By Ruzanna Stepanian
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe toured Armenian-occupied territories east of Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday to investigate Azerbaijani allegations that Armenian forces have been setting fire to local villages and pastures.
Azerbaijani officials claim that more than a dozen villages in the Aghdam district have been burned down over the past month in what they described as a deliberate scorched-earth policy pursued by the Karabakh Armenians. They say the resulting massive fires have spilled over into the Azerbaijani side of the nearby Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact. Official Baku has pledged to raise the issue with the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
The government of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has vehemently denied the allegations. It asked on June 15 Andrzej Kasprzyk, a senior OSCE official in charge of monitoring the ceasefire regime in the Karabakh conflict zone, to send a fact-finding team to the area.
Three representatives of Kasprzyk’s office inspected the mainly empty villages, whose Azerbaijani residents had fled their homes during their capture by Karabakh Armenian forces in 1993, as part of a regular ceasefire monitoring. They could not be reached for comment by phone on Wednesday.
Masis Mayilian, the NKR’s deputy foreign minister, was confident that the British, Czech and German officials will dismiss the Azerbaijani allegations in their report to Kasprzyk. “The OSCE officials found no evidence of any settlement burned down there,” he told RFE/RL from Stepanakert.
Karabakh officials admitted earlier that brush fires erupted in the Aghdam districts recently but insisted that those were caused by a drought and tracer bullets fired from Azerbaijani army positions.
(Photolur photo: Karabakh troops holding war games in the Aghdam district.)