HART remains deeply concerned by the military offensives by Azerbaijan against the historically Armenian land of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), which have increased in severity in recent weeks. Civilian areas continue to be targeted with tanks, helicopters, drones, heavy artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, including Smerch, and cluster bombs – in contravention of international law.
Recent offensives include:
Large-scale damages to residential buildings, a hospital and schools, as well as to infrastructure vital to the survival of the civilian population.
On 28 October 2020, the Maternity Hospital in Stepanakert was targeted and badly damaged in a missile attack. Throughout the day, Azerbaijan bombed and shelled the capital of Nagorno Karabakh -- Stepanakert, and the second largest city -- Shushi. In violation of international law, the residential areas of the city and civilian infrastructures were attacked resulting in civilian casualties.
There have been widespread reports of the use of phosphorous by Azerbaijan, again contrary to international law.
The double shelling of Shushi cathedral on 8 October 2020, a civilian and cultural heritage site, which constitutes a war crime under international law.
The recruitment and mobilisation of foreign mercenaries and Jihadist fighters from Syria and Libya, transported by Turkey to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenians. The use of jihadist terrorists against Nagorno Karabakh have been confirmed by the President of France, the public statements of the Russian President, security services and the Department of Defense of the USA, among many other trustworthy sources.
Cases of torture and atrocities, including reports that Azeri forces beheaded an Armenian soldier, and have summarily executed captured Armenians.
The Azerbaijani armed forces attacked more than 150 civilian settlements, including densely populated ones (capital Stepanakert, towns of Shushi, Hadrut, Martuni, Martakert, Askeran, Karvajar, Berdzor, villages of Taghaser, Vardashat, Spitakshen, Maghavus, Nerkin Horatagh, Alashan, Mataghis, etc) with aerial, artillery, rocket and tank fire strikes, most of which were targeted or indiscriminate, killing and injuring civilians.
As of October 27, 39 civilians were killed and 122 wounded. Amnesty International confirmed that the residential areas of Nagorno Karabakh were bombed by cluster munitions, which is banned under international humanitarian law. According to the Human Rights Defender of Nagorno Karabakh, material damage was inflicted on more than 11.600 civilian objects.
Three times, Azerbaijan has broken ceasefire agreements within minutes of their coming into effect.
On 1 November 2020, Azerbaijan were just 5km from the city of Shushi, which overlooks the capital, Stepanakert. If Shushi is taken, there is a grave fear not only of that the city will be ethnically cleansed, as has happened in the past, but that the bombardment of Stepanakert will become even more intense, and the highway linking Stepanakert with Armenia will be cut, thus creating a siege. This will result in a humanitarian catastrophe.
Many in Nagorno Karabakh have fled their homes, either to Armenia or to 'safer' areas. The population are sheltering in basements during the heavy bombardments of civilian towns and villages.
The spokesperson for the Nagorno Karabakh Foreign Ministry said:
"*It has been a month since we have been subject to a large-scale premeditated war unleashed by Azerbaijan and Turkey, with terrorist mercenaries recruited, massive displacement, thousands staying in shelters, global pandemic lavishing already vulnerable population, people deprived of basic needs, environmental pollution, thousands killed and wounded, massive violations of human rights and humanitarian atrocities, war crimes including executions/dismemberment, prisoners of war abuse, Azerbaijan refusing exchange of bodies and prisoners of war, use of banned cluster bombs in civilian areas, targeting of civilians, blatant disregard for three humanitarian ceasefires, violation of Geneva Conventions*."
There is a long and recent history of human rights abuses by the Azerbaijani regime, including brutal treatment of captives and crimes against humanity and of ethnic cleansing against Armenian communities.
International discourse often refers to both Azerbaijan and Turkey as 'secular' Muslim states. Such discourse ignores the profound and ever-increasing Islamist tendencies, actions and policies of both regimes, and of systematic ill-treatment of non-Muslim minorities. This is part of an increasing pattern of coordinated Islamist influence and violence spreading across Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Near East and North and West Africa.
Nagorno Karabakh is a 94% Armenian Christian majority population that has faced repeated acts of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Azerbaijan.
The direct involvement of Turkey and the scale and ferocity of this offensive raises the genuine fear of an attempt at the genocide of the Armenian people which Turkey's highest leadership has declared in so many ways, especially since the July aggression by Azerbaijan. The revival of Ottoman rhetoric by the Turkish Government reinforces the possibility/danger of realisation of this evil intent.
Nagorno Karabakh faces an existential threat. Without an immediate cessation of hostilities, there could soon be ethnic cleansing of Armenians and loss of their historic lands.
The Status of Nagorno Karabakh and Claim to Self-Determination:
Nagorno Karabakh has been an Armenian enclave for centuries. It was annexed to Soviet Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1923 contrary to the wishes of the majority Armenian population and has sought self-determination ever since.
In 1992, Nagorno Karabakh declared independence after a referendum which was overwhelming in favour. It now has a democratic parliamentary system based on social justice and law and order, and all the instruments of state are in place, fulfilling the UN Charter of Peoples definitions for right to self-determination.
The legal and historic claim to self-determination of Nagorno Karabakh continues to be ignored and dismissed regardless of the fact that it fulfils all qualifications for the right to self-determination granted by the UN Charter to Peoples who are distinct geographically, racially or culturally, and who have the political and economic frameworks in place to achieve it. Legal experts, such as Geoffrey Robertson QC, argue that Azerbaijan's repeated claims to sovereignty over Karabakh can be refuted. It has always been predominantly occupied by ethnic Armenians. A referendum was held in 1991 with an overwhelming vote for independence, and Azerbaijan's previous attempt at ethnic cleansing justifies Nagorno-Karabakh's claim for self-determination under the UN charter. Resolutions of the Security Council and General Assembly cannot supersede the rights granted under the Charter.
As Armenia is the first nation to become Christian in 303 AD the Armenian people in Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia are holding a frontline of faith and freedom for the rest of Christendom -- against massive military forces. They yearn for support from Christian churches around the world.
Responding to recent events, Baroness Cox said:
"Without an immediate cessation of hostilities, there is a very real risk of ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population in Nagorno Karabakh. The scale and ferocity of recent offensives -- and the suffering inflicted on innocent civilians -- has intensified the palpable and (given past and recent history) justifiable fear among local people.
*"There is no place here for moral equivalence. Nor is it enough for the UK Government and its allies merely to urge each side to seek dialogue and to avoid violence. *
"We urge all who care about this dire and dangerous situation to:
Take immediate steps to promote de-escalation of the conflict.
Make urgent representations to the Government of Turkey to cease their military and political support for Azerbaijan, including the deployment of foreign mercenaries and Jihadist fighters; and the government of Israel to cease its supply of weaponry to Azerbaijan.
Urge the British government to support the century-long cry for self-determination by the people of Nagorno Karabakh."