The level of violence increased steadily during the course of above events. Though the customary laws of war absolutely forbid hostage taking, yet Armenians and Azerbaijaniz seized and exchanged hostages so actively and held corpses hostage that the practice became an institution, involving private individuals, military officials, government officials. The reporter A. Pralnikov wrote; “There is a complete system of human trade. A. Manucharian reported that the Azerbaijaniz had paid 900 thousand roubles for their hostages. The official of Azerbaijani Procuracy Majit Hajiev reported that one million was demanded for one hostage from the Armenian government. The exchange was going to take place, but the Azerbaijani side was imformed that the Investigation Office had known about it and was going to take pictures and so the exchange took place later, secretly and at night.”

Both sides frequently traded lists of hostages for exchange, negotiated with each other over who should be released and bickered over numbers. For example in the spring of 1992 the Azerbaijani Popular Front Commander in Aghdam and his Armenian counterpart in Askeran met daily on the border to exchange lists and photographs and to haggle over details. By the winter of 1991-92 as a result of three-year economic and transport blockade, Karabakh was without fuel, electricity, running water, functioning sanitation facilities, communication facilities and most consumer goods. The only way for goods to come into the region and for Armenians to enter and leave with relative safety was via helicopter from the neighbouring Armenia. The pilots of the Armenian “Erebuni” airport risked their lives to bring fuel and other supplies to Stepanakert and take the wounded to Yerevan. Life in Stepanakert in the spring of 1992 was at a standstill; no schools, shops or workplaces operated, food was scarce, and the primary daily actively was fetching water from twelve artasian springs with outlets located throughout the city.9

During the whole day of the referendum, December 10, Stepanakert was being shelled from Khojali, Malibeili, Janhassan, Krkzhan and Kiossalar. The bombing was set in motion and Stepanakert set to a new way of life – life in basements and the cellars in appealing conditions. The strategic points of Shusha and Khojali made it possible for the Azerbaijani forces to pound Stepanakert and other Armenian villages with shells and grenades. Armenian forces shelled the points from which Azerbaijanis launched attacks. The Armenian forces succeeded in capturing Kerkijan (December 1991), Malybeili and Gushchular (February 1992) and Khojali (February 1992).

The group of forty independent observers from Commonwealth of Independent States and other countries arrived in Stepanakert to watch the referendum, they were shocked by the deterioration in the situation and the constant bombardment of Stepanakert by Alazan rockets from the hill-top fortress town Shusha.

They addressed a letter to B. Yeltsin;

“The army units under Gorbachev aided Azerbaijan for three years. It was they who realized the deportation of Armenians from Getashen and other villages.”

The observers applied to Yeltsin as the head of that Russia which concluded the 1813 Giulistan Treaty, which placed Russia under the obligation of supporting Karabakh.

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