Fighting In Nagorno-Karabakh: Video Of Suspected War Crimes Emerges And Putin Statement Puts Death Toll At 5000

Reporting from the BBC into the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in their dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has shed light on the emergence of two videos documenting Azerbaijani soldiers potentially carrying out a war crime: capturing and killing two Armenian soldiers. Azerbaijan has denied their involvement and has stated that their investigations have led them to conclude that the video is fake. However, analysis by Bellingcat investigative journalists as well as by the BBC and experts has not, as yet, found any evidence to indicate that this is the case. Armenian officials have been quick to condemn the actions of the Azerbaijani soldiers in the video. According to the BBC, the human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, is launching an investigation into the legitimacy of the videos.

Other breaches of humanitarian law are also suspected from both sides in this conflict. Amnesty International has reported and is investigating the use of artillery salvos and ballistic missiles in civilian areas. In a statement, Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s acting Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia said, “The evidence of the use of ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide-area effects in civilian neighbourhoods tells a story of shocking disregard for life and the laws of war.”

In other recent news from the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin has estimated that the death toll as a result of the most recent outbreak of conflict since the 27th of September is nearing 5000. This number is far higher than any previous estimates from official figures from either side.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is a mountainous enclave located near the Armenian border. It is currently a recognized part of Azerbaijan but has a majority ethnic Armenian population and is under the control of separatist ethnic Armenians that are being supported by the Armenian government. The roots of this conflict lie decades back. During Armenia and Azerbaijan’s time as part of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh was put under Azerbaijani control. During the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the inhabitants and regional officials of Nagorno-Karabakh began a movement to become part of Armenia. Both votes by the local government and a referendum of the general public favoured unity with Armenia. However, following the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of Armenia and Azerbaijan as independence, this dispute became increasingly violent. This ultimately led to the eruption of full-scale war which reportedly saw the deaths of an estimated 20,000 people and resulted in the displacement of around one million mostly Azerbaijani citizens.

It is unclear who initiated this latest bout of violence, the most significant since 1994 when Armenia took control of the region. There have been smaller deadly clashes over the years, including in 2016 where U.S. Department of State estimates put casualties at a total of 350, including civilians. To date, attempts at talks to broker peace between the two nations have failed. The latest truce made on the 17th of October which was mediated by Russia was swiftly broken. Azerbaijan says Armenian forces were the first to break the agreement, which Armenia has denied, as reported by the BBC. Talks have been ongoing since 1994, hosted by Russia, France and the United States under the OSCE Minsk Group which was established with the aim of navigating peace talks in the region. Negotiations are complicated by wider international interests; Turkey is a strong supporter of Azerbaijan whilst Russia, although still nurturing a good relationship with Azerbaijan, is thought to be a stronger supporter of Armenia. The international community continues to call on both sides to collaborate to find a way to peace, but, in the current climate, peace seems more of a distant hope than an imminent reality.

Clara Baltay