Special Report: Artsrun Hovhannisyan Live from the Crisis Information Center in Ijevan, Tavush
Below is an unofficial translation of Hovhannisyan’s opening remarks:
On July 12, Azerbaijani Armed Forces launched provocative actions in the direction of Armenia’s state border resulting in military action. Today, Armenian civilian settlements have been targeted by Azerbaijan, namely the villages of Chinari, Aygepar, Nerkin Karmiraghbyur and Paravakar; the city of Berd has also been targeted today. Two factories in the town have come under targeted attack; a gas pipeline has been hit several times. The peaceful civilian population has come under attack. Luckily we have no civilian casualties.
Over the course of the shelling, the Armenian Armed Forces carried out their mission, which is to stop the adversary. The adversary has put to use different caliber mortars and tanks. We will try to organize special infotours tomorrow to see the damage on the ground as well as the type of shelling used.
The Azerbaijani Armed Forces have acted in accordance with their already recognizable “handwriting.” They have deployed military equipment adjacent to a settlement and with that they have targeted their own civilian population. We have in our possession substantial proof of this.
We have commenced work with the Unified Infocenter and will be publishing a clear schedule in the future. There will be at least two briefings tomorrow.
I can say that the general operative situation is relatively calm at the movement and this relative calm started at 6 p.m. We have since had some shelling and not with large caliber mortars, meaning we have a de-escalation of tension.
News.am, Gayane Aleksanyan: How many are wounded from the Armenian side and what condition are they in? And how many unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) did the Armenian side destroy?
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: According to doctors, those who were wounded did not sustain fatal injuries; they are mostly in stable condition. As the situation progresses, we will provide you with more details regarding their health. Since July 12, the Armenian side has destroyed about 10 UAVs, including a Hermes 900, which is quite an expensive model. [Hovhannisyan noted that tomorrow he will provide the exact number of UAVs destroyed by the Armenian military].
Tert.am, Ani Gevorgyan: The Armenian side has improved its positions, can you present more details regarding this advancement? What are the current actions of Azerbaijan in those positions? Is the Armenian military pursuing any actions in other positions/directions?
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: Since the escalation of the situation in the northeastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border, tensions have not been observed on the Line of Contact in Armenia and Artsakh. I will not comment on the advancements of the positions, because our Armed Forces are performing a specific task and providing clarifications regarding those advancement can harm the efforts of the Armenian military. We can talk about this after the situation has already stabilized.
Davit Galstyan, Sputnik Armenia: Is there a visible consolidation of Azerbaijani forces toward the border which could in the future lead to more serious military action?
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: I can reassure you that the Armenian Armed forces are well informed of any kind of military movement or consolidation, however allow me not to respond to this question at the movement, giving away information. Firstly not to give away our knowledge of the situation and open our cards, and secondly to allow for military operations to take their course of action in line with the relative escalation and the de-escalation that we have observed in the last couple of days.
Follow up question: You said that there are no injured among the civilian population, is that correct?
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: To my knowledge, no civilians have been injured; the civilian losses are only material damage.
Tert.am, Ani Gevorgyan: There is a lot of talk about officially calling the Collective Security Treaty Organization to action. Is there a need to do so if the situation is under control?
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: As a representative of the Ministry of Defense I’m not in a position to answer that question. However, I’m sure, through the Unified Infocenter we will have the opportunity to hear the Ministry of Foreign Affairs respond to this question.
Follow up question: Is there a need for the reserve forces or theYerkrabah units to get involved?
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: The Armenian Armed Forces are carrying out their duties and there is no need for reinforcement. There is a corresponding legislative protocol for invoking a similar request. If the need arises the government of Armenia will take care of it, however, at the time being there is no such necessity.
Vardan Ananyan, Yerkir Media: During the past few days, social media was filled with information, which said that there is panic in the border villages. Could you please once again confirm that there is no panic in border villages? For instance, the Ministry of Emergency Situations called on its employees to be prepared to evacuate citizens, if necessary.
Artsrun Hovhannisyan: When we say that at least five communities were targeted by the Azerbaijnai side and fortunately we do not have losses among the civilian population, this first of all shows that the local self-government bodies are properly doing their job and the locals are used to situations like this one. Tomorrow, you will see for yourself and report back to the public that people in border communities are confident, prepared and determined and that there is no panic in those communities.
