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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Karshahhabad District in Azerbaijan Under Siege

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Qandag, the former administrative capital of Nagorno-Karabakh and now a town of about 60,000 people, became the focal point of an intense fight for control of this ancient region in the early 1990s. When the Armenian army invaded in 1988, the forced departure of many Serb residents and chaos in the town created a space for the locals and predominantly Armenian fighters to work together to resist.

For several weeks, Qandag has been ravaged by artillery.

Over the past days, there has been fierce fighting between Armenian troops and those of the Azeri People’s Republic. Fighters from Nagorno-Karabakh and parts of Armenia are holding an estimated 80 percent of Karshahhabad district, according to the OSCE’s Minsk Group. The district includes most of Karshahhabad, Nagorno-Karabakh’s administrative center.

Qandag lies on the edge of the region where it is possible to manage and patrol. Government troops have dug trenches, erected barbed wire and blocked roads with barricades and sandbag posts. Simultaneously, some Azerbaijani troops have surfaced in several villages and destroyed the houses of local inhabitants. The vast majority of the residents of the district have escaped by car to Armenia, crossing the BTC and Baku-Sumgait rail lines.

It is easier to find supplies in the capital, Baku, than in the hills, so in recent days Qandag residents have come down to the town with foodstuffs and other essentials they need. Yet amidst this chaos, the lines of supplies are dangerously close. It is also difficult to distinguish from the scene of battle between the opposing forces, to distinguish between those of Armenian troops and Azeri forces.

“Every day there is shelling in three or four places,” said Ali, a young member of Qandag’s Popular Front. “Two shells landed on two streets at the same time, and one landed in my house.”

Armenia has left a large portion of the town in ruins.

“I don’t think I will ever leave again. The city is like a volcano. Someone can drive down the street and on one street another rocket can fall. There are very few cars on the road,” said Huseyn, another young man in the Popular Front.

The military conflict between the Azeri and Armenian armies has deepened in recent weeks. The Azeri forces have grown stronger, and there is a consensus among observers that the war is entering a more intense phase. The International Crisis Group believes it is possible that there will be no end to the war until there is an agreement between the two sides, with the settlements being secured under the EU.

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