Police car ambush takes number of Karabakh Armenians killed since 2020 war to 21

By Mark Dovich

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan Thursday that it is “difficult to call” Azerbaijan’s ambush of a Karabakh Armenian police car over the weekend “anything other than a terrorist act” in his first public comments on the attack.

A group of Azerbaijani soldiers opened fire at the car Sunday morning as it traveled from the capital of Stepanakert toward the city of Shushi, leaving three Karabakh Armenian officers dead and one seriously injured. In the ensuing skirmishes, two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and one injured.

“The need for an immediate, international fact-finding mission to Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor is becoming increasingly urgent,” Pashinyan continued, warning of “Azerbaijan’s obvious preparations to subject the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

Karabakh’s Human Rights Defender’s office said in a report this week that two of the officers were found dead at the scene, while the third succumbed to his injuries while being taken to the hospital. The fourth officer remains in intensive care with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

The Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh confirmed in their daily bulletin that Azerbaijani soldiers initiated the attack, prompting Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry to issue an unusual rebuttal of Moscow for having “distorted the facts and spread untruthful information.”

Sunday’s incident takes the total number of Karabakh Armenians killed in violations of the 2020 ceasefire by Azerbaijan to 21, according to a tally kept by the Human Rights Defender’s office. Another 71 Karabakh Armenians have been injured since the end of the 2020 war. The figures include both civilian and military casualties.

The uptick in violence in Karabakh comes amid a number of high-profile visits to the region earlier this week by outside mediators, including special envoys Louis Bono of the United States, Toivo Klaar of the European Union, and Brice Roquefeuil of France.

In an interview Wednesday with Radio Azatutyun, Bono poured cold water on the notion of Washington sanctioning Baku over its ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor, saying, “Sanctions would be counterproductive. It’s not even under consideration at this point.”

Azerbaijan’s roadblock of the Lachin corridor, the sole overland route connecting Karabakh and Armenia, entered its 88th day Thursday. That is despite a ruling last month by a United Nations court ordering Azerbaijan to end the blockade, which has prompted severe shortages of food, medicine, and energy in Karabakh. Though the ruling is legally binding, the court has no enforcement powers.