Late this evening, Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry unexpectedly announced that the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan had agreed to a humanitarian truce that would come into effect at midnight local time on October 18. This decision was taken following the statement of the Presidents of France, Russia and the U.S., representing the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group of October 1, 2020; the Statement by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group of October 5, and in line with the Moscow Statement of October 10, 2020.
The preceding 24 hours in the Artsakh-Azerbaijan conflict zone had been intense.
In the early hours of October 17, Armenia’s Defense Ministry announced that Azerbaijani drones were detected in Armenia’s airspace and that appropriate measures were being taken. About an hour later, the Ministry said that the Air Defense Units of Armenia’s Armed Forces had shot down two drones. Reports started coming in from people in Stepanakert that the capital was being heavily shelled. Not long after, Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement that Azerbaijan’s attempts to expand the geography of the conflict would have irreversible consequences for the security of the region. The statement also noted that information about the shelling of a settlement in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (an exclave of Azerbaijan) was “absolutely false.”
On the heels of this news, Azerbaijani media reported that Ganja, the country’s second largest city, had been targeted and that there were civilian casualties.
By morning, official reports said that Stepanakert had been the main target for the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. Using different caliber weapons and cluster munitions, several suburban streets were targeted, causing significant damage to civilian property. Three civilians injured during the attack were hospitalized.
Here is a chronology of official updates.
12:45 a.m.: According to Defense Ministry spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan, Azerbaijani UAVs have been spotted in Armenia’s airspace. Appropriate measures are being taken.
1:25 a.m.: In response to claims by the Azerbaijani military-political leadership, Defense Ministry spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan said that no fire was opened from the territory of the Republic of Armenia or by the Armenian Armed Forces in the direction of Azerbaijan.
Armenian Foreign Affairs Ministry Statement: Expanding Geography of Conflict Will Have Irreversible Repercussions for Region
1:30 a.m.: Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement on Azerbaijan’s attempts to expand the geography of the conflict that they say will inflict an irreversible blow to regional security. The following is the text of that statement:
On the evening of October 16, Azerbaijan once again started shelling the civilian settlements of Artsakh, including the capital of the Republic, Stepanakert. As a result, three civilians of the village of Shosh were wounded.
At the same time, the air defense system of the Republic of Armenia detected Azerbaijani UAVs in the direction of the Khnatsakh, Artsvanik and Davit Bek settlements of the Syunik region of the Republic of Armenia, which was followed by an attack against military installations of the Armenian Armed Forces, also damaging civilian infrastructure. Fortunately, no one was killed and wounded.
It is noteworthy that, a few hours beforehand, the Azerbaijani side had disseminated a provocative and absolutely false allegation about shelling of Ordubad settlement in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic by the Armenian Armed Forces. In line with their traditional behavior, such disinformation was followed by real aggression against the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia.
Consistent attempts by Azerbaijan to extend the geography of the conflict, thus irreversibly undermining regional security, should be condemned in the strongest terms. Any encroachment against the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia will receive an adequate response.
Armenian Air Defense Shoots Down Azerbaijani Drones in Armenian Airspace
1:32 a.m.: According to Defense Ministry spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan, the Air Defense Units of the Armenia’s Armed Forces have shot down two Azerbaijani drones in Armenian airspace.
8:30 a.m.: According to the Defense Ministry spokesperson, the situation in the Artsakh-Azerbaijan conflict zone was relatively stable, but tense throughout the night. The operational-tactical situation did not change significantly.
Violating the humanitarian ceasefire, Azerbaijani forces resumed shelling peaceful settlements, including civilian infrastructure in Stepanakert and Shushi. The Artsakh Defense Army responded proportionately to stop Azerbaijani fire. Late last night, the Azerbaijani side reported that Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, was targeted.
Stepanakert Targeted Overnight
10 a.m.: According to the Armenian Unified Infocenter, Stepanakert was the main target of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces overnight. Using various weapons and cluster munitions, several suburban streets were fired on, causing significant damage to civilian property. Three civilians were injured during the attack and transported to hospital.
