strategic military importance in that it would give Azerbaijan a dominant position to strike Stepanakert.
Back in Yerevan, the Armenian PM discussed the ongoing war from a variety of angles during his aforementioned press conference. Namely, Pashinyan addressed Turkey’s involvement to promote Erdogan’s pan-Turkic agenda. “The Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last obstacle for Turkey on the way to expanding its imperialistic policy to the north, east and south-east,” said Pashinyan. “Can anyone explain why Stepanakert is being shelled? For one simple reason—to make its residents give up the idea of living there,” continued Pashinyan in his description of the adversaries’ attempts at ethnic cleansing. Reporters also inquired if Pashinyan could have done anything to prevent these attacks, to which he referred to World War II history, when European powers tried to appease Hitler by ceding Czechoslovakia. “We are not going to concede the Czechoslovakia to anyone,” insisted Pashinyan.