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In Azerbaijan, a String of Explosions, Screams and Then Blood

BARDA, Azerbaijan — The first explosion was loud enough to make us stop the car. It seemed close and sounded like a rocket, so we quickly jumped out and crouched down by a wall.


If we hadn’t stopped, I later realized, we might have driven straight into one of the blasts, a scant 20 yards up the road.



At the time of the blast on Wednesday, we were driving along the main street of the provincial town of Barda, Azerbaijan, toward an intersection. Azerbaijan is at war with Armenia, but the frontline was 20 miles away and life to that point was going on uneventfully in the area. Women were out shopping, men were filling their cars at the gas station.


Then, a string of deafening explosions sounded in rapid succession, each one seeming closer and louder. A woman started shrieking. A man bellowed at his family. They rounded the street corner, his wife pulling the sleeve off one of her children, and they all dashed down a side alley.


Across the road, blood smeared the steps into the basement of a private health clinic. Inside, a taxi driver, bleeding heavily from the leg, was being treated. Nurses, patients and passers-by huddled in the basement, stepping around the blood, calling their families on their cellphones.


I am in Azerbaijan with a photographer, Ivor Prickett, to cover the war that broke out last month between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was my first time back in more than 20 years, yet coming under rocket fire was not unfamiliar — the Caucasus region has been wracked by half a dozen conflicts since the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

我和摄影师伊沃尔·普里克特(Ivor Prickett)在阿塞拜疆报道上个月爆发的阿亚战争。这是我20多年来第一次回到这里,但是遭到火箭弹袭击并不是新鲜事——自从苏联解体以来,这个高加索地区已经发生了六七次冲突。

The conflict between the two countries began in 1988 over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian populated region inside Azerbaijan. By 1994, Armenia had made major territorial gains, driving nearly a million Azerbaijanis from their homes, but the war ended without resolving the issue.


Now, it has burst out again. Azerbaijan has mounted a full-scale offensive to take back the lost territory, and the two sides have exchanged barrages of rockets and missiles at villages and cities across the region.


Azerbaijan is widely considered to have the superior firepower, using a fleet of drones to target Armenian forces with deadly accuracy and also launching rocket attacks against two of the largest cities in Nagorno-Karabakh.


In Azerbaijan, a string of settlements close to the frontline have suffered almost daily rockets strikes. The attack on Barda, which lies slightly further from the frontline, appeared 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.”

“你看亚美尼亚人对我们做了什么,”55岁的卡米尔·克里莫夫(Kamil Kerimov)喊道。“你看到这里有军人吗?他们为什么要这么做?你只看得到平民。”他还说:“他们想制造混乱。”

Yagubiya Hamidova, 44, a cardiologist taking shelter in the clinic’s basement, had moved recently from the frontline town of Terter, thinking it would be safer here. “Please help us,” she said. “No one in the world knows what is happening to us.”

44岁的心脏病专家雅古比娅·哈米多娃(Yagubiya Hamidova)目前在诊所的地下室避难,她最近刚从前线小镇特尔搬来,觉得这里更安全。“请帮帮我们,”她说。“世界上没有人知道我们的遭遇。”

Outside at the intersection, a burned-out car was still smoldering. Blood was smeared on the sidewalk and at the door to an office building, amid shattered glass. Bomb disposal officers in coveralls and visors stood over pieces of exploded ordinance.


We piled into the car and began driving out of town but came upon another scene of carnage at the very next intersection.


Wrecked cars stood at awkward angles. Someone had draped blankets over bodies inside two of the cars. A pair of shoes and more blood lay on the ground beside another vehicle. The road was blackened and the air smelled of explosives.


“Why did they do that to him?” wailed a woman in black, as two men supported her on each arm. “People! Please look at what they are doing. Why did they kill him? Please God, help us.”


Rescue workers levered open one of the car doors with an iron bar. As they lifted the blanketed form out the woman sank to the ground. “My baby,” she cried.


