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Azerbaijan Accused Of Starting Wildfires In Armenian Border Area


Armenia - Wildfires rage near the Armenian border village of Kut, September 1, 2021.

Armenian officials have accused Azerbaijani troops of starting wildfires near two border villages in Armenia’s Gegharkunik province to inflict more damage on local farmers.

The villages of Sotk and Kut are situated along one of the portions of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which Azerbaijani forces reportedly crossed in May to advance a few kilometers into Armenian territory.

The wildfires reportedly erupted there on Monday, destroying pastures and hay stacks belonging to villagers heavily dependent on animal husbandry. According to local officials, 160 hectares of land was burned down on Tuesday alone.

The fires were extinguished around Sotk but continued to rage near Kut on Wednesday. Photographs and videos circulated by Armenian media outlets showed firefighters and local residents trying to put out flames manually.

Gevorg Galstian, the head of the Gegharkunik branch of the Armenian Rescue Service, said the area’s mountainous terrain makes it impossible for his firefighters to use fire engines.

Hakob Avetian, the mayor of a Gegharkunik community comprising Sotk and Kut, charged that Azerbaijani soldiers deployed on nearby hills set fire to the local fields.

“They roll down a burning tire and it spreads the fire. That is done deliberately,” Avetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service by phone.

“They spread fires in those directions where they can cause more damage,” he said, pointing to hay that was collected and stacked by local farmers for their livestock.

Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, also blamed the fires on Azerbaijani troops deployed in the “sovereign territory of Armenia.”

“As a result of these actions taken by Azerbaijani servicemen, pastures belonging to civilian residents are being destroyed and people are being deprived of their livelihoods,” Tatoyan said in a statement released late on Tuesday.

Baku denied that its forces deliberately caused the wildfires. It also maintains that they did not cross into Armenian territory in May.

The farmers in Sotk, Kut and two nearby villages lost access to some of their traditional summer pastures as a result of the Azerbaijani troop advances.

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