Armenia-Azerbaijan Clash Takes Toll on Civilians

MOSCOW — Ruzanna Avagyana, a 53-year-old social employee from the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, was taking inventory Monday of the area’s quickly escalating army battle with Azerbaijan from inside her basement.

The preventing, the worst in Nagorno-Karabakh since a vicious ethnic battle erupted within the area within the early 1990s, started per week in the past and drove Ms. Avagyana underground.

She counted a half-dozen or so explosions in every of the primary days she hid out within the basement, extra on Sunday and so many on Monday she might hardly preserve monitor. Then the condo constructing on high of her took a direct hit.

“People are afraid,” Ms. Avagyana stated in a phone interview.

“I heard whistling this way and that,” she stated, recalling the artillery strikes on her metropolis, Stepanakert, earlier within the day. “I couldn’t understand where they were falling. And then I heard a boom.”

As her constructing burned, she escaped unhurt, Ms. Avagyana stated.

Skirmishes have been frequent for years alongside the entrance traces of the Nagorno-Karabakh area, which is run by ethnic Armenian separatists however internationally acknowledged as part of Azerbaijan.

But this battle is distinct, analysts and former diplomats say, for the extra direct assist that Turkey has provided to Azerbaijan and for the size of the preventing. Both sides have been utilizing armed drones and highly effective, long-range rocket artillery, they are saying. Turkey has denied providing something greater than coaching, weapons gross sales and political assist to Azerbaijan.

Stepanakert, as soon as a metropolis of well-tended boulevards and stately stone properties, is now scattered with the ruins of bombarded buildings. On Monday, it got here beneath heavy bombardment for a second day, Armenia’s army stated.

On the Azerbaijani facet, the authorities stated rockets had landed in a residential space of Ganja, the nation’s second-largest metropolis. At least 250 individuals have died within the latest preventing, together with dozens of civilians on each side, in line with official experiences.

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Credit…Aram Kirakosyan/PAN Photo, through Associated Press

The long-range artillery fireplace of the sort that destroyed Ms. Avagyana’s condo constructing, which she stated was throughout a avenue from a army headquarters and thus in a weak location, has alarmed observers and former diplomats.

The weapons elevate the dangers of a direct battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two former Soviet states divided by a toxic and long-running ethnic dispute and competing claims to the Nagorno-Karabakh area.

So far, the preventing alongside the entrance has been muddled and inconclusive; experiences from each side are unattainable to independently confirm.

Azerbaijan has reported capturing, after which recapturing once more, a number of villages in seesaw preventing over small strips of land. Those accounts have been denied by Armenia, which has accused the opposite facet of focusing on civilians and Turkey of taking pictures down considered one of its planes.

Both international locations have up to now threatened to focus on strategic infrastructure with long-range weapons, elevating worries that the battle could intensify.

Over the weekend and on Monday, each side fired large-caliber, Russian-made rockets of a kind generally known as Smerch, or Tornado, saying they had been aiming for army targets. Russia has for many years bought the identical weapons techniques to each events to the battle.

Nagorno-Karabakh vowed to fireplace again into Azerbaijan to retaliate for its shelling of Stepanakert.

“We are not targeting the civilian population but military facilities permanently deployed in large cities,” Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for the enclave’s president, informed the Armenian information company Arka. He stated civilians ought to depart their properties to flee hurt.

Rockets had already landed in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest metropolis, on Sunday. Nagorno-Karabakh stated it had fired on the metropolis’s army airport, however pictures revealed in Azerbaijani media confirmed demolished homes.

A Russian tv channel posted footage of a Smerch rocket that didn’t explode protruding of a parking zone of an Azerbaijani hydroelectric station at a jaunty angle, suggesting the focusing on of strategic infrastructure.

Credit…Reuters

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of firing the rockets from its territory, quite than from the disputed enclave, and stated it was a tactic meant to impress a retaliation that may set off Armenia’s mutual protection pact with Russia. Armenia denied the cost.

The reason behind the preventing is disputed. Azerbaijan stated it responded to artillery fireplace throughout the frontline on Sept. 27. Armenia stated the Azerbaijani offensive was unprovoked.

Armenia has stated it’s open to negotiating a cease-fire. Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, on Sunday informed Al Arabiya tv in an interview that the offensive would proceed till Armenia withdrew assist for the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave — one thing that’s extremely unlikely to occur.

“They must give us a timetable, or withdraw from the occupied territories,” Mr. Aliyev stated. “Their prime minister who said ‘Karabakh is Armenia’ should now say that ‘Karabakh is not Armenia’ and after that, of course, we will be ready to put an end to hostility.”

Negotiating a cease-fire now might be tougher than it was throughout a earlier escalation in 2016, stated Olesya Vartanyan, a Caucasus analyst with the International Crisis Group, as a result of Azerbaijan felt misled by that settlement. After the 2016 escalation, Russia brokered a truce with an assurance to return to Azerbaijan some territory occupied by ethnic Armenians within the 1990s preventing, however that by no means occurred.

“Even if Moscow calls on Baku to stop fighting, they have nothing to propose” now as a result of the sooner guarantees by no means panned out, Ms. Vartanyan stated, referring to the Azerbaijani authorities within the capital, Baku.

The bombardments counsel wider battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan is feasible, stated Carey Cavanaugh, a former American ambassador and mediator in earlier peace talks. “We can see in Syria how fragile cities can be” in artillery barrages, he stated.

Credit…Aziz Karimov/Reuters

Wider fallout from the preventing might also be looming.

If Armenia targets oil and pure gasoline pipelines in Azerbaijan, neighboring Georgia might lose gas simply as winter units in, Mr. Cavanaugh stated.

There can be the danger of a coronavirus outbreak as troops hunker down in trenches and bunkers, he stated. A lethal flu virus unfold beneath such circumstances in World War I.

And extended shelling might lead to a stream of refugees as civilians flee the preventing, Mr. Cavanaugh stated.

Ms. Avagyana has already left.

Moments after the explosion rocked her constructing Monday, the individuals huddling within the basement rushed out, she stated. Smoke was billowing from a high ground.

She left Stepanakert later within the day, driving previous a grocery retailer in flames and one other condo constructing with a gaping gap in it. Water from damaged pipes was pouring by means of the ruined block, she stated.

Though it’s considered one of six unrecognized splinter states of the previous Soviet Union, that are sometimes rundown locations, Stepanakert had in recent times develop into a remarkably well- developed metropolis. Money had poured in from the Armenian diaspora within the United States, France and Russia to assist assemble well-paved roads and presentable municipal buildings.

Seeing the town after the bombardments, Ms. Avagyana stated, “was very painful.”

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