Artsakh Defense Army on Military Targets in Ganja
10:50 a.m.: Last night, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, Ganja, came under attack. The Armenian Unified Infocenter posted the following, as per the Artsakh Defense Army:
Legitimate military targets located in the Azerbaijani city of Ganja:
- Defence Ministry Air Force Air Base, Helicopter Air Squadron
- General Staff Motorized Rifle Brigade Headquarters
- Special Forces Brigade
- Azebaijani MoD Combat Operations Centre
- Armed Forces General Staff Radio Technical Battalion
- Azerbaijan MoD fuel and lubricant supply and logistics centre
- Military-Industrial complex including aviation and munitions factorie
Baku Refuses to Meet With Armenian Military Officials in Moscow
10:35 a.m. Mane Gevorgyan, the spokesperson of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, said that, at the initiative of Russia, representatives from Armenia’s Defense Ministry left for Moscow to meet with their Azerbaijani counterparts to discuss the ceasefire control mechanisms in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku, however, did not send officials to that meeting. According to Gevorgyan, this means that Azerbaijan is refusing the Russian-brokered agreement and rejects Russia’s initiative.
Armenia’s National Security Service on Azerbaijani Allegations
12 p.m.: The National Security Service (NSS) of Armenia issued a statement regarding allegations by the leadership of Azerbaijan that Armenia is smuggling ammunition through the airspace of different countries using civil aviation.
The NSS denied the allegations and said the misinformation being spread by Azerbaijan is an attempt to discredit Armenia and harm Armenia’s relations with partner countries.
The statement says the NSS has information that the Azerbaijani side has been smuggling a significant amount of ammunition and mercenaries to its territory, as evidenced by the Boeing-747 and IL-76 flights of the Azerbaijani Silk Way cargo carrier from the Baku airport to military airports of different countries and returning to Baku, including the October 16, 2020 flight from Baku to the Bagram Airport in Afghanistan and the flight from Bagram Airport in Afghanistan to Lashkar Gah Airport in Pakistan on October 17, 2020. The same route is scheduled for October 18. The statement says there are also flights scheduled to take off from Baku to Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan.
The NSS also says that similar flights have been scheduled on later dates as well and that some of the mentioned flights are not registered in the international database of planned flights.
The NSS statement said they have called on relevant international bodies to not fall prey to Azerbaijani provocations, closely examine and verify the information provided by Armenia’s NSS and clarify the real circumstances and purposes of the transfer of military cargo and personnel to Azerbaijan by these flights.
12:30 p.m.: Artsrun Hovhannisyan of the Ministry of Defense said that Azerbaijan’s claim of having shot down an Armenian Su-25 fighter jet on October 17 is false.
Artsakh Foreign Affairs Ministry on Continuing Attacks Against Peaceful Population
The following statement was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh regarding the continuing attacks of the Azerbaijani-Turkish forces on the peaceful population of Artsakh.
On October 16 and early in the morning of October 17, 2020, the capital of the Republic of Artsakh, Stepanakert, as well as the city of Shushi and other communities, became targets of intense missile strikes by the Azerbaijani-Turkish forces. At least six civilians were wounded in this deliberate attack on civilian targets.
The continuing attacks of the Azerbaijani-Turkish forces against the peaceful population of the Republic of Artsakh, as well as strikes on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, testify to Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s intention to expand the scale and increase the intensity of the hostilities.
6:15 p.m.: Defense Ministry spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan wrote: Today, between 4:30 and 5:45 p.m., the air defense units of Armenia downed three Azerbaijani UAVs in the airspace of the Republic of Armenia, and one in Artsakh.
Lavrov Has Telephone Conversation With Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers
Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov held phone conversations with the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Jeyhun Bayramov. According to the official statement, the ministers discussed the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. They stressed the need to strictly adhere to the Russia-brokered October 10 humanitarian ceasefire agreement. The Ministers reaffirmed the need for substantive negotiations aimed at the peaceful settlement of the conflict on the basis of principles mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
Ombudsman: Human Rights Violations in Artsakh
8 p.m.: Artak Beglaryan, Artsakh’s Government Ombudsman, gave a live press briefing and spoke about the human rights violations taking place in Artsakh since September 27, when Azerbaijani forces launched military operations. Beglaryan said a fact-finding mission has been at work registering human rights violations against the civilian population and military personnel. Beglaryan said his office has already filed two intermediary reports and made several statements. Another report concluded on October 16 addressed the inhumane treatment by Azerbaijani forces of Armenian civilians and soldiers. Beglaryan said the report was not made public because it contains graphic images and descriptions; however, it has already been forwarded to international institutions and decision-makers to ensure they are made aware of the treatment of the bodies of Armenian soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians.
