Stepanakert, the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of Armenian separatists, was the target of bombings that left seven dead overnight, according to official Azerbaijan sources, despite the ceasefire negotiated in Moscow. In addition, on Sunday (11), seven people were killed and 33 injured in bombings in the Azerbaijani city of Gandja, said Azerbaijani diplomacy.
The truce is very fragile, underlines our special envoy from RFI to Stepanakert, Régis Genté. Between 10 and 15 projectiles hit the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh overnight, on Saturday night and this Sunday around 2 am, in a clear violation of the ceasefire.
This Sunday morning (11), Stepanakert was almost empty. The remaining inhabitants are confined to their homes, that is, half of this city of 55,000 people.
Some neighborhoods have been heavily affected in the past few days, with buildings totally devastated and a crater, for example, probably formed by a very heavy bomb, perhaps weighing 500 kg and which caused a lot of damage around it.
On Sunday, seven people were killed and 33 injured in bombings in the Azerbaijani city of Gandja, said Azerbaijani diplomacy, accusing Armenian forces despite the humanitarian truce allegedly in force in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
The Defense Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh denied bombing Gandja. “It is an absolute lie,” he declared, guaranteeing “to respect the humanitarian ceasefire agreement”.
As early as Saturday afternoon (10), when the arduous ceasefire agreed in Moscow on Friday was implemented, the contact line experienced a lot of tension, especially around the small town of Hadrout. The Armenian Defense Ministry then accused Azerbaijan forces of “launching an attack at 12.05”. “Armenia is flagrantly violating the ceasefire,” replied the Azerbaijani army, later accusing Armenian forces of having launched an offensive, repelled.
“The parties reaffirmed their commitment to a ceasefire agreement,” Moscow insisted in a statement late on Saturday, adding that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke on the phone with his two counterparts.
This ceasefire should allow the exchange of prisoners of war and the bodies of victims.
According to a senior Azerbaijan official, the calm was only “temporary”: “it is a humanitarian ceasefire to exchange bodies and prisoners, it is not a (real) ceasefire”, he said, saying Baku did not intend to back down.
When the truce was announced, Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two camps had pledged “to substantial negotiations to quickly reach a peaceful solution” to the conflict, with the mediation of the three co-presidents (France, Russia, United States) of the Minsk group.
Also on Saturday (10), French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone to the prime ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia. He called for a complete end to the fighting. These negotiations will have to “be resumed without preconditions”, insisted the French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Agnès von der Mühll.
Internationalization of the conflict
The fear is to see this conflict internationalize, with Ankara encouraging Baku to go on the offensive and Moscow being linked by a military treaty to Yerevan. Turkey is also accused of sending pro-Turkish fighters from Syria to fight alongside the Azerbaijans, which Baku denies.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory populated mainly by Armenians, separated from Azerbaijan after a war which killed 30,000 people in the 1990s. Baku accused Yerevan of occupying his territory, and outbursts of violence are regular there.
The fighting between Nagorno-Karabakh’s troops, supported by Yerevan, and Azerbaijan forces since September 27, 2020, has been the deadliest, with more than 450 confirmed deaths, including about fifty civilians. A balance that could be much heavier.