BARDA, Azerbaijan — The first explosion was loud sufficient to make us cease the automotive. It appeared shut and seemed like a rocket, so we shortly jumped out and crouched down by a wall.
If we hadn’t stopped, I later realized, we would have pushed straight into one of the blasts, a scant 20 yards up the highway.
At the time of the blast on Wednesday, we have been driving alongside the primary avenue of the provincial city of Barda, Azerbaijan, towards an intersection. Azerbaijan is at struggle with Armenia, however the frontline was 20 miles away and life to that time was occurring uneventfully within the space. Women have been out purchasing, males have been filling their automobiles on the gasoline station.
Then, a string of deafening explosions sounded in speedy succession, every one seeming nearer and louder. A girl began shrieking. A person bellowed at his household. They rounded the road nook, his spouse pulling the sleeve off one of her kids, and all of them dashed down a facet alley.
Across the highway, blood smeared the steps into the basement of a non-public well being clinic. Inside, a taxi driver, bleeding closely from the leg, was being handled. Nurses, sufferers and passers-by huddled within the basement, stepping across the blood, calling their households on their cellphones.
I’m in Azerbaijan with a photographer, Ivor Prickett, to cowl the struggle that broke out final month between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was my first time again in additional than 20 years, but coming below rocket fireplace was not unfamiliar — the Caucasus area has been wracked by half a dozen conflicts because the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
The battle between the 2 international locations started in 1988 over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian populated area inside Azerbaijan. By 1994, Armenia had made main territorial positive aspects, driving almost a million Azerbaijanis from their properties, however the struggle ended with out resolving the problem.
Now, it has burst out once more. Azerbaijan has mounted a full-scale offensive to take again the misplaced territory, and the 2 sides have exchanged barrages of rockets and missiles at villages and cities throughout the area.
Azerbaijan is broadly thought-about to have the superior firepower, utilizing a fleet of drones to focus on Armenian forces with lethal accuracy and additionally launching rocket assaults in opposition to two of the most important cities in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Azerbaijan, a string of settlements near the frontline have suffered nearly every day rockets strikes. The assault on Barda, which lies barely farther from the frontline, gave the impression to be an escalation.
“You see what the Armenians are doing to us,” Kamil Kerimov, 55, shouted. “Do you see someone from the military here? Why are they doing this? You see only civilians.” He added: “They want to create chaos.”
Yagubiya Hamidova, 44, a heart specialist taking shelter within the clinic’s basement, had moved lately from the frontline town of Terter, considering it will be safer right here. “Please help us,” she mentioned. “No one in the world knows what is happening to us.”
Outside on the intersection, a burned-out automotive was nonetheless smoldering. Blood was smeared on the sidewalk and on the door to an workplace constructing, amid shattered glass. Bomb disposal officers in coveralls and visors stood over items of exploded ordinance.
We piled into the automotive and started driving out of city however stumbled on one other scene of carnage on the very subsequent intersection.
Wrecked automobiles stood at awkward angles. Someone had draped blankets over our bodies inside two of the automobiles. A pair of sneakers and extra blood lay on the bottom beside one other car. The highway was blackened and the air smelled of explosives.
“Why did they do that to him?” wailed a girl in black, as two males supported her on every arm. “People! Please look at what they are doing. Why did they kill him? Please God, help us.”
Rescue staff levered open one of the automotive doorways with an iron bar. As they lifted the blanketed kind out the lady sank to the bottom. “My baby,” she cried.
Across the road two extra individuals had been lower down on the sidewalk. A person and a girl, they lay below blankets amid damaged branches and fallen leaves.
One was Fuad Izmayilov, 31, a sports activities instructor, who died simply outdoors the gate to his mom’s home.
Grief stricken, blood smeared on her face, his mom cradled his head and wept.
“He was coming to tell us something was happening, and he died,” mentioned his mom, Tabiat Izmayilova.
A widow, Ms. Izmayilova mentioned she was a refugee from Armenia, among the many Azerbaijanis who left the nation when the primary struggle broke out greater than 30 years in the past. “I have lost everyone, and now this.”
She bemoaned that she had not seen her son married, and mentioned she had deliberate to brighten the home for him to dwell in when he did wed.
“Why did you do this to us?” she requested aloud. “Armenians, don’t you have children?”
“I want peace. I do not want anyone to suffer this,” she informed me. But she was rambling, and in the identical breath she demanded Azerbaijan take retaliatory motion. “Tell our president to stop this, to take all necessary actions.”
There is each signal that the struggle is escalating and casualties are mounting.
In all, 21 individuals died in downtown Barda within the rocket strike and 70 individuals have been wounded, the federal government mentioned within the night, including that the rockets have been fired from a Russian-made Smerch multiple-rocket system and unleashed cluster bomblets. Designed for use in opposition to armies in open areas, cluster bombs are banned in a lot of the world as a result of of their hazard to civilians in residential areas.
Armenia denied duty for the assault.
The two essential cities of the Armenian-controlled territory of Nagorno-Karabakh additionally got here below rocket assault on Wednesday, as they’ve on a common foundation because the combating started. A metropolis hospital was broken within the regional capital of Stepanakert and a civilian was killed and one other wounded in Shusha, the native Emergency and Rescue Service mentioned.
There is proof that either side have used cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch criticized Azerbaijan for utilizing cluster munitions in opposition to civilian areas of Nagorno-Karabakh not less than 4 instances this month.
In the morning, we had visited Garayusifli, a sleepy farming village simply outdoors Barda, the place individuals have been burying victims of one other rocket assault. Four individuals died, together with a 7-year-old woman, and greater than a dozen have been wounded. Children had been taking part in on their bikes, and their mother and father sitting within the shade of their gardens, when the missile exploded, scattering cluster bomblets over the homes of a number of neighbors.
In Barda, some of the wounded being handled within the metropolis’s hospital mentioned that they had first heard an explosion that appeared a ways away and then heard what they mentioned have been cluster bombs falling.
Zergelam Aliyeva, 18, mentioned she thought the primary explosion was an air protection mechanism hitting down the missile. “Then we heard the clusters coming down. They made a sh-sh-sh sound and then they started raining shrapnel on us.”
“When I heard the sound I laid down on the ground,” she mentioned. Her good friend, Aysun Ismayilova, 15, mendacity within the subsequent mattress, suffered worse accidents. “She ran away and it landed in front of her,” she mentioned.
“We could not believe they could fire on our village,” mentioned Elnure Karimova, 17, who was additionally wounded, “because there is no military, only civilians.”