Nagorno-Karabakh residents inspect destroyed homes as ceasefire breaks

Nagorno-Karabakh residents inspect destroyed homes as ceasefire breaks
Nagorno-Karabakh residents inspect destroyed homes as ceasefire breaks

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Guennadi Avanessian had a big two-storey house at 28 Saroyan Street, with a wooden terrace and vines laden with dark grapes.

But his comfortable middle-class home in a well-off street in the capital of war-hit Nagorno-Karabakh region has been smashed to pieces during the conflict between neighbouring Azerbaijan and Armenia.

"I spent two years renovating this house with my own hands, and (Azerbaijani president) Aliyev destroyed it in two seconds with his bombs," Mr Avanessian rages to anyone who will listen from behind his moustache.

With a blue hat on his head, the 70-something clambers onto the huge heap of debris that is all that remains after the gutted house collapsed in on itself.

With a shovel, he searches through the twisted sheet metal, bits and pieces of the home's structure and traces of his former life.

Azerbaijani forces bombarded the area a week ago, and it is the first time Mr Avanessian has returned.

He was looking to scrape together whatever can be salvaged during a lull in the fighting after a ceasefire came into force on Saturday at noon.

However, fresh explosions rocked the capital on Saturday, with Azerbaijan and Armenia immediately accusing each other of violations, but ceasefire agreement did appear to curb artillery fire during the afternoon, with some Stepanakert residents emerging from their homes after days of heavy bombardment.

The respite was short, however, with seven loud explosions rocking the badly damaged city at around 10:30 UAE time on Saturday evening, triggering fresh air raid sirens.

A senior Azerbaijani official said the truce was only meant to be "temporary".

"It's a humanitarian ceasefire to exchange bodies and prisoners. It's not a (proper) ceasefire," the official said, adding that Baku had "no intention to backtrack" on its effort to retake control of Karabakh.

The disputed territory is an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, home to about 150,000 people, which broke from Azerbaijan's control in a war in the 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.

Its separatist government is strongly backed by Armenia, which like Azerbaijan gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The most recent fighting since September 27 has been the heaviest since the 1990s war, with more than 450 people reported dead, thousands forced to flee their homes and fears the fighting could escalate into a devastating all-out conflict.

Earlier in the day, the Armenian defence ministry had accused Azerbaijani forces of launching an attack on the frontline five minutes after the ceasefire came into force.

In return, Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Armenian forces had also carried out attacks on the frontline and shelled populated areas, accusing it of "blatantly violating the ceasefire."

In the evening, it said that Armenian armed forces had attempted to launch an offensive in several areas but were "forced to retreat."

"I was here when the rocket came down. I heard a whistle and I rushed into the cellar. I was two seconds away from being killed," Mr Avanessian recalls.

His son-in-law, also in the house that day, got away with an injury -- a minor miracle given the total destruction visited on the house.

"It's a Smerch rocket that did this," Mr Avanessian says, referring to the Soviet-era "Tornado" projectiles that have been falling throughout Karabakh's largest city during the past week of fighting over the ethnic Armenian breakaway territory.

"Where will I live now? Under the stars, under the rain? I had everything and now I have nothing left, I can't find anything. Everything's blown apart. The only thing I could find was a suitcase with children's clothes," he laments, showing off the battered, ancient bag.

"How can one man do this to another? Aliyev, you say that Karabakh is Azerbaijan. If I live in Azerbaijan, why have you bombed my house?" asks Mr Avanessian.

"I built this house to live in peace and they've destroyed it. The Azerbaijanis are bombing civilians. They're murderers, extremists!"

Neither does the retired police officer spare Turkey that has encouraged its ally Azerbaijan during the fighting.

"A curse on Erdogan!" he says, heaping insults on the Turkish president.

"If you were here in front of me, I'd hack you to death with an axe."

Updated: October 11, 2020 07:51 AM

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