YEREVAN – Through the mediation of the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Artsakh, Artsakh and Azerbaijan reached an agreement on a complete cessation of hostilities starting at 1 p.m. on September 20, 2023. The ceasefire went into effect 24 hours after Azerbaijan launched an assault on Artsakh, incessantly shelling civilian settlements and infrastructure.
The agreement entails the withdrawal of the remaining units and military personnel of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia from the deployment zone of the Russian peacekeeping contingent; the disbandment and complete disarmament of the armed formations of the Artsakh Defense Army; and the withdrawal of heavy equipment and weapons from the territory of Artsakh with the aim of their speedy disposal.
Issues raised by the Azerbaijani side on reintegration, the rights and security of the Armenians of Artsakh, as well as the livelihoods of the population of Artsakh will be ensured within the framework of the Constitution of Azerbaijan, according to the agreement. These terms will be discussed at a meeting between representatives of the Artsakh government and representatives of the central authorities of Azerbaijan, which will take place in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh on September 21, 2023.
While an agreement was reached, fighting still continues along the line of contact and shootings are heard in Stepanakert. Military correspondent Davit Torosyan reported that at about 2:30 p.m. Azerbaijan began shelling in the direction of Martuni.
As a result of Azerbaijan’s heinous attacks on both the line of contact and the civilian populations, there are currently at least 32 dead and more than 200 wounded. Among the civilian population, there are seven dead, including two children, and 35 wounded, including 13 children.
Following the simultaneous opening of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor and the Aghdam (Akna)-Stepanakert road on September 18 for the transfer of Armenian produced flour and Russian and Swiss medical and hygiene products respectively, Azerbaijan launched another offensive on the early morning of September 19 in the region of Askeran using mortars.
President of the Republic of Artsakh Samvel Shahramanyan stated that the preservation of state institutions is one of their priorities, and it is necessary to wage an uncompromising fight against those who undermine the foundations of the state. He also said that the decision to allow the transportation of humanitarian aid via Aghdam did not imply any concessions on the issue of preserving the subjectivity of Artsakh.
In preparation of a new military escalation in the region and in line with their policy for ethnic cleansing, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense began spreading disinformation the night before the offensive, claiming that the Artsakh Defense Army attacked the Azerbaijani positions in the Askeran region.
Bombing of Artsakh’s capital city of Stepanakert began at 1:20 p.m. The deputy mayor of Stepanakert also reported hearing gunshots in the outskirts of the city and noted that officials were gathering citizens in bunkers for safety purposes.
Member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Artsakh, Metakse Hakobyan, reported that Stepanakert received heavy fire. “We thought the shots were coming only from the direction of Askeran, but I understand by the sound that they are also shooting from the direction of Shushi. Stepanakert is being bombarded from all sides, more so than during the 44-day war,” Hakobyan said.
At around 2 p.m., the Azerbaijani Army violated the ceasefire along the entire line of contact, launching rocket artillery strikes. The office of the President of Artsakh issued a statement saying, “Azerbaijan launched large-scale military operations against the Republic of Artsakh on September 19, targeting civilian objects and the civilian population, leading to multiple casualties and injuries, including women, children and elderly.”
Shahramanyan urgently convened a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation and contemplate further actions. Taking into account the threat to the life and health of thousands of people, official Stepanakert called on international actors and all interested parties to immediately take all necessary measures to stop the aggression against Artsakh.
While Azerbaijani UAVs continued to fly over Stepanakert and shelling continued on the entire line of contact, the Azerbaijani MoD put out a statement justifying what it called “local anti-terrorist measures” against the “illegally stationed” Armenian Armed Forces in Artsakh. It said the purpose of the offensive was the “prevention of large-scale provocations expected by the Armenian Armed Forces in the Karabakh economic region,” “ensuring the implementation of the provisions of the Tripartite Declaration, disarming and withdrawing the units of the Armenian Armed Forces from our territories, neutralizing their military infrastructure,” and “to restore the constitutional structure of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
The statement also claimed that the Azerbaijani armed forces did not target the civilian population.
