CHAPTER 23 THE PROCLAMATION OF THE NAGORNO- KARABAGH REPUBLIC AS A GUARANTY FOR SELF-DEFENCE

Meantime Stepanakert inhabitants, with no light, heat or energy huddled in the dark. The electricity was cut off by the Azerbaijanis, the only water for 82 thousand inhabitants was from 8 spring wells. Worst of all was the lack of medical supplies. While the Christian Solidarity International (CSI) and Andrei Sakharov foundation were holding talks with Stepanakert officials, the Azerbaijani commander based in Shushi announced that his troops would the fearsome “Grad” multiple-missile rocket launchers against the civilians of Stepanakert and surrounding 23 villages. The threat was carried out on January 13. The first 2 metred rockets flew from the Azerbaijani village Shefik and fell on the regional centre of Shahumian region.13

“Grad” launchers can fire 40 powerful rockets in one volley; and each rocket can devastate a multistorey building. Fortunately the number of the victims was small that time.

Later from the “Grad” stations based in Shushi, Khojalu, Aghdam, Fizuli, Mirbashir, the Azerbaijanis fired all the Armenian settlements. The Stepanakert inhabitants walked five hours to and from the wells every day, in the bitter cold and under shelling. Three hundred shells and grenades fell on the city every day. Buildings were being ruined, people killed.

There was no other way for the Armenians of Karabakh but to fight defending their land and their dignity. The introduction of missile systems, armed personnel carriers, heavy artillery and comparable conventional weapons brought the armed conflict to a new intensity. With the use of these weapons Azerbaijani and Armenian forces engaged each other throughout the winter and spring of 1992. Armenian forces shelled Shusha, Khojali and other Azerbaijani villages, from which Azerbaijani forces would launch attacks. Letting the militants and inhabitants of Krkjan leave for Shushi, the Armenian forces took the village on January 19. The next strategic vantage points were the villages Ghushchilar and Malibeili were the Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia had been settled, increasing the number of population to 4 thousand. Malibeili was virtually blockaded, often relying on helicopters to bring in supplies. After the shooting down of an Azerbaijani helicopter in late January, no further helicopters were sent to Malibeili and Ghushchilare. On December 12 women and children were evacuated from Malibeili. According to the Helsinki Watch by October or November 1991 residents of Malibeili and Ghushchilare were basically confined to their villages as travel elsewhere could be done only by helicopter. A report in the newspaper “Express chronicle” asserted that on February 5 the Armenians warned the villagers that they had two days to leave.14 Armenian forces attacked the village on the night of February 9-10, with the aim of ending the shelling of Armenian villages from there. Malibeili was attacked first, the Azerbaijanis resisted for eight hours. Residents of Malibeili and Ghushchilare reported that as they fled they saw, from a top a hill a kilometer away, their houses in flame, but nobody could definitely say who had done it, the retreating inhabitants or the Armenians?

Residents of Gushchulare fled to Aghdam about 9 am on February 11. An Azerbaijani tractor mechanic on the local collective farm told Helsinki Watch;

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