Officials in the Armenian-aligned separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh said on Wednesday that half of the population has been displaced by fighting with Azerbaijan’s forces over the past week.
“According to our preliminary estimates, some 50% of Karabakh’s population and 90% of women and children – some 70,000 to 75,000 people – have been displaced,” said Artak Baglaryan, human rights ombudsman for the region Armenians refer to as “the Republic of Artsakh.”
According to a Deutsche Welle report on Wednesday, “Shelling by Azerbaijan during the last week has reduced Karabakh’s main city into a ghost town, with many unexploded bombs in the streets.”
That city, Stepanakert, had a population of about 50,000 before the fighting began. The Armenian Defense Ministry says Stepanakert has been shelled continuously since the weekend, with Azeri forces deliberately targeting “residential houses and civilian infrastructure.”
Amnesty International said on Tuesday that its analysts have confirmed the use of cluster munitions against residential targets in Stepanakert. International humanitarian conventions prohibit the use of indiscriminate cluster bombs against civilian targets, but neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan are signatories to those agreements. One of the many dangers presented by such weapons is that they tend to scatter unexploded submunitions that could detonate and kill more civilians later.
“Bombing … buildings and houses are destroyed. We are so afraid of it. How can one stand it? How long will it last?” one resident of the Nagorno-Karabakh region asked the Associated Press from a bomb shelter on Wednesday.
Officials in Azerbaijan claim their attacks on Stepanakert were directed at missile launchers that fired on Azeri territory from within, or near, the city, although they admitted some collateral damage was possible. Azerbaijan regularly accuses Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh forces of deliberately attacking civilian targets, and vice versa.
Almost 300 casualties have been reported in the fighting so far, including 47 civilian deaths. The total is likely much higher because Azerbaijan does not publish official counts of military casualties.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday accused Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey of conducting an “international terrorist attack” on the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies within Azerbaijan’s borders but has a mostly Armenian population.
“To me, there is no doubt that this is a policy of continuing the Armenian genocide and a policy of reinstating the Turkish empire,” Pashinyan said.
Azerbaijan on Wednesday accused Armenia of targeting the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan oil pipeline with a missile attack that was “repulsed” by the Azeri military. The pipeline is regarded as a major national security interest by Turkey, and its safety is a significant regional concern. The Armenian Defense Ministry denied targeting any oil or gas production facilities.