BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other on Saturday of fresh attacks in violation of a week-old Russian-brokered truce that has failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.
Baku said 13 civilians were killed and more than 50 wounded in the city of Ganja by an Armenian missile attack, while Yerevan accused Azerbaijan of continued shelling.
The fighting is the worst in the region since Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces went to war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain territory that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
The Azeri Prosecutor General’s office said a residential area in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city and miles away from Nagorno-Karabakh, was shelled by missile strikes and around 20 apartment buildings had been hit. Armenia denied the claim.
Baku also said that an electricity line which goes from Azerbaijan to neighbouring Georgia was damaged as a result of shelling in the town of Mingachevir.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of committing a war crime by shelling Ganja.
“If the international community does not punish Armenia, we will do it,” he said.
Aliyev said the Azeri army has completely taken over two regions previously held by separatists, Fizuli and Jabrail.
“We are dominating the battlefield,” he said, adding that Azeri armed forces never targeted civilian settlements.
Aliyev also questioned Armenia’s ability to keep replacing military hardware destroyed in battles, a thinly veiled jab at Yerevan’s ally Moscow.
Armenia denied the Azeri claim that it had been bringing arms illegaly and accused Azerbaijan of acting to expand Turkey’s influence in the region and of using pro-Turkish mercenaries – charges both Ankara and Baku deny.
‘LIVING IN FEAR’
In Ganja, rescuers worked at the scene on Saturday morning, picking through rubble, a Reuters photographer said. Some houses had been almost levelled. An excavator was clearing the debris.
“We have been living in fear for days … We are suffering a lot. We would rather die. I wish we were dead but our children would survive,” one resident of the city, 58-year-old Emina Aliyeva, told reporters.
The Armenian defence ministry denied the Azeri claim on shelling cities in Azerbaijan and accused Baku of continuing to shell populated areas inside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.
Three civilians were wounded as a result of Azeri fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian foreign ministry said.
“We woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning due to an awful blow, it was not just a strike, it was something more powerful …We are scared, but we got used to it … Sometimes we felt as if they were hitting directly on us,” Lika Zakaryan, 26-year-old resident of Stepanakert, told Reuters.
A Reuters cameraman in Stepanakert said he had heard several explosions on Friday night and in the early hours of the morning.
Armenia also said several Azeri drones flew over settlements in Armenia, attacked military installations and damaged the civilian infrastructure. It denied an Azeri claim to have downed an Armenian Su-25 warplane.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called attacks “an attempted genocide of the Armenian people”, telling the French newspaper Liberation, “We must defend ourselves, like any nation that is threatened with extermination”.
Turkey, which has been criticised by NATO allies for its stance in the conflict, reiterated its support for Azerbaijan.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday Turkey would “always side with Azerbaijan”, while the country’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar talked to his Azeri counterpart Zakir Hasanov on the phone and congratulated him on “liberating” several settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ankara accuses Armenia of illegally occupying Azeri territory. Armenia says Turkey has encouraged Azerbaijan to pursue a military solution to the conflict, putting Armenian civilians in danger.
Baku said on Saturday that 60 Azeri civilians had been killed and 270 wounded since the fighting flared on Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not disclosed military casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh says 633 of its military personnel have been killed, and 34 civilians.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Olzhas Auyezov and Frances Kerry