Russia has verified the death of a civilian in Artsakh by Azerbaijani gunfire.
Aram Tepnants, age 55, received a fatal gunshot wound from an Azerbaijani sniper while working in his field near the town of Martakert on October 9. The Ministry of Defense of Russia confirmed this week that a “civilian from the village of Aziz was fatally wounded as a result of shelling from the Azerbaijani side.”
According to eyewitness reports, Russian peacekeepers deployed in Artsakh had been present at the scene during the attack. Peacekeeping forces are stationed in the fields near Martakert, which is located near the border with Azerbaijan, to protect civilians pursuing agricultural work. One peacekeeper had been sitting in the tractor with Tepnants at the time of the attack as an additional guarantee of safety.
“I turned to the peacekeepers, said that they were shooting at a tractor and maybe we need to sort it out or stop work in the field? But the Russian peacekeepers said that there was nothing dangerous, everything was fine, they just wanted to intimidate us,” a resident of Martakert who had been working in the field at the time told reporters. “One of the peacekeepers even offered to sit next to the tractor driver. He got into the tractor and the tractor driver continued to work. After a while, the shooting at the tractor resumed—I clearly saw four targeted shots.”
The government of Azerbaijan has denied reports of the shooting.
Artsakh authorities have repeatedly accused the Azerbaijani Armed Forces of targeting civilian settlements since the end of the 2020 Artsakh War. According to Hunan Tadevosyan, a spokesperson for the Artsakh State Service of Emergency Situations, similar attacks have taken place in Stepanakert, Askeran and Martakert.
However, this is the first incident since the declaration of a ceasefire on November 9, 2020 in which a civilian has been killed in Artsakh by Azeri fire. Agricultural works near Martakert and other border communities have been halted temporarily in response to Tepnants’ death.
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Armenia has launched an investigation under Article 103 of the RA Criminal Code into premeditated murder motivated by ethnic, racial or religious hatred or religious fanaticism. The office has also transferred available data regarding the case to the representatives of the Russian prosecutor’s office in Artsakh.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that the command of the Russian contingent is conducting an investigation of the incident with the involvement of representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“The incident is being analyzed with the command of the Russian peacekeeping forces in order to take further steps to exclude ceasefire violations and to ensure greater security opportunities in the areas near the line of contact,” press secretary of the President of Artsakh Lusine Avanesyan told reporters.
The Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and Artsakh condemned the violation of the trilateral November 9 ceasefire agreement by Azerbaijan. The Armenian Foreign Ministry called for a “proper investigation” into Tepnants’ death.
The Artsakh Foreign Ministry claimed that the provocations on behalf of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are “aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear” in order to force Armenians to emigrate from the republic. They also intend to “disrupt the implementation of the peacekeeping mission of the Russian Federation and to question the effectiveness of the peacekeepers’ activities,” according to the Foreign Ministry.
“We call on the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair states to take active steps to hold the Azerbaijani party accountable and exclude such incidents in the future,” the Foreign Ministry wrote.
The Human Rights Ombudsmans of Armenia and Artsakh both asserted that Tepnants’ killing is a consequence of the lack of accountability for criminal actions against the Armenian people by Azerbaijan.
Artsakh Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan lamented the “lack of real mechanisms for bringing to responsibility for the violations of the ceasefire,” including Azerbaijani provocations and “encroachments on the life, health and physical and mental integrity of the people of Artsakh.”
“The cases initiated by law enforcement agencies of Artsakh are intended to record and give a criminal assessment to the incidents,” he wrote. “However, they cannot provide sufficient results if Azerbaijan, which has undertaken to respect the ‘right to life,’ does not respect that.”
Stepanyan called for the removal of Azerbaijani military positions located in the vicinity of civilian settlements in Artsakh.
Armenian Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan upheld that the killing of Tepnants by an Azerbaijani soldier constituted a “blatant intentional unlawful violation” of his right to life.
“This tragic incident proves yet again that the guaranteeing of the right to life, the right to secure and peaceful life and other vital rights of the Armenian population is impossible in the conditions of Azerbaijani policy of hatred and enmity and due to the fact that those who have committed these criminal acts, and the Azerbaijani authorities who promote Armenophobia remain unpunished,” he wrote.