November 8th, 2020
Urgent Statement: Fighting in Shushi and Conflicting Media Reports
HART remains deeply concerned by the rapidly changing situation in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh).
Earlier today, Azerbaijan reported that it had captured Shushi, a strategically important settlement, which sits on a mountain overlooking the capital city Stepanakert. The Governments of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) have denied such reports, confirming that heavy fighting continues, with huge damages inflicted on civilian infrastructures.
The capture of Shushi would cut off the main access route to Armenia for Nagorno Karabakh’s (Artsakh) civilians. We fear it would increase the scale of military offensives by Azerbaijan into Stepanakert and intensify the bombardment of civilians. Occupation would take us one step closer to a complete ethnic cleansing of the 94% Armenian Christian population of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh).
We therefore urge the British Government to:
Condemn in the strongest terms this escalation of violence;
Promote an immediate end to hostilities and the implementation of a new ceasefire;
Provide more extensive security guarantees for the Armenians and other existentially threatened peoples of the region, with an emphasis on monitoring and investigating clashes and casualties along the Line of Contact;
Support a political process that seriously addresses the aspiration for self-determination by citizens of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh).
The city of Shushi (called Shusha by Azeris), has a long and important history. From Mediaeval times through to the 1750s, the town was the centre of a self-governing Armenian principality. In 1752, under Persian occupation the town became capital of the Karabakh Khanate, with a mixed Armenian and Azeri population. It remained an important mixed cultural and trading centre for the Caucasus after being ceded to Russia in 1823. Conflict between the Azeri and Armenian occupants began during the Russian Cultural Revolution. When, after the collapse of the Russian Empire, Karabakh was claimed by Azerbaijan, an Armenian uprising resulted in a pogrom in 1920, during which the city was ethnically cleansed of Armenians and thousands of its Armenian inhabitants were killed. When Karabakh was handed to the new state of Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1923, Shushi became an Azeri town. It was only recaptured by Armenians in 1992, and since then has been rebuilt as an important Armenian cultural centre. On 20 October 2020, the town’s Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, a religious and cultural symbol of the Armenian presence, was shelled twice by Azeri forces and badly damaged.
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