Beglaryan said that, to date, at least 36 civilians have died and 115 have been injured. According to the Ombudsman, 20 of the 36 civilians were killed in their homes, which indicates that the attack was unexpected and targeted civilian settlements. Beglaryan said that, taking into consideration the extremely precise weaponry Azerbaijan is using, it is clear that the civilian population was purposefully targeted.
Eight of the 36 civilian casualties are women and 28 are men. About half of the casualties are over the age of 50, which puts them in a vulnerable group. Beglaryan says the picture is quite similar in the case of injuries. Around half of the injuries were sustained while people were in their homes, the remaining were injuries sustained at work, in public spaces and while trying to move to a safer location. Ninety-five (18 women, 77 men) of the 115 are serious injuries, about 20 are light injuries.
Beglaryan said his office has estimated that more than 130 residential buildings were targeted across Artsakh.
Initial estimates show that about 7800 units of private property have been damaged, more than 1310 infrastructure facilities (electricity networks, communication lines, water and gas supply structures as well as roads including bridges) and public buildings have been targeted including schools, kindergartens, hospitals, cultural and religious centers. More than 720 vehicles have been damaged.
Following the humanitarian ceasefire, eight people have been killed, six injured (three from the village of Shosh, three from Stepanakert). Only residential buildings were targeted. Luckily, in those buildings, most were in bunkers, others had left. For this reason, compared to the physical damage, the loss of human life was comparatively low. We have started receiving a number of messages, especially from Azerbaijani social media, about the desecration of bodies of killed Armenian soldiers. On October 15, a video was published which Beglaryan said they have analyzed, adding that the website Bellingcat has also presented analysis and confirmed its authenticity. He went on to say that two Armenian POWs were murdered, one of whom was a 73-year-old civilian. This needs to be condemned by the international community and must be punished.
The international community must ensure that these kinds of actions are not repeated because it is evident that an anti-Armenian attitude dominates the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, he said. “This is coupled with the involvement of mercenaries and Turkish fighters in the military operations. Taking into account Turkey’s genocidal policies towards Armenians and experience with mercenaries, there is an increased risk that such crimes may be repeated. The international community has clear obligations in this regard aimed at preventing such crimes,” Beglaryan said, adding that preventive measures can vary, but they should first of all include sanctions against Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Beglaryan said it is also imperative to organize visits of international fact-finding missions to Artsakh so that they too can report from the ground. From a human rights perspective, the international recognition of the Republic of Artsakh is of utmost importance, which according to Beglaryan can act as an additional restraining and preventative measure against future human rights violations. It can also act as a tool to demand compensation for human rights violations since the war in the 1990s.
Beglaryan also pointed out that there is a humanitarian disaster taking place in Artsakh as a result of the Azerbaijani aggression. Many citizens had to flee their homes and find shelter in relatively safer places or in the Republic of Armenia.
There is substantial evidence that large-scale intentional crimes are being committed in Artsakh and that the risks are constantly increasing because of the joint involvement of Azerbaijan, Turkey and mercenaries, as well as the use of banned weapons and methods. Beglaryan believes that the international community should intervene through all possible means to prevent genocidal acts against the people of Artsakh. It is also important to note that the people of Artsakh have numerous humanitarian needs which are being addressed at the moment through the joint efforts of the Artsakh Government and Armenians. But considering the COVID-19 pandemic, those needs will be more pointedly expressed if the current situation continues.
Answering a question about the two Armenian prisoners of war who are currently in Azerbaijan, Beglaryan stressed that it is important that they are treated in accordance with international humanitarian law, the Geneva Convention in particular, and that all of their rights are protected. Speaking about the Azerbaijani prisoner of war currently in Armenia, Beglaryan assured that he received proper medical treatment.
