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Azeri Mortar Fire Reported In Karabakh (UPDATED)


Nagorno-Karabakh - A view of the village of Khramort.

Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have accused Azerbaijan of shelling several local villages in continuing efforts to force their ethnic Armenian residents to flee their homes.

The prosecutor’s office in Stepanakert said on Wednesday evening that the Azerbaijani army is “actively” using mortars and automatic weapons to target the rural communities, mostly located in Karabakh’s east, as well as local roads. The gunfire forced local farmers to suspend “all types of agricultural work,” it added in a statement.

No casualties were reported.

Karabakh’s Defense Army said earlier in the day that Azerbaijani forces fired mortars towards the village of Khramort for the second consecutive night on Tuesday. Nobody was hurt as a result, it said.

In another statement issued afterwards, the Defense Army said Azerbaijani forces also opened mortar fire at another village in eastern Karabakh, Khnushinak.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said that its troops did not target any civilian areas or infrastructure in Karabakh. It said they only shot back at Karabakh Armenian forces which it claimed violated the ceasefire on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

Located roughly 30 kilometers east of Stepanakert, Khramort borders the Aghdam district handed back to Azerbaijan following the 2020 war. It is home to more than 100 families.

Nagorno-Karabakh - A handout photo purportedly shows fragments of an Azerbaijani mortar shell that landed in a village in eastern Karabakh, March 9, 2022.
Nagorno-Karabakh - A handout photo purportedly shows fragments of an Azerbaijani mortar shell that landed in a village in eastern Karabakh, March 9, 2022.

Tensions around the village rose in mid-February when Azerbaijani troops reportedly wounded a Karabakh Armenian soldier and fired on local farmers cultivating their land. A tractor used by them was hit by the gunshots before Russian peacekeeping forces intervened to rescue the farmers.

Baku claimed that the latter fortified Armenian military positions in the area under the guise of agricultural work. Karabakh officials shrugged off the claim.

Later in February, Azerbaijani troops broadcast through loudspeakers placed on their positions an Armenian-language message telling Khramort residents to stop working in their orchards and leave “Azerbaijan’s territory.” “Or else, force will be used against you,” it warned.

The menacing broadcasts ended a few days later, after negotiations held by Russian peacekeepers and the Azerbaijani side.

The Russians had to intervene again at the weekend to stop exchanges of automatic gunfire between Azerbaijani and Karabakh Armenian forces deployed outside Khramort.

Nagorno-Karabakh - A Russian soldier of the peacekeeping force controls a vehicle at a checkpoint on a road outside Stepanakert, November 26, 2020.
Nagorno-Karabakh - A Russian soldier of the peacekeeping force controls a vehicle at a checkpoint on a road outside Stepanakert, November 26, 2020.

The Karabakh Defense Army reported the first Azerbaijani mortar fire on Monday evening. Khramort residents interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service spoke of several explosions near their homes.

“I worked in our garden with my children,” said Hasmik Andrian, a local woman. “The blast was very strong. They said it was a mortar. We got very scared.”

“Every time we go to bed we fear that they will attack, strike the village overnight,” she said. “Every time we wake up in the morning we thank God for having slept safely and for the fact that nothing happened, that my kids are with me.”

Like many other people in Khramort, Andrian wants a permanent Russian military presence in or around the village. “If there are Russian posts here we will sleep normally,” she said.

Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, Gegham Stepanian, charged on Tuesday that the reported shelling of Khramort was part of Baku’s efforts to intimidate the Karabakh Armenians and force them to leave the disputed territory.

In recent months, Azerbaijani army units have also been accused of regularly opening small arms fire at other Karabakh villages. In one of them, Karmir Shuka, a private house was damaged by gunfire in early February.

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