Armenian Forces Strike Azerbaijan : Republics: At least 200 civilians and 200 soldiers were reported killed in the battle for Agdam.
In the worst defeat for Azerbaijan in five years of war, Armenian forces have struck deep into Azerbaijan and were poised Saturday to seize a southern swath of the country.
The capture Friday of the Azerbaijani city of Agdam was followed Saturday by a fierce Armenian attack on the strategic southern city of Fizuli.
Both cities had been used by Azerbaijan to fire long-range shells at Nagorno-Karabakh, said Manuel Sarkisyan, a spokesman for the Armenian-populated enclave. “We will do anything to save our small people from extinction,” he said.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said at least 200 civilians and 200 soldiers were killed in the battle for Agdam. Thousands have fled, and by Saturday most of the city of 60,000 had burned to the ground or been razed by Armenian tanks and artillery, the ministry said.
The heavy losses are particularly humiliating for Azerbaijan’s new leadership. A month ago, the country’s first democratically elected president, Abulfez Elchibey, accused of bungling the war with Armenia, was forced to flee after a military coup.
The new government, an uneasy coalition between industrialist-turned-warlord Suret Guseinov and former Soviet Politburo member Geidar Aliyev, had promised to regain all territories lost to the Armenians.
Instead, the Armenians have continued to score victories.
They now control all of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous land within Azerbaijan that is populated almost exclusively by ethnic Armenians, as well as all of Kelbadzhar, an Azerbaijani region that lies between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
In a broad offensive that began June 12, Armenian forces began striking deep inside Azerbaijan proper.
Fizuli is strategically key because it lies inside a narrow strip of Azerbaijani land between Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran. If Fizuli is captured, Armenian forces could slice off the strip from Azerbaijan.
The Armenians are advancing toward Fizuli from three sides, said Lt. Khafiz Gaibov, spokesman for the Azerbaijan Defense Ministry, in a telephone interview from Baku.
If Fizuli falls, “Armenians will cut off and virtually surround a great chunk of our territory consisting of three districts where about 300,000 people now live,” Gaibov said.
Sarkisyan, the spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh, said Armenians can no longer worry about world condemnation if they attack outside their borders.
“We appealed to the world community and the leadership of Azerbaijan many times to stop the continuous shelling of Karabakh territory"--including ceaseless bombardment of the capital of Stepanakert, Sarkisyan said. “We had to stop that or die.”
Armenians and Azerbaijanis have long accused each other of targeting civilians, and those charges are growing louder as the military stakes rise.
Azerbaijan claimed Saturday that Armenians had shelled the villages of Geitepe, Shirvanly and Garadagly, Interfax reported.
In retaliation, Azerbaijani MIG-21 and Sukhoi-25 fighter planes have reportedly been bombing villages inside Armenia, killing 13 and injuring 27 in the last two days, according to the Armenians.
The latest casualty figures for both sides could not be confirmed. However, at least 8,500 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless since the conflict began in 1988.
Sergei Loiko, a Times Moscow Bureau reporter, contributed to this report.