On January 19, 15 servicemen died in a fire that erupted in the shelter of the N military unit of the Ministry of Defense in the Azat village of Gegharkunik region. According to the published photos, it appeared a simple rural house.
Considering the fact that there were no military facilities in those settlements until recently, and the military units known to all are located near Sotk village, the journalists of the Fact Investigation Platform visited several other border settlements in that area and found out that the “shelter” in Azat village is not the only one.
Camouflage net as an easy way to detect shelters
Let us start with the fact that finding the shelters located in settlements was easier than one could imagine. We found them “thanks” to camouflage nets. In other words, what is supposed to hide makes it easy to find. And if our journalists found them without possessing any additional information, obviously it is easier for the armed forces of Azerbaijan to find them.
Considering the sensitive and risky nature of the subject, as well as being guided by the principle of not harming the soldiers, we will not provide information as to where those shelters were and how many there were of them, however we can say that they were military units stationed in an ordinary village house. We will also not inform how many soldiers they were intended for or how many soldiers were living there at that moment again for the purpose of security and to avoid providing information to the adversary.
Conditions of the “shelter”
The soldiers live in a simple house, no different from other rural houses. There is no gas supply in those villages of Vardenis, and the houses are heated with wood, coal and even manure. A stove (probably for coal) was installed in the common room for heating in the shelter. Based on the logs found in the room and around the house, it is assumed that wood was used for heating.
The same room was also used as an office, arsenal, etc. By the way, in the military units, the arsenals are in a separate room, with iron bars and fire safety rules strictly observed. There cannot be any flammables in the arsenal. And here, there was a stove just 3-4 meters away from the arsenal, there were also tables, chairs, a sofa in the room, the floor was wooden, etc. That is to say, in the event of a fire, the probability of the explosives in the arsenal being ignited was very high.
It should also be noted that there was a fire extinguisher on the windowsill. How usable it was or whether it was still within the expiration date is hard to say, nevertheless, let us state that it did exist.
It is also noteworthy that the highest-ranking soldier we met, whose name will not published for security reasons, kept insisting that they live in very good conditions, they have nothing to complain about, food is delivered on time, linen is changed, and soldiers bathe. The latter had only one request to us: “To do so that the Lachin Corridor is opened and Aliyev does not attack.”
The photos show two of the shelters provided to servicemen
Azat village “shelter”
When we arrived at the burnt house in the village, the ruins were still smoking. It was obvious from the pieces of metal scattered outside that they were military beds. It is unknown where the stove was placed at the time of the fire, but it can be seen from the destroyed house that the alleged burnt room had one entrance. The two remaining windows of one of the rooms were fixed with bars. The other room of the house also had similar bars. One of the bars was damaged, from which it can be assumed that an attempt was made to leave the room by breaking it, but it did not work.
Each room had one exit to the corridor or common room. It is assumed that the stove was placed in that room, quite close to the doors and as a result of the fire, the only exit to the rooms was actually closed.
According to the data of the Cadastre Committee, the house in Azat village belongs to Svetlana Atanesyan. The latter has been the owner of the house since 2006. Information about other real estate transactions with respect to the house (rent, free use, donation, etc.) is not available in the Cadastre Committee.
Since when have the soldiers been in the houses of the village?
Different statements have been made as to since when the soldiers have lived in those shelters. According to the Prime Minister, the soldiers have been in the shelter of Azat village since the war of 2020. According to the statement of the Investigative Committee, they have been there since the invasion of May 2021, and according to the claim of the Ambassador with Special Assignments Edmon Marukyan, since the aggression of September 2022.
The Press Secretary of the Ministry of Defense Aram Torosyan explained to us that the servicemen had been there since 2020, but were permanently deployed after the events of 2021, essentially confirming both the Prime Minister and the Investigative Committee.
The soldier who spoke with us in another shelter also said that they had been there since the September 2022 attack.
We also do not publish any information about the ownership of these houses for security reasons.
Thus, it should be stated that the well-known shelter of Azat village is not the only one in such conditions. There are many similar houses where soldiers perform their service. Most of the fire prevention, sanitary and safety rules are not observed here, there are no necessary infrastructures and living conditions. There are no emergency exits, the windows are closed with bars, etc.