Amnesty International releases report into Armenia's war crimes against civilians in Azerbaijan

Amnesty International releases report into Armenia's war crimes against civilians in Azerbaijan

The international human rights organization Amnesty International released a report today on violations during the Second Karabakh War, which documents the facts of terrorist attacks by the Armenian Armed Forces against peaceful Azerbaijani settlements, including those not in the vicinity of military objectives. The document was prepared after an appeal to AI of the Azerbaijani authorities in connection with the flagrant war crimes of the Armenian side - missile strikes on Ganja and Barda.

A preliminary report on the attacks on Barda and Ganja was published by Amnesty International on 29 October. In December, Amnesty International's senior investigator on crisis response visited the Kelbajar region and witnessed the facts of mockery of the Azerbaijani graves by the Armenian occupation forces. Vestnik Kavkaza presents the translation of the AI's final report on the war crimes committed by Armenia during the Second Karabakh War.

The report includes only ten attacks by the Armenian Armed Forces, five strikes in Ganja, three strikes in Barda, one in Gashalti (near Naftalan), one in Qarayusufl, in respect of which in November and December last year Amnesty International conducted an investigation - these the terrorist attacks killed 72 civilians of Azerbaijan.

Amnesty International interviewed 51 survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims at the strike sites and other locations, and eight state officials, between 1 and 6 December 2020.

The organization did not investigate other attacks by the Armenian army on the Azerbaijani civilian population, as a result of which another 22 people died.

"Five strikes in Ganja killed 33 civilians, three strikes in Barda killed 29, one strike in Gashalti killed five, and one strike in Qarayusufli killed five. The strikes in Barda and Qarayusufli involved the use of internationally banned cluster munitions, and the deadliest strikes on Ganja involved the use of R-17 ballistic missiles, which are more often called SCUD-Bs, their NATO reporting name. Other munitions used in strikes in civilian areas include unguided Smerch rockets and artillery shells," the report says.

"In addition to killing and harming civilians not directly participating in hostilities and not in the vicinity of military objectives, strikes carried out by Armenian forces also destroyed or damaged a large number of civilian homes and other civilian objects. In one settlement in Terter made up of 34 apartment buildings for families displaced from
Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, at least 25 apartments were struck, the roofs of eight buildings were destroyed, and hundreds of other apartments and administrative buildings sustained varying degrees of damage," the organization added.

According to the report, the strike carried out by Armenian forces on the Mukhtar Hajiyev neighbourhood of Ganja at about 1 am on 17 October killed 21 civilians and injured more than 50 others, destroying part of the neighbourhood. The authors stressed that Ganja is more than 50 km from the frontlines.

Sudaba Asgarova, whose 14-year-old daughter Nigar was killed in the strike, said the strike also killed numerous other relatives, including her father, her brother, her sister, and her sister’s 10-month-old daughter, as well as 16 neighbours. She told Amnesty International: "I was in Russia, where I work as a cook a few months a year. [After the strike] my relatives told me that my father had been killed. They did not tell me that my daughter and everyone else had been killed. My colleagues took me to the airport and took my phone away from me and gave it to another passenger so that I could not find out from the internet what had happened to my family. When I arrived home, they had all been buried already. The day after she died would have been her 15th birthday. She was my only child. She was all I had."

Sudaba Asgarova’s brother Rovshan Asgarov, who survived the strike, told Amnesty International: "I was outside my home with my brother talking to my friend and neighbour and then I went inside and went to check on my father, who was in bed, unwell. As I went to my room my son called me, for us to pray together. Then I felt like a powerful wave and I don’t remember anything, until I started to wake up with the voice of my neighbour calling me but I was buried under the rubble with my mother and my son and could not move. My son later told me that he was also calling me but I did not hear him. He was also injured very badly and is still in hospital in Baku. It will take a long time for him to recover. My father, my brother Bakhtiyar, my sister Sevil and her 10-month-old baby girl Narin, and my niece Nigar were all killed in the strike."

Another resident of the area, Ramiz Gahramanov, a 64-year-old construction worker, told Amnesty International that he lost his 34-year-old daughter Khatira Gahramanova, his 11-year-old grandson Orkhan, and his granddaughters Maryam, age six, and Laman, age 18. He recalled: "I was asleep on the second floor, in the new extension of the house, which is sturdier. I felt as if the bed was pushed up and floated for a moment and saw a flash of light and then everything was covered in thick dust and I could not see anything. I could not find my phone or my clothes. I called my daughter, the children, but nobody answered. Then my phone rang and that is how I was able to find it in the dust and debris. I looked down and when I saw that the house had been completely destroyed, I immediately knew that they had all died because nobody could have survived such destruction. I saw the body of my neighbour Suliddin strewn in the rubble. I could not find the bodies of my grandchildren. Parts of their bodies were not found until days later, in the next street, and some parts were not found at all. It was not just my family that was decimated. My neighbour, Royal Shahnazarov, his wife Zuleikha Shahnazarova, and their little baby girl, Madina, who was only one year old, were also killed. All three of them. Their other daughter, who is only three years old, is now an orphan."