Responding to online questions Artsrun Hohannisyan confirmed that there have been no evacuations from any civilian settlements in the region. He said that no civilians have sustained any life threatening injuries. If there have been any unreported minor injuries he hopes the information will be updated by tomorrow. Hovhaninisyan said he has no precise information about how many factories might have ceased operations in the Tavush region for safety concerns and that he will try to clarify the information by tomorrow through consultations with the territorial administration offices. Regarding the cyber attacks by Azerbaijan, Hovhanissyan said that too is in line with how Azerbaijan has operated previously. He also called on people to refrain from sharing unofficial information. Regarding casualties from the Azerbaijani side, Hovhanisyan said he has confirmation of about 11 deaths however that might not be the conclusive number, he said he is almost certain the number will change.
Civilian Infrastructures in Berd Targeted by Azerbaijani Military
At 9:30 a.m., Armenia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) Spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan wrote that, overnight, Azerbaijani tank movement was observed from combat positions of the Armenian Armed Forces but was “curtailed by fire from our side.” She said that the situation on the border remains “relatively calm at this moment.” Approximately two hours later, Stepanyan wrote that the Azerbaijani military had targeted civilian infrastructure in the border city of Berd in the Tavush region with a combat drone. No casualties were reported.
Anna Naghdalyan, Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson tweeted the following statement: “The Azerbaijani side continues its aggression on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, deliberately targeting civilian infrastructures and population and expanding the geography of escalation. Today, civilian infrastructure of the city of Berd was shelled by an unmanned combat aerial vehicle.” In a follow-up tweet, Naghdalyan wrote that this “aggression of Azerbaijan against the security of the civilian population of Armenia will receive a proportionate response, for which the Azerbaijani side bears full responsibility.”
In a press release, Armenia’s MoD stated: “On the night of July 13-14, in the eastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border, the Azerbaijani side continued firing at Armenian positions using different caliber weapons. The movement of an enemy tank was observed from the combat positions of the Armenian Armed Forces, which was stopped by the fire of the position guards. The vanguard units of the Armenian Armed Forces confidently control the border situation.”
The MoD also released a video showing the destruction of an Azerbaijani position that targeted Armenian settlements near the border.
Tavush Textile Factory Comes Under Fire
At approximately 11:00 a.m., the Tavush Textile factory was shelled by Azerbaijani forces. The director of the factory, Mikael Ezekyan, said that there were no casualties or material losses. In an interview with Armenpress, Ezekyan said that several shots were fired from a 120-millimeter caliber grenade launcher and staff were immediately evacuated. Tavush Textile is located in the Choratan village near the city of Berd and has also been producing protective face masks during the coronavirus outbreak.
Official Armenian Websites Hacked
At approximately 12:00 p.m., an Azerbaijani “Anti-Armenia Team” hacked three official government websites in Armenia: gov.am, e-gov.am and primeminister.am. These websites were later restored. Electric Networks of Armenia site was also hacked. A number of Armenian news organizations also had their websites hacked yesterday. According to a number of IT security experts, more Armenian news websites are reporting distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, aimed at making a website inaccessible.
Two Armenian Soldiers Killed
At 2:40 p.m., Shushan Stepanyan said in a Facebook post that Major Garush Hambardzumyan and Captain Sos Elbakyan died from Azerbaijani gunfire after sustaining fatal wounds in the northeastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border. The statement said that the Ministry expressed its support to the families, relatives and colleagues of the soldiers. At 2:50 p.m., Stepanyan said that the Air Defense unit of the Armenian Armed Forces had downed an Azerbaijani combat drone.
Journalists Asked to Stay Away from Border
Armenia’s MoD called on journalists to refrain from visiting the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border in the Tavush region and the nearby communities, taking into consideration the possibility of further escalation. The Defense Ministry especially cautioned the media against live newscasts from the border, which could directly jeopardize the positions of the Armenian Armed Forces and inadvertently provide intelligence to the Azerbaijani military, allowing them to follow developments in Armenia in real time.
Azerbaijan Reports 11 Casualties
Azerbaijan has reported 11 casualties since the beginning of clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported three casualties on July 12, one on July 13 and seven on July 14. They include a Major-General, a Colonel, two Majors, two junior officers, one Senior Lieutenant and three soldiers.
