These developments were greeted with anger by the rulers of Azerbaijan. On November 26 the President of Azerbaijan decreed the dissolution of the Mountainous Karabakh Autonomous Region. According to the December 5 decree of the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan the “Session of the Supreme Soviet of the Karabakh Republic” was considered unlawful.

Meanwhile the Azerbaijani OMON proceeded to escalate military offensives in an attempt to quell the unilateral declaration of independence. Their task was made easier as the Soviet Army forces were being withdrawn by President Yeltsin. As they withdrew, Azerbaijani armed forces and OMON moved into taking their place. Karabakh became an open battlefield, with the civilians trapped inside. The Stepanakert airport was in the hands of the OMON with the leader Captain Alif Letif Oghli. Up to 1985 he had worked in the village Khojali as an inspector in the local Interior Office. He had been tried for forgery and receiving bribes and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. For such kinds of crimes people were not being charged in other regions of Azerbaijan as bribe-taking and pay-offs had become a norm of life in the country. After three years’ imprisonment Hajiev was set free on condition that he should take an active part in the Sumgait and Baku pogroms. Soon the courageous criminal joined the OMON and was appointed the Chief of Khojali Interior Office. There were several such criminal members in OMON. They were good at attacking unarmed people and looting in the Shahumian district facing the Armenian self-defence units, they immediately left the five villages occupied by the USSR Interior troops.

In June 1992, Azerbaijani forces began attacking Stepanakert with Grad missiles, which are jet-propelled rockets intended as anti-personel weapons. Later they began bombing and strafing various districts of Karabakh with SU-25 and other ground attack bomber planes which they had inherited from the Soviet Air Force.

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

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