The strike injured scores of residents and severely damaged dozens of houses in the surrounding streets, some of them beyond repair. When Amnesty International visited the area six weeks after the strike most of the neighbourhood’s residents remained displaced, as their houses were not habitable.

Most of the displaced residents interviewed by Amnesty International said that they or their children had been injured in the strike. Yegana Seidzade, who lived two streets away, said: "my daughters, aged 13 and 18, and myself and my mother-in-law all were full of cuts from the shattered windows. My daughters are still getting medical treatment now and the little one is very traumatized and can’t sleep or concentrate."

A week earlier, on 11 October, another strike hit Ganja at about 2 am. The strike killed 10 residents of an apartment building on Rafibayli Street opposite Victory Park, in the city centre, and destroyed or severely damaged dozens of surrounding homes. According to deminers from the governmental ANAMA, it also involved a SCUD-B ballistic missile.

Among those killed were 38-year-old Anar Alizada and his 33-year-old wife, Nurchin Alizada. Anar Alizada’s father told Amnesty International: "My wife was unwell so we were staying with relatives who looked after her. One of my sons called me at 3am and told me that our building had been hit but he did not tell me how serious it was. As I left to come over I didn’t tell my wife that it was our building that was bombed so as not to worry her. When I arrived, our building was a pile of rubble. Rescuers searched for 10 hours before they found my son’s body. Both he and his wife had severe head and neck injuries. They lived on the ground floor and were buried under the rubble. Now their two children are orphans."

Anar Alizada’s brother said: "I live four km away but I heard the explosion. But I did not imagine it was my brother’s home. Then a friend called and told me, so I rushed over."

A rescue worker told Amnesty International that body parts were found days later strewn more than 100 metres from the building: "It was the most difficult rescue I ever participated in," he recalled.

The organisation noted that the presence of these possible military objectives does not justify the use of a massive and imprecise weapon like the SCUD-B in a populated area. It is extremely inaccurate, and has a Circular Error Probable (CEP) - the distance within which half of a certain type of weapon are expected to land from their intended target—of approximately 1000 metres, far worse than even Grad rockets or most artillery. Weapons such as the SCUD-B, meaning inaccurate explosive weapons with wide area effects (a conventional SCUD-B warhead contains over 500 kg of high explosive, which can throw fragments that cause deaths and injuries up to 1000 metres away),11 must never be used in populated civilian areas, such as residential neighbourhoods. The likelihood of causing level of harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects is unacceptably high, making such use impermissible under the laws of war.

Three more strikes on Ganja out of the declared five are not given in the report.

The next part of the report is about Barda. On 28 October at about 1:30 pm, a busy time of day, Armenian forces fired several large calibre missiles into the city of Barda, more than 20 km from the frontlines. Three missiles landed in the city centre, two of them near two hospitals. One of them, a Russian-made 9M55K Smerch rocket containing 72 9N235 cluster munitions, landed in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout, killing 21 civilians who worked in the area or were passing through. Scores of others were injured, including some who lost limbs. 

Among the victims was Leila Mustafayeva, age 51, who lived by the roundabout. Her daughter told Amnesty International: "After the explosion my mother went outside and started helping rescue the injured. My sister followed her outside and she asked my sister to go fetch her phone in the house to call the ambulance; when my sister went back outside with the phone my mother was lying on the ground dead, bleeding from the chest and arm. There were many explosions; she did not know there would be more explosions when she went outside to help the injured."

Sevda Gojayeva, who has a teashop near the roundabout, described what she saw: "I was thrown against the wall by the force of the explosion. People were screaming and there was a lot of smoke. Five people were killed next to the car wash. Fuad Ismayilov, a teacher who lived behind the car wash was one of them. He was decapitated and his mother rushed over from the house and she saw his body. It was terrible for her. Sadig Aliyev from the car wash was killed; he was young, about 32, and was the father of three young children, and Agham Moallah, a taxi driver; he was about 60. He was coming from the city centre and going towards Yevlakh. And  there was a woman who came with her father to go to apply for social assistance and then they stopped to buy bread and were standing outside the bakery waiting for a bus and were both killed. It was indescribable. I can’t find the words to tell you."

