In the separatist region of Nagorno Karabakh, residents expressed their dismay and “immense grief” on Saturday by picking up debris from their apartments at dawn, the day after destructive bombardments by Azerbaijani forces.
During the day and evening on Friday, the Azerbaijani army fired heavy artillery in Stepanakert, capital of this region populated by Armenians, de facto independence and supported by the mother country.
The people of this city of 50,000 inhabitants were forced to take refuge in cellars, shelters and garages.
“I walked out of my house and five or ten minutes later, boom, an explosion. Fortunately, there was no one at home, ”Nelson Adamian, a 65-year-old electrician, told AFP.
“It is an immense pain for our community and for our people”, he launches in the courtyard of his building, hit by a rocket. Saturday morning, shots were heard again in Stepanakert after a quieter night.
In this part of the city, two old three-story buildings were hit. Their roofs are sunk, the windows broken. A nearby store was also hit, with debris scattering for dozens of yards around.
A dozen residents gather their belongings to leave the city, while others clean up the broken glass or try to repair the doors blown by the explosion. A pool of blood is still visible on the asphalt and on the door of a car.
The strikes on Stepanakert bear witness to the resurgence of fighting in Nagorno Karabakh, a region recognized as Azerbaijani by the international community.
The region seceded in the early 1990s, causing a war that claimed 30,000 lives. No peace treaty has been signed and the clashes are regular, but they had never reached the intensity known since the resumption of hostilities last Sunday.
“For the first time, Stepanakert was hit by heavy missile systems,” a high representative of Nagorno Karabakh, Artak Beglarian, told reporters on Friday evening, reporting one dead and eleven injured in these shots.
Another separatist official, Grigori Martyrossian, told reporters on Friday that “public, residential and infrastructure buildings” were damaged. There is no question, however, of evacuating the city for the moment, he added, while towns and villages near the front, about fifty kilometers to the east, have been evacuated.
In the capital, one of the buildings most damaged by Friday’s bombardments is the headquarters of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, which oversees the rescue services and firefighters. The authorities accuse Baku of having targeted the building “on purpose”, a “war crime”, according to them.
“Azerbaijan continues to target civilian infrastructure”, notably accused Artak Beglarian.
The former Armenian Minister of Health Armène Mouradian, volunteer doctor in Nagorno Karabakh, said “to note that shrapnel wounds are the majority” in the population, according to him a sign of the “inhuman character” of the bombings. This situation requires “new resources, drugs and doctors,” he adds.
The threat of drones
Stepanakert is also often flown over by Azerbaijani drones, with the characteristic hissing sound heard every night. Public lighting has also been cut in the city to camouflage it and the inhabitants do not put light on in their homes unless the curtains on their windows have been closed.
Several times a day, the bomb threats sound, but if some residents have chosen to leave the city, no sign of panic has yet been visible since the resumption of hostilities on Sunday.
Before the bombings on Friday, residents were already showing some distrust of the war.
“There are shootings, bombardments, but it doesn’t affect us. We are used to it, ”said Friday morning to AFP Arkadi, a 66-year-old resident.
“There will be victims, war is war,” he continued before adding: “We are not afraid, we have our pride.”