A residential area is seen after shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a conflict with Armenia in Stepanakert, in the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on October 5, 2020. Two Russian journalists were injured by shelling in the city of Shushi on October 8. (ArmGov PAN Photo via AP/Areg Balayan)

Shelling injures 2 Russian journalists in Nagorno-Karabakh; Armenian government revokes journalist’s accreditation

New York, October 8, 2020 — Authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan must ensure the safety of journalists covering the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and allow them to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Yuriy Kotenok, chief editor of the conservative Russian news website Segodnia.ru, and Levon Arzanov, a correspondent from the Russian state-run military news website Ofitsery Rossii, were injured today by shelling in Shushi, a city in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to news reports.

The two journalists were reporting within a cathedral that had been damaged in a previous shelling attack when another bomb dropped on the building, severely injuring Kotenok and moderately injuring Arzanov, according to those reports.

Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan tweeted that Azerbaijani armed forces had targeted the cathedral with multiple rockets. On its official Twitter account, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry wrote that the country’s army “does not target the historical/cultural/religious buildings” and said that the Armenian government’s claim was “unfounded.”

Also today, Armenian authorities stripped Ilya Azar, a correspondent with Russian independent daily Novaya Gazeta, of his press accreditation, according to Azar, who spoke to CPJ on the phone, and news reports.

“The fighting sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must respect journalists’ right to report freely and take all necessary measures to ensure their safety,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. “Both Azerbaijan and Armenia must investigate the recent attack that injured two journalists, and must grant press accreditations freely and without bias.”

CPJ emailed the Armenian and Azerbaijani Ministries of Foreign Affairs for comment on the journalists’ injuries, and the Armenian ministry for comment on Azar’s accreditation, but did not immediately receive any responses.

Kotenok, who also runs the Telegram channel Voenkor Kotenok, where he posts war reporting to over 5,000 subscribers, was gravely injured in the chest and limbs and taken to a hospital for a surgery in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to news reports.

Arzanov sustained “moderate, non-life threatening injuries,” according to news reports and a report on Telegram published by Semyon Pegov, an independent journalist who was at the scene. Ofitsery Rossii chief editor Roman Shkurlatov told Russian business news portal Rbc.ru that the journalist has shrapnel wounds and might be shell-shocked. 

CPJ could not immediately determine whether the journalists were wearing press insignia or whether it would have been visible during the attack.

Azar said that before arriving in Armenia to cover the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, he had followed the government’s instructions and had received accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia.

He said he received an email from that ministry today, which he shared with CPJ, that annulled his accreditation because he had not separately requested an accreditation from “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh,” the name used by Armenian authorities to refer to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azar said that the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed the accreditation procedure after he had already arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh. He said they sent him the information over email when he was already reporting from the region, but he was unable to act on it because he had limited access to communications. He said he previously tried to receive accreditation at the Nagorno-Karabakh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but was unable to at first because it was closed, and later because it was under bombardment.

He told CPJ that he met with an Armenian Foreign Ministry official this morning, who said that his accreditation was annulled because it did not match the new procedures. However, he said the official also mentioned an article Azar published in Novaya Gazeta a day earlier, which the official said created a “negative resonance.”

In the article, Azar reported from the towns of Shushi and Lachin in Nagorno-Karabakh, and included comments from Armenian volunteer soldiers who criticized Armenian authorities.