Sorrow and pride as Karabakh capital comes under fire

By: AFP      Published: 08:33 PM, 3 Oct, 2020
Sorrow and pride as Karabakh capital comes under fire
People gather in front of an apartment building that was supposedly damaged by recent shelling in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region's main city of Stepanakert

Reeling from the heavy shelling of their city, residents of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region's capital Stepanakert emerged after dawn Saturday to take stock of the damage.

Some cleaned up glass from shattered windows, some cleared debris from collapsed parts of their homes and some packed up to leave.

The city of 50,000 came under heavy artillery and rocket fire on Friday for the first time since the decades-old conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh erupted into fierce new clashes on Sunday.

Stepanakert, home to Karabakh's ethnic Armenian separatist government, is a few dozen kilometres from the frontline but within firing range of Azerbaijani forces.

Azerbaijan has also accused Armenian forces of shelling its settlements in the fighting, which has so far left more than 240 dead, including more than 30 civilians on both sides.

In one part of Stepanakert, a row of three-storey apartment buildings had been hit, the windows blown out and parts of the roofs ruined. 

While some residents cleaned up, others were carrying belongings as they prepared to leave. A pool of blood lay between two damaged cars.

"I left my home and five or 10 minutes later, boom! An explosion. Thankfully there was no one in the house," Nelson Adamyan, a 65-year-old electrician, told AFP outside his damaged building.

"This is a great sorrow for our community, for our people. But we will stand for our freedom, we will always be free."

Drones buzzing overhead 

Artak Beglaryan, the region's rights ombudsman, said at least one person died in Friday's strikes and 11 people were wounded.

Another Nagorno-Karabakh official, Grigory Martyrosyan, told journalists that "public buildings, houses and infrastructure were damaged" in the attacks but that there were no plans yet for city to be evacuated. 

One of the worst-hit buildings was the headquarters of the emergency situations ministry, which is in charge of rescue and firefighting services, officials said.

"Azerbaijan continues to target civilian infrastructure," Beglaryan said. 

Armen Muradyan, a former Armenian health minister who is working as a voluntary doctor in Nagorno-Karabakh, said civilians were being treated for shrapnel wounds. The region was low on resources, he said, and needed more medical supplies and doctors. 

Drones have been flying over the city for days, with a characteristic buzzing sound that can be heard every night. 

Public lighting has been turned off and residents are careful to draw the curtains tight to avoid letting light escape from their homes.

Bombing alerts sound several times a day, sending residents rushing to shelters. 

But while some residents have left their city, not everyone in Stepanakert was in a state of panic over the clashes.

"There is shelling, bombings... we are used to it," said Arkady, a 66-year-old resident.

"There will be casualties, war is war," he said. "We're not afraid, we have our pride."