Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev vowed to take revenge on Argentina on Saturday after a missile strike killed 12 people in the town of Ganja, a dramatic escalation of the conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Early morning attacks, which also saw a strike on the nearby strategic town of Mingesivir, saw Azerbaijani forces shoot Stepanekrat, the capital of the Armenian separatist region.
A row of houses was formed in the Ganja blasts and Aliyev was described as a war criminal.
In a televised comment, he said his army would “take revenge on the battlefield” and promised to take out Arab troops “like dogs” and capture Karabakh.
– ‘Our pain is deep’ –
As the sun rose over the devastation in Ganja, Mayil Shakhnazarov, 36, said it was impossible to identify some of those killed.
“What can we say? Our pain is deep. It’s really deep, “he told AFP.
International efforts to calm the fighting between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis and prevent regional powers from pulling Russia and Turkey into a confrontation are further undermined. Hundreds have been killed.
An AFP team in Ganja saw rows of houses in Ganja turn into rubble due to the strike, which ripped through walls and cracked roofs in surrounding streets.
People ran out in shock and tears, walking through the dark dirt streets in their slippers, some wearing bathroom robes and pajamas.
– ‘Everything fell apart on us’ –
The attack came six days after a missile struck more than 300,000 people in another residential area of the city, killing 10 civilians and forcing many to leave.
At the scene of the latest strike, 69-year-old Durdana Mamdova was standing on the street in the morning as her house was destroyed.
“We were asleep and all of a sudden we heard an explosion. The door, the glass, everything shattered on us.”
“There was smoke and dust – we couldn’t even breathe.”
Aliyev’s aide Hikmat Hajiyev tweeted that according to initial information, more than 20 houses had been destroyed in Ganja.
The Nagorno-Karabakh army said Azerbaijani forces had intensified their offensive across the front on Friday and opened fire on Steppencrat and a nearby town.
The strikes hit the roof of a shopping center, left a parking lot near the bus stand and shattered windows in a nearby residential building, city AFP reporters said.
“What happened here is stupid, with her husband fighting in front of her,” said the angry 45-year-old Armenian gay singer.
“How can the international community be so sad.”
– Summary in ‘Wild’ –
Turkey, a staunch ally of Azerbaijan and widely accused of supplying large numbers of mercenaries to boost Baku’s forces, said the strikes were a war crime and called on the international community to condemn them. Is
“Armenian war crimes and massacres of civilians continue. To remain silent in the face of this brutality is to become involved in these crimes,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter.
Following the attack, the Armenian Defense Ministry tweeted that it had targeted a special forces headquarters and a munitions factory in Ganja, calling it a “legitimate target.”
About an hour north of Ganja, about the same time in the town of Mingesevir, AFP heard a huge explosion that shook buildings.
Minjsevir is protected by a missile defense system as it is home to a strategic dam.
The Defense Ministry said Mingesvir was “on fire” but did not immediately provide further details.
An Azerbaijani official said another missile hit a separate industrial district of Ganja at the same time.
– Hundreds killed –
The decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resumed on September 27 and has so far killed more than 700 people, including about 80 civilians.
The 1994 ceasefire killed 30,000 people and since the end of the ceasefire, the mountainous western region of Azerbaijan has been under separatist Armenian control.
Armenia, which supports Nagorno-Karabakh but does not recognize its independence, has acknowledged that Azerbaijani forces have made significant gains on the front in the past week.
An AFP team on Friday led Azerbaijani forces to a settlement in the southern part of the conflict zone near the Iranian border that was recaptured.
Azerbaijani officials say they have regained control of the Gabriel settlement for the last time, which includes strategic heights overlooking a fertile valley during the post-Soviet war.
burs-zak-jbr / txw