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Fire burns in a residential area after shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a military conflict in self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, Azerbaijan on Oct. 4, 2020.The Canadian Press

Fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh escalated on Sunday as shells fell on two key cities, pushing neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan closer to all-out war.

Azerbaijani forces pounded Stepanakert, the capital of the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh, with artillery and drone strikes for a third consecutive day. Meanwhile, eight Armenian rockets hit Ganja, the second-largest city in Azerbaijan.

Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign affairs adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, told The Globe and Mail that two other missiles had been fired in the direction of the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, one of which landed on the outskirts of the city. He said the attacks on Ganja, which has a population of 335,000, and Baku, home to 2.2 million, had been launched from Armenian territory, and risked expanding the zone of conflict beyond Nagorno-Karabakh. Late Sunday night, Mr. Hajiyev said on Twitter that the water reservoir and electricity plant in the Azerbaijani industrial city of Mingachevir had been targeted by Armenian missiles.

“What Armenia is doing, from their own territory, attacking Azerbaijani civilians, adds an additional, more dangerous dimension to the conflict,” Mr. Hajiyev said in a telephone interview on Sunday from Baku, shortly after returning from a visit to Ganja. He said Azerbaijan was not “currently” planning to retaliate directly against Armenian territory, but pointed out that the countries were already in a de facto state of war.

Azerbaijan’s leader says no end to fighting until Armenia sets pullout timetable

The spreading fighting is taking place in a landlocked part of the southern Caucasus region, close to where Europe meets Asia, and it threatens to draw in larger players. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told The Globe last week that Turkey was already “directly engaged” in the fighting on the Azerbaijani side, with its air force striking Armenian targets. Russia, meanwhile, is treaty-bound to protect Armenia.

At least 239 people have died since fighting erupted on Sept. 27. Azerbaijan says its forces have taken more than a dozen small towns, as well as a strategic plateau, in the first week of combat. Armenia says the front lines are largely unchanged from a week ago.

Armenia says 201 of its soldiers and 14 civilians have been killed. Mr. Hajiyev said Azerbaijan could not provide any information about its military losses. Twenty-four Azerbaijani civilians have been reported killed, including one who died in the attack on Ganja.

Armenia said the rockets that hit Ganja had been fired from the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – which claims to act as an independent entity even as it is a de facto part of the Armenian government – in retaliation for the shelling of Stepanakert, which is home to 55,000 people.

“So far, during these last eight days, no shot has been fired from the territory of the republic of Armenia,” said Ruben Rubinyan, chair of the Armenian parliament’s standing committee on foreign relations. He told The Globe that the target of the attack carried out by the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh was a military airport in Ganja that had been used in the assault on Stepanakert.

Armenian and Azerbaijani forces clash

over disputed region

RUSSIA

IRAN

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Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that have long disputed ownership of the region.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

Armenian and Azerbaijani forces clash

over disputed region

RUSSIA

IRAN

LIBYA

EGYPT

0

800

KM

GEORGIA

Caspian

Sea

RUSSIA

Tibilisi

ARMENIA

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Yerevan

Baku

Nakhchivan

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NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that have long disputed ownership of the region.z

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

Armenian and Azerbaijani forces clash over disputed region

GEORGIA

RUSSIA

Tibilisi

Caspian Sea

ARMENIA

Baku

AZERBAIJAN

Yerevan

TURKEY

Nakhchivan

RUSSIA

NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that have long disputed ownership of the region.

55

0

KM

IRAN

LIBYA

EGYPT

0

800

IRAN

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

Both sides accuse the other of having fired first on Sept. 27, though it’s Azerbaijan that has an interest in changing the status quo.

Mr. Hajiyev said the attack on Stepanakert was justified because it – like all of Nagorno-Karabakh – is illegally occupied land. Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous region with a predominantly Armenian population that was transferred to Azerbaijani control when both countries were part of the Soviet Union.

Armenia captured the region in a 1991-94 war that left more than 30,000 people dead. Since then, oil-rich Azerbaijan has built up a sizeable military advantage over its neighbour.

It has also gained an important ally in Turkey, which has said it will stand by Azerbaijan in the current fighting. France and Russia have accused Turkey of transporting Syrian mercenaries into the conflict zone to aid Azerbaijan.

Last Thursday, France, Russia and the United States, who co-chair the international negotiations over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh, issued a joint call for a ceasefire, which was immediately rejected by Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan.

Mr. Hajiyev denied that Turkey was providing military support to Azerbaijan, and said the allegations were a distraction from the core issue of Armenia occupying Azerbaijani land. He said on Sunday there could be no ceasefire until Armenia withdrew all its forces from Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Calling for a ceasefire should also be accompanied with a serious message, a serious political message, [calling] for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” he said. Failing that, he said, Azerbaijani troops would continue their offensive.

Mr. Hajiyev said the Azerbaijan military was targeting only military facilities in and around Stepanakert. Pressed to explain video footage that shows homes destroyed and civilians fleeing for cover as air raid sirens sounded through the city, Mr. Hajiyev acknowledged that “some collateral damage could happen during military operations – but it was not deliberate.”

Asked about the future of civilians living in Stepanakert, Mr. Hajiyev said Azerbaijan would welcome any residents who sought sanctuary behind Azerbaijani lines. “We do consider them citizens of the republic of Azerbaijan,” he said. “In the future perspective, we would like to see them as proud nationals of Azerbaijan, along with the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

But Mr. Rubinyan, the Armenian parliamentarian, said an Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh would lead to “genocide” against the region’s inhabitants. He said he couldn’t predict whether the region was now headed into full-scale war. “I can’t rule out any possibility.”

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