Across the street two more people had been cut down on the sidewalk. A man and a woman, they lay under blankets amid broken branches and fallen leaves.


One was Fuad Izmayilov, 31, a sports teacher, who died just outside the gate to his mother’s house.

其中一位是31岁的体育教师富阿德·伊兹马伊洛夫(Fuad Izmayilov),他在母亲家门外去世。

Grief stricken, blood smeared on her face, his mother cradled his head and wept.


“He was coming to tell us something was happening, and he died,” said his mother, Tabiat Izmayilova.

“他来告诉我们出事了,他死了,”他的母亲塔比亚特·伊兹马伊洛娃(Tabiat Izmayilova)说。

A widow, Ms. Izmayilova said she was a refugee from Armenia, among the Azerbaijanis who left the country when the first war broke out more than 30 years ago. “I have lost everyone, and now this.”


She bemoaned that she had not seen her son married, and said she had planned to decorate the house for him to live in when he did wed.


“Why did you do this to us?” she asked aloud. “Armenians, don’t you have children?”


“I want peace. I do not want anyone to suffer this,” she told me. But she was rambling, and in the same breath she demanded Azerbaijan take retaliatory action. “Tell our president to stop this, to take all necessary actions.”


There is every sign that the war is escalating and casualties are mounting.


In all, 21 people died in downtown Barda in the rocket strike and 70 people were wounded, the government said in the evening, adding that the rockets were fired from a Russian-made Smerch multiple-rocket system and unleashed cluster bomblets. Designed to be used against armies in open spaces, cluster bombs are banned in much of the world because of their danger to civilians in residential areas.


Armenia denied responsibility for the attack.


The two main cities of the Armenian-controlled territory of Nagorno-Karabakh also came under rocket attack on Wednesday, as they have on a regular basis since the fighting began. A city hospital was damaged in the regional capital of Stepanakert and a civilian was killed and another wounded in Shusha, the local Emergency and Rescue Service said.


There is evidence that both sides have used cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch criticized Azerbaijan for using cluster munitions against civilian areas of Nagorno-Karabakh at least four times this month.

有证据表明,双方都使用了集束炸弹。人权观察(Human Rights Watch)批评阿塞拜疆本月至少四次对纳戈尔诺-卡拉巴赫地区的平民使用集束弹。

In the morning, we had visited Garayusifli, a sleepy farming village just outside Barda, where people were burying victims of another rocket attack. Four people died, including a 7-year-old girl, and more than a dozen were wounded. Children had been playing on their bikes, and their parents sitting in the shade of their gardens, when the missile exploded, scattering cluster bomblets over the houses of several neighbors.


In Barda, some of the wounded being treated in the city’s hospital said they had first heard an explosion that seemed some distance away and then heard what they said were cluster bombs falling.


Zergelam Aliyeva, 18, said she thought the first explosion was an air defense 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.”

18岁的泽格勒姆·阿里耶娃(Zerglam Aliyeva)说,她以为第一次爆炸是一枚击中导弹的防空装置。“然后,我们听到了集束炸弹掉下来的声音。它们显示发出嘘嘘嘘的声音,然后弹片就跟雨点一样从我们头顶落下。”

“When I heard the sound I laid down on the ground,” she said. Her friend, Aysun Ismayilova, 15, lying in the next bed, suffered worse injuries. “She ran away and it landed in front of her,” she said.

“听到声音的时候,我倒在了地上,”她说。躺在隔壁的床上的是她的朋友、15岁的艾森·伊斯马伊洛娃(Aysun Ismayilova),她的伤势更为严重。“她跑开了,炸弹就落在她前面,”她说。

“We could not believe they could fire on our village,” said Elnure Karimova, 17, who was also wounded, “because there is no military, only civilians.”

“我们无法相信他们会向我们的村子开火,”现年17岁的伤者叶尔努尔·卡里莫娃(Elnure Karimova)说,“这里没有军队,只有平民。”
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