Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, Ganja, has been shelled by Armenian forces, as heavy clashes continue over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The enclave is officially part of Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians. The self-proclaimed authorities there said they hit Ganja’s military airport after Azerbaijani forces shelled the region’s capital, Stepanakert. Azerbaijan says no Ganja military sites were hit. More than 220 people have died since clashes began a week ago.
Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94, eventually declaring a ceasefire. However, they have never reached a settlement over the dispute. The current fighting is the worst seen since the ceasefire and the two former Soviet republics have been blaming each other. There are fears that the actual death toll among the militaries from all sides as well as civilians could be much higher, as casualty claims have not been independently verified.
Azerbaijan’s military says its forces have retaken control of seven villages since last Sunday, while Nagorno-Karabakh says its troops have “improved” their frontline positions. Earlier this week, Armenia said it stood “ready to engage” with mediators from France, Russia and the US to try to agree a ceasefire. Azerbaijan, which is openly backed by Turkey, has demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas seized by ethnic Armenian troops.
What’s the latest from the battlefield?
In a brief statement on Sunday, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces were shelling Ganja, a western Azerbaijani city lying to the north of Nagorno-Karabakh. Defence Minister Zakary Hasanov said this was a “clearly provocative” move which was expanding the conflict. In a later statement, the defence ministry said: “The information spread by the Armenian side about the alleged shelling of military facilities in Ganja city is provocative and false.
“As a result of enemy fire, civilians, civilian infrastructure, and ancient historical buildings were harmed.” Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorities said that they had destroyed Ganja’s military airport. They said they had acted after Stepanakert was hit by missiles and alleged the facility had been used by Azerbaijani forces to launch attacks on civilian areas. Heavy casualties were reported in Stepanakert, which was left without electricity, according to Armenpress news agency. Buses of people were seen leaving the city on Saturday. Armenpress quoted the separatist region’s leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, as warning that “from now on the military facilities permanently deployed in Azerbaijan’s major cities are legitimate targets of the defence army”.
Separately, Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said that “that no fire of any kind is being opened from the territory of Armenia in Azerbaijan’s direction”.