Ministry of Defense Live Press Briefing
10 p.m.: During a live press briefing, Artsrun Hovhannisyan of the Armenian Defense Ministry said that Azerbaijani forces have continued its military operations along the Line of Contact. Battles in the north were not as intensive as in previous days; more intensive battles took place in the southern direction. A large-scale attack was initiated in the south. A motorcade of about two dozen vehicles tried to approach Armenian positions but, following an artillery response from the Armenian side, the motorcade retreated. Battles have taken place in other locations as well. Some are still ongoing. The Azerbaijani side has not used a large number of armored vehicles in recent days, more artillery fire and UAVs are now in use.
Gnel Sanosyan, the Governor of Gegharkunik region, spoke about the situation there. Since the Azerbaijani attack on September 27, Gegharkunik has also been targeted through drone and missile strikes. As a result, one person was killed and two wounded in the village of Mets Masrik. Also, just recently, a 14-year-old was also wounded following a drone strike. Over 40 houses, two schools and a gas pipeline were damaged. According to Sanosyan, agricultural activities have also been impacted. After the first few days of the war, however, people got used to the tactics of the Azerbaijani forces and civil defense mechanisms have been in place, which explains the low number of casualties amid the ongoing shellings. To date, 18 UAVs have been shot down in the region, mainly in the vicinity of Vardenis, Martuni and Gavar.
Speaking about the ongoing activities in the region, Sanosyan noted that everyone in Gegharkunik understands the strategic location of the region very well and what they need to do to assist their brothers in Artsakh. He noted that they are in close contact with the municipal bodies of other regions as well as with the leadership of Artsakh.
While answering the reporter’s questions, Artsrun Hovhannisyan said that the Armenian side is fighting on its own and does not get any help from its allies for air defense. “We are defending our land and it’s our fight. Our allies can assist but cannot fight for our army,” Hovhannisyan said.
A New Attempt at a Humanitarian Truce
10:25 p.m.: The following is a statement by the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the establishment of humanitarian truce:
“The Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan have agreed to a humanitarian truce as of October 18th, 00h00 local time.
“This decision was taken following the statement of the Presidents of the French Republic, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, representing the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, of 1 October 2020, the Statement by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group of 5 October, and in line with Moscow Statement of 10 October 2020.”
Artsakh Ready to Observe Humanitarian Truce on a Reciprocal Basis
11 p.m.: Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh regarding the readiness to observe the humanitarian truce on a reciprocal basis:
“We welcome the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries and of the Republic of Armenia towards a ceasefire and de-escalation of tension in the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict zone. The Republic of Artsakh confirms readiness to observe the humanitarian truce on a reciprocal basis, in line with the Moscow Statement of October 10, 2020, and agreement reached on October 17, 2020.
ECtHR Rules to Apply Interim Measures Against Azerbaijan
Former Minister of Justice and human rights lawyer Artak Zeynalyan and lawyer Siranush Sahakyan submitted a request to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to apply interim measures on behalf of two Armenian servicemen, Areg Sargsyan and Narek Amirjanyan, who were taken hostage in Azerbaijan.
On October 16, the Court decided in the interest of the parties and the proper conduct of the proceedings before it, to indicate to the Government of Azerbaijan, under Rule 39, to ensure respect for the applicants’ Convention rights and to provide them with appropriate medical treatment. The Azerbaijani Government is required to submit information, including on the compliance with the interim measures by October 22, 2020.
Considering Azerbaijan’s record of gross violations of humanitarian law, evidence was submitted to the Court about the involvement of Azerbaijani Armed Forces in war crimes against prisoners of war.
On October 17, Zeynalyan announced in a Facebook post that the two Armenian servicemen called their parents. They are alive and are currently in a hospital.
UN Resident Coordinator Visits Children Injured in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Zone
The UN Resident Coordinator in Armenia Shombi Sharp, UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development Officer Maya Simonyan and Nutrition Programme Officer Mihran Hakobyan visited children injured in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone at the Surb Astvadzamayr Hospital in Yerevan. They were greeted and accompanied during the visit by the representative of the Ministry of Health and the medical staff.
“I and the UN country team condemn any targeting of civilians, and the UN Secretary-General urges an immediate and lasting ceasefire as there is no military solution to the conflict,” said Sharp. “Every child has a fundamental right to a peaceful childhood no matter where they are from.”
The UN in Armenia stands ready, should the situation require it and be called upon, to provide humanitarian support to those who have had to leave their homes or are otherwise affected.