Crisis Information Center to be Set Up
According to the Armenian Unified Infocenter, a crisis information center will be set up in Tavush region’s capital city of Ijevan, from where periodic briefings will be given to media outlets regarding the situation at the border. Former Armenian MoD spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisyan will be coordinating activities with the media. Further details are pending.
Azerbaijani Military Surrounds Its Own Population in Tovus Region
At 4:20 p.m., MoD Spokesperson Stepanyan wrote on Facebook that, based on satellite imagery, the village of Dondar Ghushchu in the Tovuz region of northwest Azerbaijan, about 10 km from the border with Armenia, has been surrounded by artillery battery positions. Stepanyan wrote: “The Azerbaijani side has surrounded its own population with artillery battery units, placing them in harm’s way, then protesting that Armenia’s Armed Forces have fired in that direction.”
The Village of Aygepar Comes Under Fire
Azerbaijan armed forces shelled the village of Aygepar in the Tavush region, reports Hetq. Seven houses were damaged; the Ministry of Emergency Situations is working to extinguish the resultant fires. Residents living in nearby neighborhoods were evacuated.
Another Two Armenian Soldiers Killed
At 6 p.m. Armenia’s MoD reported that two additional contract soldiers, junior sergeants Smbat Gabrielyan and Grisha Matevosyan, died from Azerbaijani gunfire after sustaining fatal wounds around their chest. This brings the total number of Armenian casualties to four.
Situation on the Line of Contact
At approximately 6:30 p.m., MoD Spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan wrote on Facebook that the situation on the Line of Contact between Artsakh and Azerbaijan remains relatively stable.
Azerbaijani Drone Shot Down
According to Armenia’s MoD, Armenian Air Defense Units have shot down an Azerbaijani Elbit Systems Hermes 900 drone. The Israeli-made multi-payload, medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle is designed for tactical missions.
Ukranian Ambassador Invited to the MFA
Ivan Kuleban, Ambassador of Ukraine in Armenia, was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he held a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan. During the meeting, Kocharyan presented the Foreign Ministry’s assessment of the statement issued by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry about the tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. In that statement, the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine expressed concerns over the tensions on the border and said that they are in favor of a political solution to the conflict, which would be based on “Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
The Deputy Minister also briefed the Ambassador on the ceasefire violations by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces since July 12 in the northeastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border. Kocharyan provided information about the ongoing targeting of civilian infrastructure and population as well as the overall situation created due to Azerbaijan’s aggressive actions.
Statement by Spokesperson to Russian President
Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced that Russia is deeply concerned with the shootings at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, “We call on both parties to show restraint and comply with their obligations to the ceasefire regime. As we have stated on various occasions, Russia, as a Minsk Group Co-chair, is ready to initiate mediation efforts to regulate the situation.”
Statement by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretariat issued a statement regarding the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border:
“The CSTO Secretariat expresses serious concern over the aggravation of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border that arose on July 12, this year, after an armed conflict between units of the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, including the use of heavy armament, which resulted in the dead and the injured. The current situation does not contribute to the normalization of the situation on the border of the two neighboring states, one of which is the Republic of Armenia. The Republic is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The situation indicates a violation of the agreements of ceasefire reached at the leadership level of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan.
“We emphasize the need for an immediate restoration of the ceasefire regime in the CSTO responsibility zone. We express our condolences to the families of the victims and wish the wounded a speedy recovery.
“We draw your attention to the fact that the Collective Security Council, the CSTO Council of Foreign Ministers in their statements have repeatedly called on the Parties to seek settlement of conflict situations only through peaceful negotiations and to refrain from acts of provocation in order to prevent escalation of tension.”
Armenia’s Representative to CSTO Calls for Solidarity and Mutual Support
On July 14, at the sitting of the CSTO Permanent Council, Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the CSTO Victor Biyagov called on allies to show solidarity and mutual support. Biyagov spoke in detail about the escalation of the situation due to Azerbaijani aggression across the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border starting on July 12, and the targeting of civilian infrastructure and population by Azerbaijan.
Biyagov noted that Azerbaijani Armed Forces are shelling the civilian infrastructure of the Armenian settlements of Chinari and Aygepar, resulting in civilian property damage “According to reports, drones have been bombing civilian infrastructure in Berd in recent hours,” he said.
