Russian journalist Yuri Kotenok heavily injured during 2nd strike on the Armenian church in Shushi by the Azerbaijani air force

Sushi, Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, October 8, 2020. 

Azerbaijani armed forces bombed the Cathedral of Holy Christ the All-Savior Ghazanchetsots located in the center of Shushi twice within a few hours. Foreign journalists Yuri Kotenok, Levon Arzanov, and a member of the accompanying group, Hrant Baladyan, who arrived at the scene to report on the damage of the first strike, were injured as a consequence of the bombing. In total, ten people were injured during the second strike. 

The first strike – around 1 pm, October 8, 2020 

The first attack on the church was conducted at around 1 pm with no serious casualties among visitors of the church. The video linked below shows the damage to the Cathedral immediately after the shelling:

As the first videos of the aftermath of attack started to surface, Azerbaijan immediately stated that it was not involved in the attack. 

One of the first journalists on the ground, Alexander Kots photographed what remained of the dome. He accompanied the photo with the message:

“To be honest, I had some illusions that the Azerbaijani artillery would not hit the churches. But the cathedral in Shushi was hit an hour after a video of soldiers praying in the church before leaving for the front line appeared on the Internet. Moreover, the video showed that there were civilians there. Direct hit to the dome. Extreme cynicism”.

Earlier that day, on October 7, 2020, a video was released on the Internet of Armenian soldiers of the Artsakh Defence Army attending service in Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, Sushi, before heading to the frontline:

There is a belief it might have been the reason for Azeris to attack the cathedral.

The second strike – 4:06 pm, October 8, 2020. 

A few hours later, after the first bombing, a group of journalists bearing press signs headed to the cathedral to inspect the damage. In the video below, Yuri Kotenok, Russian blogger and war correspondent, with Levon Arzanov, Russian, special correspondent of the portal “Officers of Russia”, are documenting the bombing aftermath and showing ruins of the church:

( video source )

“This is evidence of a war crime perpetrated by the Baku regime. A targeted attack on a church in Sushi, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The dome and icons are damaged. Clear evidence of Genocide. In my opinion, the world and Russia should react appropriately to this barbarism in the 21st century”—YuRi Kotenok

The second strike occurred at 4:06 pm while journalists were still in the church videotaping. It was reported later that the strike was made by a guided missile.

The first footage released after the second bombing was filmed by Armnews crew and shows the moment of the evacuation of an injured person. Later it became known that it was Yuri Kotenok:

( video source )

Head of ArmNews TV filmmaker Arman Saghatelyan recalled how the wounded correspondent was pulled out from under the rubble of the church.: 

“We were able to go to Shushi, but before reaching the church, at that very moment, a shell fell inside the church. Everything was filled with smoke, one of the wounded was dragged out, the other was on his feet, but probably dazed or covered in mud. I didn’t have time to make out the faces. They said someone was still inside. We ran inside, everything was destroyed, in the dust, it was difficult to see anything, but we got the third one. The wounded were quickly put into a car and taken to the hospital. As far as we know, they are already under the supervision of doctors. The condition seems to be stable, but one is serious.”

Aftermath of shelling

After evacuation to Stepanakert of Yuri Kotenok, Levon Arzanov, and Hrant Baladyan, Alexander Kots headed to the church to document the aftermath of the 2nd bombing:

( video source )

“A few hours after the first bombing Azeri aviation struck the church in Shushi once again, in fact, the dome was completely destroyed; there used to be a smaller hole. As a result of the second blow, people were injured here.”

At the site of the bombing Alexander Kots shows the damage to the cathedral and the fragments of the aerial bomb found. The serial number on the fragments indicates that it was produced by a NATO member.

“It’s an intentional & targeted strike to the church & journalists as they [the Azeris] were watching by drone” — stated Artak Beglaryan on his twitter the same day.

This insidious technique of launching a second attack is called  “double-tap” — when a blow is struck, and then a second comes to target responders to the first strike.

A few days later Yuri Kotenok’s team posted a video of him in the telegram channel about the bombing in which he states:

“100% the attack was intentional, even before our arrival, a drone circled over the church for about 20 minutes, as soon as we were inside, a blow was struck almost immediately”.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Yuri Kotenok from Erebuni medical center, where he is still undergoing treatment. Kotenok states that the operator who fired the guided munition waited for their group to gather inside the church before launching a second strike. He points out that the missile went directly through the hole made by the first strike and the Azeri/Turkish drone operators could clearly see what and who they were attacking. Kotenok, also confirms an alarming claim made by many other independent journalists, specifically that their phones were being tracked and used by Azerbaijan as a means to target independent press with drones.

( video source )

“I am saying this as a Russian correspondent, as a Russian person. The task of the enemy is to complete what they were trying to do against the Armenian nation a century ago. I have a foreboding, I don’t exaggerate, I don’t want to scare anyone, but the situation has taken an extremely serious turn.

Azerbaijan’s official position 

Officially, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev continues to claim Azerbaijan does not target religious sites in the face of an overwhelming amount of evidence. However, the true position of Azerbaijan was highlighted during a primetime tv show on Russian television “Evening with Vladimir Soloviev” on October 9, 2020. A distinguished Azeri political scientist Saadat Kadyrova shocked the guest panel during the show by proudly claiming the Azerbaijani side considers Armenians terrorists and the church the same as an outhouse.

( video source )