Official Yerevan has repeatedly announced that the Republic of Armenia does not have an army in Artsakh, which the International Crisis Group has verified.
Failing to take any preventative action to defend Artsakh, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan convened a meeting of the Security Council of Armenia to discuss the large-scale military operations unleashed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh. Later in a Facebook live, to justify not intervening in the fighting in Artsakh, Pashinyan emphasized that “the main target and purpose of Azerbaijan’s attack is to involve the Republic of Armenia in a military operation.”
By 4 p.m, the Artsakh Defense Army put out a statement that in addition to continuous fire from various weapons along the line of contact, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were also attempting to make positional advancements into the territories of Artsakh.
Following an announcement by Artsakh authorities calling on Azerbaijan to immediately cease their military operations and sit down at the negotiation table to resolve the situation, the situation on the border calmed down for a short period of time, only to pick up again after Azerbaijan issued its own demands for the negotiations. These demands were presented in a statement made by the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It said that Azerbaijan is ready to meet with Artsakh representatives in the city of Yevlakh in Azerbaijan, only in the case of a total surrender by Artsakh. “Illegal Armenian military formations must raise the white flag, all the weapons must be handed over, and the illegal regime must be dissolved. Otherwise, antiterror measures will be continued until the end,” the statement read.
One day prior to the large-scale escalation, Azerbaijan agreed to open both the Berdzor Corridor and the Aghdam-Stepanakert route simultaneously to humanitarian aid. During its attacks, the MoD of Azerbaijan reaffirmed its policy of ethnic cleansing, announcing, “In order to ensure the evacuation of the population from the danger zone, humanitarian corridors and reception points have been created on the Lachin road and in other directions.”
As the fighting continued, at 7 p.m. Stepanyan reported that the Yeghtsahogh community of Shushi region, with a total of 150 residents, had come under the direct target of the Azerbaijani side. Azerbaijani Armed Forces destroyed the local school and completely surrounded the community, leaving no possibility of evacuation of local Armenians.
Former State Minister and Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh, Artak Beglaryan, reported at 7:30 p.m. that “the genocidal forces of Aliyev used an aircraft strike over 20 minutes ago near Martakert town and a village of the Askeran region. I don’t have any information on the consequences yet. The shelling and battles are continuous, civilian and military deaths/injuries are increasing.” Stepanyan later tweeted that explosions continued to be heard in Stepanakert with UAV strikes. He assured the people that while military activities are ongoing, the Artsakh Defense Army is doing its best to prevent a bloody genocide of the Armenian people.
Stepanyan also informed the public that 7,000 civilians had been evacuated from six different communities in Artsakh including Khramort, Khnabad, Sarnaghpyiour, Nakhichevanik, Machkalashen and Chankatagh.
The official page of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh reported that the entire population of Artsakh remained in bunkers with no electricity, communication, food or heating in the cold weather conditions. Azerbaijan targeted the civilian infrastructure and the civilian population, using military aviation, artillery and UAVs.
At 5 a.m. on September 20, an ambulance of the Stepanakert morgue was transferring eight dead bodies from the Martakert region to Stepanakert when Azerbaijani forces opened fire. The driver sustained injuries and was unable to transport the bodies.
On the morning of September 20, Beglaryan announced that Azerbaijan had taken control of some communities, strategic heights and roads of Artsakh. “They also cut the road connection between some parts of Artsakh, creating additional local blockades in all regions. The people are facing a growing threat of pogroms.” Beglaryan also announced that the Martakert region is under siege.
At 10 a.m., journalist Marat Yeganyan reported that the people of the Martakert region were being evacuated. There was also footage reportedly showing the evacuation of residents of Askeran to the Ivanyan airport, where the headquarters of the Russian peacekeeping troops is located.
On September 20, Shahramanyan convened an extended session of the Security Council. The head of state noted that the reaction of international actors to the situation in Artsakh is not adequate, and no practical steps had been taken. As a result, Artsakh would be forced to take appropriate steps, with the overarching goal of ensuring the physical safety of the population as a priority.