40,000 flee Armenian tank offensive: Yerevan's military strategy leads to an 'annexation' of neighbouring Azeri territory

THE LAST of more than 40,000 exhausted Azeri refugees limped down the snow-bound flanks of the Morvan mountain, leaving no doubt about the impact of Armenia's latest land-grab that has left it in control of nearly one-tenth of Azerbaijan.

Armenian claims that the last offensive was a one-off retaliatory action by irregulars in the Armenian- populated Azeri enclave, Nagorny Karabakh, were rejected by fleeing Azeris, among them Kurdish shepherds, village policemen and haggard militia survivors.

'Fire came from Armenia to the west and Karabakh to the east. Their soldiers scaled down the cliffs to the west. We hardly knew what happened, we just got out of there,' said Jafar Jafarov, one of many soldiers of the young and ill-disciplined Azeri army smarting from public rebukes administered by the Azeri President, Abulfaz Elchibey.

From a military perspective, Armenia's capture of the Kelbadzhar district last week was not a second corridor between Armenia proper and Nagorny Karabakh. It amounts to a virtual annexation of the mountainous enclave to Armenia by a 60-mile wide belt of Azeri hill country, easily defended by the new front line along the 9,000-feet high ridges of the Moro mountain range to the north and the Lachin valley at the south.

Steady Armenian advances since the war started in 1988 were only briefly set back by Azeri successes in mid-1992. Now Azeris worry that recent heavy Armenian shelling of the Fizuli district may signal an attack to capture a wide tongue of Azeri land that would link southern Karabakh to the border with Iran.

'What's the difference between here and what the Serbs are doing in Bosnia?' said one staff officer at the Azeri northern headquarters near Ganja. 'When will the world realise that what the Armenians want is a greater Armenia? We do not believe they will stop even with what they have got now.'

Azerbaijan's main ally, Turkey, has so far managed only to give moral support and raise international awareness. But there are signs that it will only take a small push to bring Turkish military intervention. 'The situation here is medieval, the Armenians are not playing by the rules. There could be a very ugly war in the Caucasus,' said a diplomat in the Azeri capital, Baku.

There is certainly not much hope the Azeri government can do much in the way of a counter-attack, due to divisions in its leadership, the hostility of Russia and the weakness of its military organisation.

Ten days after the Armenians started their offensive, Azeri tank units finally arrived on Monday at the main mountain pass to block any Armenian attempt to cross. But the young reinforcements had mostly had just two months' training and some of their inherited Soviet equipment was not in the best working order.

Refugees who had spent several days and nights on the road herded flocks of sheep, cattle and donkeys down past exhausted groups of their former defenders who had fled with them. They cursed the Azeri government for 'selling them out' as much as the Armenians.

Some of the refugees gathered near the front, hoping to get news of relatives left behind in the Kelbadzhar region, once home to about 65,000 Azeris. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday an estimated 18,000 Azeris had braved treacherous mountain paths to escape the Armenian advance and a further 27,000 were trapped. A UNHCR statement said about 700 civilians, many suffering from severe frost-bite, were arriving daily in northern Azerbaijan from the Kelbadzhar region.

The government says at least 40,000 refugees have been registered, although local officials said the number could be as high as 55,000. After years of practice in a war that has displaced at least half a million of their people, Azeri officials quickly dispersed the new arrivals by bus and truck to at least 40 destinations to live in schools, collective farms and other public buildings.

'The one good thing about this wave is that there appear to be few casualties here. But we still don't know what happened to the thousands stuck on the other side,' said a member of a rehousing committee.

The chief district doctor said he had registered 42 deaths and 42 people wounded. About 100 people had been treated for frost-bite and there are fears that hundreds may have frozen to death while trying to cross remote mountain passes.

Officials were dismissive of international assistance, demanding to know why Azeri refugees counted for nothing compared to an outcry over suffering in the past winter in Armenia. Azeris also fail to understand how the Armenian lobby in the US managed to block aid to Azerbaijan while the republic is losing the war.

'You ask what we need, but I tell you that the main problem is when a country takes a (piece) of your country,' said another rehousing committee member. 'Rather than food, blankets or anything else, the most important thing is for the Armenian attacks to stop.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam