Shushi’s Kanach Zham church before and after destruction in November 2020. Courtesy of

Armenia used the most advanced missiles in its arsenal to strike at the Azerbaijani forces in Shushi at the end of the 44-day war, according to ex-president Serzh Sargsyan. His statement in an interview with ArmNews TV aired on February 16 echoes earlier reports that Armenia used the Iskander missiles. As part of the wider criticism of the Armenian government’s conduct of the war, Sargsyan argued that the missiles should have been used earlier and against targets in Azerbaijan.

At the same time, Sargsyan criticized Scud missile strikes that hit residential areas of Ganja and other towns, suggesting that they only made Azerbaijani strikes against Stepanakert more indiscriminate. Scuds are older surface-to-surface missiles that are notoriously inaccurate.

In 2015, Armenia became the first country to acquire the Iskander surface-to-surface missile system from Russia. The missile is intended to accurately strike targets at hundreds of kilometres away.

A video believed to show Armenian forces launching the Iskander missiles first surfaced on November 9, just hours before the cease-fire agreement. In a press conference after the war, retired Gen. Movses Hakobyan confirmed that Iskander missiles were used, but he refused to mention their target. Shortly after, anti-government blogger Artur Danielyan claimed that the missiles were fired at Shushi in the morning of November 7, publishing a video purportedly showing their impact.

Shushi was captured by the lightly armed Azerbaijani infantry with Turkish air support on November 5-6, with little Armenian resistance. Subsequently, Armenian forces made several attempts to recapture the fortress town, but failed, suffering heavy casualties.

The effect the purported Iskander strikes on Shushi had is unclear. But images from Shushi published just days after the cease-fire, showed heavy damage to the Kanach Zham church, one of its two historic Armenian churches.

Weeks earlier, while Shushi was still under Armenian control, Azerbaijan fired heavy missiles that destroyed the Shushi House of Culture on October 4, killing dozens and wounding more than 100 police officers conferencing inside. And on October 8, precision missiles were fired at the Ghazanchetsots cathedral of Shushi, heavily damaging it. No damage to Kanach Zham was visible when Azerbaijani forces first entered the town.

It remains unclear, if the destruction of Kanach Zham was caused by Azerbaijani soldiers or Armenian strikes, but it occurred some time between November 6 and the middle of November.