Azerbaijan vowed on Saturday to avenge the deaths of thirteen civilians in a nightly bombing of a residential area in Ganyá, the country’s second city, an attack that marks an escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenian separatists.
A few hours before the bombing in Ganyá, Azerbaijani attacks were recorded against the capital of the separatist territory, Stepanakert, according to AFP journalists present in the city, abandoned by most of its inhabitants since the start of the clashes, on September 27.
The attack in Ganyá on the night of Friday to Saturday was followed by a second bombardment in another part of the city, in addition to a shot at the strategic town of Mingachevir, an hour away by road.
The increase in violence highlights the impotence of the international community to calm the situation in Nagorno Karabakh, a separatist enclave mired in conflict that also involves regional powers such as Russia and Turkey.
This territory, populated mostly by Christian Armenians, separated from Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking Shiite Muslim country, shortly before the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, leading to a war that left 30,000 dead in the 1990s. Since 1994, a ceasefire has been in place, often interrupted by skirmishes and clashes.
In Ganyá, AFP journalists saw homes destroyed by the missile, which fell around 03:00 (23:00 GMT on Friday). According to the attorney general, 13 civilians died and more than 45 were injured.
Neighbors, crying, fled the area, some in pajamas and slippers.
“We were sleeping. The children were watching TV,” said Rubaba Zhafarova, 65, in front of her destroyed house. “All the surrounding houses were destroyed. Many people are under the rubble. Some are dead, others injured,” he said.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev assured that he would “avenge” the civilians killed in this attack. “This cowardly crime will not break the will of our people. We will respond on the battlefield, we will take revenge on the battlefield,” he said, promising that they will “hunt like dogs” their Armenian separatist enemies.
– “My wife was there” –
Dozens of rescuers were trying to find survivors in the rubble. After several hours of searching, a team put several black body bags, one of them with a head and an arm, into an ambulance.
“My wife was there, my wife was there,” shouted a man, who was accompanied by a nurse on the way to an ambulance.
A neighbor said he had seen a child, two women and four men being pulled out of the rubble. “One woman lost her legs. Another lost an arm,” said Elmir Shirinzaday, 26.
Ganyá, a city of more than 300,000 inhabitants, had already been bombed on Sunday by a missile that caused 10 deaths.
On the other hand, AFP journalists in the city of Mingachevir, an hour north of Ganyá, claimed to have heard a powerful explosion that shook the buildings around the same time.
Mingachevir is protected by an anti-missile system, as it houses a strategic dam. It is not known so far if the missiles were destroyed in flight or if they reached the city.
The Armenian separatists did not comment on the attack on Ganya, claiming instead that, as Azerbaijan targeted civilian infrastructure in the cities of Stepanakert and Chucha, “operations were carried out to arrest the adversary,” according to the information center of the Armenian government.
At the front, fighting continued, and Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of violating the ceasefire and targeting civilians.
The Azerbaijani army announced that it advanced north and south of the front line, destroying military equipment, weapons and leaving “many dead”.
Azerbaijan has achieved territorial conquests in the last three weeks without however having obtained any decisive triumphs. Baku has so far not disclosed the cost of the conflict, as it does not publish any balance of military casualties. The separatists claim to have killed thousands of men.
In addition to the high cost in lives, the international community fears that the conflict will internationalize. Turkey supports Azerbaijan and Armenia, which financially backs the separatists, is part of a military alliance with Russia.