Recently, Biyagov noted, in defiance of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ calls to refrain from hostile rhetoric and strengthen the ceasefire regime, and the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic, Azerbaijan constantly threatens the use of force and military escalation, and is now trying to implement them. “The entire responsibility for the escalation of the situation in the CSTO area of responsibility lies with the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” he said.
In the context of the need for regional security and stability, Biyagov drew the attention of the representatives of the CSTO member states to the statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, noting that Armenia strongly condemns Turkey’s attempts to provoke instability in the region.
“The current situation is a matter of serious concern and attention for the whole organization, for each of its members, as in the area of responsibility of the organization an attempt is made to carry out direct aggression against one of the members of the organization. We call on our allies to show solidarity and mutual support in line with the letter of the CSTO Charter. This unprecedented situation is becoming a test for each of us and for the organization,” said the Armenian representative.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is a Russia-led military alliance of seven former Soviet states that was created in 2002. The CSTO’s purpose is to ensure the collective defense of any member that faces external aggression. The organization supports arms sales and manufacturing as well as military training and exercises, making the CSTO the most important multilateral defense organization in the former Soviet Union. Current CSTO members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan. Membership presumes certain key security assurances – the most significant of which is deterring military aggression by third countries. In the CSTO, aggression against one signatory is perceived as aggression against all.
When Armenia became a CSTO member, it had to accept a provision that its membership only concerned its UN-recognized borders. During the April 2016 Four Day War, most of the fighting was concentrated at the Line of Contact in Nagorno-Karabakh, and therefore outside the purview of the CSTO. Azerbaijan however did attack across Armenia’s state border at the time in the Tavush region. CSTO member states were obliged to condemn Baku for this and to offer assistance to Armenia. None of the CSTO member states did so.
Official Statements [released July 13]
Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General on Exchanges of Fire Along the Armenia-Azerbaijan Border
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, issued a statement saying that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of exchanges of fire, including with heavy weaponry, along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border, which reportedly resulted in fatalities. The statement went on to say that the Secretary-General urges an immediate end to the fighting and calls on all involved to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and refrain from provocative rhetoric.
The Secretary-General has taken note of the statement issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs and reiterates his full support for their efforts to address this dangerous situation and search for a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
U.S. State Department About the Violence Along the Armenia-Azerbaijan International Border
The State Department of the United States issued a statement condemning the violence along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border. The statement urged the sides to stop using force immediately, use the existing direct communication links between them to avoid further escalation and strictly adhere to the ceasefire.
The statement stressed that, as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States remains strongly committed to helping the sides achieve a lasting, peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and will remain actively engaged in efforts to accomplish that goal. The State Department noted that the United States joins the Minsk Group Co-Chairs in calling for the sides to resume substantive negotiations as soon as possible and in emphasizing the importance of returning OSCE monitors to the region as soon as circumstances allow.
U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff on Azerbaijani Ceasefire Violations on Armenian Border
Following a series of clashes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff released a statement saying that he is “very concerned by the recent provocative and destabilizing actions taken by Azerbaijan in recent days along the Armenian border, including the shelling of Armenian soldiers.” Schiff noted that such acts “risk the lives of soldiers and civilians, and raise the danger of a spiraling conflict that could be devastating to the region, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic.” He went on to say that recent actions must be viewed in the context of “Azerbaijan’s consistently bellicose rhetoric towards Armenia and Artsakh, and its refusal to allow international monitoring of their borders.” The Congressman urged the State Department to ensure that all parties to the conflict understand the need for restraint and diplomacy, and reduced tensions.
Congressman Frank Pallone and Senator Ed Markey Express Support to Armenia
Congressional Armenian Caucus founding Co-Chair Frank Pallone tweeted saying: “Azerbaijan is once again attempting to start a war with Armenia. Azerbaijan’s constant use of caustic rhetoric aimed at Armenia and Artsakh are part of a concerted effort to provoke another conflict.”
Senator Ed Markey also tweeted saying: “I stand with Armenia as they protect their territorial integrity. Azerbaijan and Turkey must respect the Armenian/Azeri border, respect the aspirations of the Armenian people of Nagorno Karabakh, and should deescalate this conflict immediately.”