Azerbaijan President Blames International Community as His Forces Shell City

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev this weekend blamed the "indifferent" international community for the latest outbreak of fighting with Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh pocket, which has left hundreds of people dead.

The fighting escalated further this weekend with the shelling of civilian areas by both Armenian and Azeri troops. Reports said buses of civilians and foreign journalists have been fleeing Stepanakert—the main city in Nagorno-Karabakh which is home to some 55,000 people—following Azeri bombardment.

The two sides have been in conflict over the pocket—internationally recognized Azeri land but governed by the ethnic Armenian, self-declared Republic of Artsakh—for decades, but the most recent violence is the most serious since a bout of fighting in 2016.

Initially, combat was limited to sparsely-populated frontline areas. But both sides are now bombarding urban areas behind the front, with munitions hitting infrastructure targets and civilian neighborhoods.

Artsakh authorities have said that at least 18 civilians have been killed and 90 wounded since the fighting erupted last week, while Azeri officials said at least one civilian was killed and more wounded in Armenian shelling of the city of Ganja on Sunday.

Stepanakert was left without electricity for several hours this weekend following Azeri attacks, while videos allegedly showing an Azeri missile strike on a bridge and cluster bomb attacks on a civilian neighborhood circulated on social media.

Artsakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan told the Armenpress agency: "From now on the military facilities permanently deployed in Azerbaijan's major cities are legitimate targets of the defense army." Artsakh forces later claimed to have hit back against an airport and other military targets in Ganja, though Azeri and Turkish officials said the attacks were on civilian areas.

Despite international calls for calm, Aliyev said Sunday that Azeri forces would continue their offensive until all Armenian-occupied land had been taken. A history of ethnic cleansing combined with aggressive jingoism from Azerbaijan and its main ally Turkey have raised fears of mass civilian casualties and expulsions if fighting reaches Stepanakert and other urban areas in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"The blame for this situation rests first of all on Armenia's leadership," Aliyev said in a televised address Sunday. "Apart from that, certain circles in a number of countries that have been indifferent to this problem so that this occupation never ended are also to blame," the president said.

"We wanted to settle this matter by means of talks," Aliyev continued. "We demonstrated patience. We have always held a fair position at the talks and demanded back what belongs to us. We have never laid claims to others' lands. But we have been insisting that this our land and it must be handed over back to us by means of talks."

"For 30 years, the country has been cherishing hopes that the international community will settle this problem but it never happened," he added.

Azerbaijan's military says its forces have occupied seven villages since fighting began last Sunday. Artsakh forces in Nagorno-Karabakh meanwhile, say troops have "improved" their frontline positions.

The U.S., Russia and France—the members of the so-called Minsk Group that heads international mediation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan—is attempting to reach a ceasefire deal. Armenia has said it is "ready to engage" with mediators.

Stepanakert, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, shelling, civilians
TOPSHOT - A view shows aftermath of recent shelling during the ongoing fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, in the disputed region's main city of Stepanakert on October 4, 2020. DAVIT GHAHRAMANYAN/NKR Infocenter/AFP via Getty Images/Getty