Azerbaijan and Armenia report shelling of cities despite truce

A house burns after shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery. Credit: AP

Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of attacking large cities in violation of a ceasefire brokered by Russia that seeks to end the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijani authorities said on Sunday that nine civilians had been killed and more than 30 wounded after Armenian forces fired missiles overnight on Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, and hit a residential building.

According to Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s office, the city of Mingachevir also came under missile attacks early on Sunday.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s military officials on Sunday denied attacking Ganja and said the territory’s army is observing the ceasefire.

A woman sits in ruins of her house in Terter, Azerbaijan. Credit: Aziz Karimov/AP

They added that Azerbaijani forces had shelled Stepanakert, the region’s capital, and other towns during the night in violation of the truce.

The latest bout of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces started on September 27 and has left hundreds of people dead in the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a truce in Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered it in a series of calls with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

The ceasefire was announced early on Saturday, after 10 hours of talks in the Russian capital sponsored by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and took effect at noon on Saturday.

The deal stipulated that the ceasefire should pave the way for talks on settling the conflict.

An electrician repairs a power line damaged by shelling in Stepanakert. Credit: AP

If the truce had held, it would mark a major diplomatic coup for Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but also cultivated ties with Azerbaijan.

However, minutes after the ceasefire came into effect, both sides accused each other of continuing attacks in violation of the deal.

The situation in the region was “relatively calm” on Sunday morning, according to Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, with only minor hostilities along the front line, but it was unclear whether the calm would last, he said.

“There is no shelling of our towns and villages. At the front line, there is some shooting with the use of artillery. There are some skirmishes on the border,” he said.

“Since the morning it seems calm, but within minutes the situation can change.”