YEREVAN — A group of foreign ambassadors and other diplomats visited on Friday the largest of the Armenian border settlements shelled by the Azerbaijani army during this week’s deadly clashes with Armenian forces.
The Yerevan-based diplomats, among them U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, toured Jermuk, Armenia’s most famous spa town 170 kilometers southeast of the capital, and inspected damage to its civilian infrastructure during a trip organized by the Armenian military. Journalists were allowed to accompany them.
Jermuk was close to one of the epicenters of heavy fighting that broke out at several sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on Monday night. The vast majority of its residents, notably children and women, were evacuated or fled their homes on their own amid cross-border artillery fire. Civilian access to the largely deserted town remains strictly limited for security reasons.
Local government officials said that the Azerbaijani shelling damaged a spa resort, three guest houses, a children’s playground, an administrative building and a cable car line. The cable car director told reporters that about a dozen shells landed on the facility and seriously damaged it.
Just outside Jermuk, the tail of an unexploded rocket fired by Azerbaijani forces stuck out by the main road leading out of the town.
The fighting also directly affected a dozen other border towns and villages. According to the Armenian government, a total of 60 houses and other structures were destroyed by the shelling.
Major-General Eduard Asryan, the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, met with the visiting diplomats and answered their questions. Asryan told them that Jermuk and nearby hills were the “main direction of the enemy attacks” launched at several sections of the border.
Azerbaijani troops managed to advance a few kilometers into Armenian territory in the Jermuk area, he said, adding that they made far more modest territorial gains at three other border sections. Although Armenian army units recaptured some of their lost positions there, the general went on, a hill 4.5 kilometers east of Jermuk remains under Azerbaijani control.
Asryan said at the same time that a small Azerbaijani unit occupying the hill is nearly surrounded by Armenian forces and will have no choice but to leave it within days. He claimed that another group of Azerbaijani soldiers retreated towards the Azerbaijani border for the same reason earlier in the day.
Asryan briefed foreign diplomats on the atrocities committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces after infiltrating into Armenia’s territory “They committed atrocities in our combat positions against our servicemen, including women,” he said.
They dismembered a female soldier, cut off her legs and fingers, stripped her naked, the army chief said, promising to show a relevant video and describing it as “the highest level of cruelty.”
He stated that no military force, unit or soldier of any country has the right to commit such atrocities and called it a gross violation of the international humanitarian law.
Asryan said that war crimes have been carried out in all directions of the attack. He assured that the Armenian Armed Forces will continue taking all measures to ensure the security of the homeland.
According to the Armenian government, at least 135 Armenian soldiers were killed during the fighting largely stopped by a ceasefire agreement late on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, we understand that this number is not the final one,” Pashinian told members of his government on Friday.
The government has not yet released the number of Armenian soldiers missing in action.
The hostilities also reportedly left one Armenian civilian dead and six others wounded.