On the other side of the roundabout several people were killed and injured near a butcher shop. Elchin Shirinov, a 36-year-old taxi driver and father of two young children, lost his leg in the strike. He told Amnesty International: "I was sitting in front of the butcher in my car, a Lada, when the explosion happened. I felt that I was hit in the leg and managed to drag myself out of the car, as it was catching fire. My left leg was cut off above the knee; it was only attached by a small bit of flesh. I knew I had lost it. I also had three big abdomen wounds. As I lay on the ground my car burned down completely and there were people injured, dying, or dead near me. I have had several surgeries on my leg, my abdomen and my arms. My other leg is also injured and I can’t stand on it, and because of the injuries on my arms and chest I cannot help myself with crutches. Before the explosion which injured me, I heard another explosion nearby, but I did not think they would bomb that busy place where I was."

Also seriously injured was Elnur Zulfugarov, a 28-year-old carpenter and father of three young children. He told Amnesty International: "I was working at the furniture shop on the roundabout and I heard an explosion and screams, and I went outside and it was chaos—smoke, dust, and people on the ground—but before I could really realize what happened I felt a hot wind and a sharp pain in my legs, especially my right leg and I fell to the ground unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I was on the ground and I had a big hole in my thigh; there were people on the ground in pools of blood; I don’t know who was dead or alive. I was taken to hospital in Naftalan." Six weeks later his wound was not improving and he feared that he might lose his leg

Cluster munitions scatter hundreds of bomblets, or submunitions, over a wide area. It is estimated that between 5 and 20% of cluster bomblets fail to explode. They are then left behind, posing a threat to civilians similar to that of anti-personnel landmines. Cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate weapons, and their use in any circumstances is banned under international humanitarian law. Even though Armenia is not a state party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, it has an obligation to comply with the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, including the principle of distinction, which forbids indiscriminate14 attacks and prohibits the use of weapons that are by nature indiscriminate.

The previous day, on 27 October, Armenian forces launched another cluster munitions strike on Qarayusufli, a village 10 km south-east of Barda, killing five villagers—three women, a seven-year-old girl, and a man— and injuring 14 others. The strike also caused widespread damage to homes throughout the village.

“It was as if it was raining bombs and explosions. Some bombs exploded on the ground and others in the air,” one of the villagers told Amnesty International.

Shrapnel/fragments which the villagers collected, craters, and shrapnel marks on walls, roofs and trees, and the villagers’ testimonies of multiple explosions were consistent with the effects of an attack using cluster submunitions.
The uncle of a seven-year-old girl who was killed told Amnesty International his niece, Aysu Iskandarli, was playing outside when the attack started. He recalled: "Aysu was playing on the swing in the garden when several bombs exploded all around, in the garden and outside. She was very badly injured in the abdomen and chest and died immediately."

Ofelya Cafarova’s son, Rovshan, told Amnesty International that his mother had gone into the part of the yard where the family keeps chickens to get a chicken to prepare as a meal for him, as he had called her to say that he would be home later that day. Two submunitions exploded in the yard and two on the roof of a nearby house. Ofelya Cafarova died instantly from her wounds.

Aybaniz Ahmadova, age 61, was working in the field opposite her home, cultivating the onions, when seven submunitions exploded. “After she was injured my mum ran some 30 metres across the field, trying to get away from the explosion towards home, but she collapsed and died in the middle of the field. Now the house is empty without her. Me and my sister miss her very much,” her son told Amnesty International.

Sixty-year-old Almaz Aliyeva was washing her hands in the yard in front of her home when she was struck by shrapnel by one of the bombs, killing her on the spot, her son told Amnesty International. Two cluster submunitions struck the family’s yard, damaging the roof and the outer wall, and others exploded on the road and nearby fields.

Ehtiram Ismaylov, a 40-year-old cameraman and father of three children, was also killed and his wife was wounded in their home when at least seven submunitions exploded around the house.

In the late afternoon of 27 September, the first day of the war, Armenian forces launched an artillery salvo on the home of the Gurbanov family, killing five family members and partially destroying the house. Bakhtiyar Gurbanov recounted the incident, saying: "The shell struck here, on the steps, by the entrance. It killed both my parents, my father Elbrus and my mother Shafayat, my brother’s wife, Afaq, my nephew Shahriyar, and my niece Fidan. Our family was destroyed. We had started to renovate the house before the war, now we can’t bear to be here anymore. We have left everything as it was at the time of the attack. My brothers and I can’t bear to think about it, to remember what happened. It was a terrible sight."

As even modern artillery has a CEP of at least 100 metres at the weapon’s typically employed range, this weapon should never be used in the vicinity of concentration of civilians.15 It cannot be accurately deployed against military objectives in the midst of populated civilian areas and its use in such circumstances violates, the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, AI concluded.

All these attacks by prohibited weapons on the civilian population of Azerbaijan are war crimes committed by the Armenian troops and their commanders, and should be properly investigated so that all those responsible are punished. Criminals must not shirk responsibility.

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