A destroyed car is seen in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on October 1, 2020. At least four journalists were recently injured in shelling in the area. (AP/Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure)

At least 4 journalists injured covering Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

New York, October 1, 2020 – Authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan must ensure the safety of journalists reporting on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.  

At least four journalists were injured today in a shelling attack in the town of Khojavend, known locally as Martuni, in the break-away Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, according to international media reports.

In a tweet, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Azerbaijan was responsible for the shelling attack. In a statement, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the Armenian government for facilitating journalists’ travel into the area, saying it put them at risk. The statement denied that the Azerbaijani military had targeted members of the press.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly Armenian-populated region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The area declared independence in 1990, and fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, which has occurred sporadically since then, broke out on September 27, according to news reports.

“Armenia and Azerbaijan must immediately cease any military actions that put journalists’ lives at risk, and should ensure that members of the press are not targeted while covering the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities on both sides must thoroughly investigate the injuries sustained by journalists today, and hold those responsible to account.”

French daily Le Monde reported that two of its correspondents sustained injuries in the shelling and were taken to local hospitals. Journalists with French public broadcaster Agence France-Presse were also at the scene of the shelling, but were not injured, according to that report.

One Le Monde reporter, Allan Kaval, underwent surgery in a hospital in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, and was in critical condition this afternoon, but is now stable, according to Hermine Virabyan, the French journalists’ fixer, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview and gave an interview to Armenian broadcaster CivilNet.

Rafael Charles Yaghobzadeh, a Le Monde photojournalist, underwent surgery in Martuni and is also in stable condition, Virabyan told CPJ and CivilNet.

The Le Monde journalists were standing next to a car marked “Press” at the time of the shelling, Virabyan said.

Two Armenian journalists, Sevak Vardumyan, a correspondent for the 24 News broadcaster, and Aram Grigoryan, a camera operator for broadcaster Armenia TV, were also injured in the shelling, according to news reports and a tweet from the Armenian government information center, neither of which specify the extent of their injuries.

Russian liberal broadcaster Dozhd reported that Dmitriy Yelovskiy, a correspondent for the network, was in a vehicle near the Le Monde journalists when the shelling commenced, and stated that he did not sustain any injuries.

In an email sent to CPJ after this alert was published, Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan reiterated information presented to journalists at a press briefing on October 1, saying that one Le Monde journalist had been “severely wounded” in the shelling. She added, “vehicles transporting the journalists had also been targeted, despite wearing dedicated press stickers and special clothing.”

In a separate email, the Press Service of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to CPJ’s request for comment by sending the statement that had been published earlier on the ministry’s website.

Le Monde did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include a response from the Armenian and Azerbaijani Ministries of Foreign Affairs.]