Shelling of Nagorno-Karabakh villages
… by Alla Pierce, VT international correspondent
[ Editor’s note: Alla Pierce is back with another addition to her war correspondent portfolio in a land that most Westerners did not know even existed, tucked away between Armenia and Azerbaijan with its long running ethnic dispute.
This is a land were DNA can go back thousands of years for families in a particular valley. It creates a connection to the land that is hard for Americans to relate to, with our relatively short history and mostly European roots, something that has been changing fast, as our melting pot legacy continues to add new ingredients.
Sadly, the only thing good we can say about the broken ceasefire is that it is better than full scale war. The provocations and counter shelling continue to gouge open sores in the land because one side wants to keep tensions high. Peacekeepers were never agreed to after the last war, so we outsiders have heard only charges and counter charges as to who fired first.
But my gut feeling is that Azerbaijan cranked this up now as a classic domestic diversion from the low oil prices, especially for a small country where the black gold exports pay for a big chunk of public services. Leaders historically have sought a scapegoat to focus public anger on.
As Turkey’s economic boom began to taper off, Erdogan cranked up his war with the Kurdish opposition after many years of relative quiet in their region of the country. Erdogan was quick to support the Azeri’s desire to retake Nagorno-Karabakh, thinking that more mayhem in the region would benefit him somehow.
The New Sultan has become NATO’s bull in a china closet, with Turkish mercenaries in Ukraine now working to support Tatar incitement in Crimea as payback for Russia upsetting Erdo’s anticipation of helping to carve up Syria. I am afraid we will see much more death and destruction before all of this is eventually settled… Jim W. Dean ]
Before my trip to Nagorno-Karabakh, I contacted Aram Khachaturyan, a public figure, journalist, deputy chairman of the “Center of Support of the Russian-Armenian Strategic and Community Initiatives”, and chief editor of the Center’s newspaper russia-armenia.info to get a background briefing on this little known corner of the world.
“This area has such a remarkable aura about itself,” he said. “This is a very ancient land and very unique! Those who have been in Nagorno-Karabakh, would always want to come back. They will end up leaving their hearts here.”
To assist me with my assignment, Aram introduced me to Arsen Melik-Shakhnazarov, the Deputy Representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Russia, a journalist, writer and connoisseur of history about the Karabakh region and an astute observer of the latest events.
Upon meeting the NKR Representation in Moscow I received all the contact information that he had prepared for me. This hastily done trip had a lot of helping hands for which VT and I are most grateful to bring an on scene report.
After arriving in Yerevan, I called the NKR Representation in Armenia, where they helped with accommodations and and transportation in Stepanakert (the capital of NKR) for the duration of my visit. In general, I received a warm reception from The Consul and all whom I encountered.
I arrived at night In Stepanakert, surviving the rugged trip through the perilous mountainous terrain, but I must say this is a panoramic country with great tourist potential if there can ever be peace there. The next day, while accompanied by Armen Sargsyan, the Head of Information Management, we visited the villages I had asked to see that had been subjected to shelling.
In the village of Martakert we were met by the Deputy Mayor, and together we inspected the destruction caused by the bombardment. The houses were almost completely restored. People whose houses and belongings were damaged by the attacks, received compensation for everything, including furniture and appliances.
An old man named Gurgen, described how a shell scored a direct hit on his home. Now repairs are under way and the neighbors are actively helping with this process. A woman from another house, which was also shelled, told us that she and her daughter had to seek refuge at a neighbor’s house. Her sons fled to her elderly parents’ home.
Sympathetic reciprocity, the ability to feel somebody’s misfortune as one’s own and the government’s assistance – all deserve commendation and respect.
Our next stop was the village of Talish where we came upon a car which appeared to have been involved in a minor collision. It turned out it belonged to the head of the village administration. He spoke of how on the night of April 2nd, the Azerbaijanis opened fire. “It was my birthday – he said sadly – what a bitter ‘gift’ I got!”
It was the village of Talish where the tragedy occurred that has forced the world community once again to shudder. Three old people who lived in a house, which is located away from the village, were murdered by an Azerbaijani subversive group. Their son had hurried that night to transfer them to a safer place. Sadly, in this tragic twist of fate, he was too late…
As with all tragic stories, rumors emerged that it was actually women who committed the murders. I also read in some of the Western press that the village had exchanged hands during the conflict. But my brief investigation into the death of the elderly in Talish revealed that the village was indeed shelled but was never taken by the Azerbaijanis. The subversive group had entered the village but all their members were killed before they could carry out further acts of carnage and murder.
They did however kill three people: a husband and his wife and a 92-year-old mother. On top of this outrage, they mutilated the corpses of their helpless victims, such as, amongst other things, slicing off their ears.
“It is surprising – I was told that they did it right away. Previously, people had been held as hostages and tortured, but there was no mutilation of the corpses immediately after the murder.”
It seems like they tried to leave their own signature, and this gave rise to the popular belief that this war was perpetrated by radical Islamists. The village is located close to the border, and furthermore we were not allowed to drive on some of the streets because it was too dangerous.
I saw what can be described as dead houses, where entire sections of this village had been destroyed in the previous war. The spectacle of these abandoned houses with their empty eye sockets where former owners once gazed out across their beautiful village produced feelings of sadness and despair inside of me.
In war, not only people get killed, but also whole cities get murdered and the land itself is burned to ashes…. “How many years will pass before the land can give birth again? Nothing grows on the scorched soil; … ”
“The land also has a soul. It feels affection and hate,” – such were the words I heard in conversations with residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Not far from this ruined, rocketed fence was a dead pig with its insides torn out on one side. I gasped in horror and turned away. “Wait,” said the driver, who was beautifully named “Ararat” and who treated me with lots of care. “It’s just a pig.”
“It was alive – I answered – and the trees, and houses -they all were alive, you understand?” The driver shook his head and replied, “You have the wrong heart for a journalist.”
Here I cannot argue. I am trying to keep my heart cold, but my emotions are misplaced after what I saw in Donbass and Nagorno-Karabakh. Traces of the last war are everywhere. They are in destroyed homes and in the hearts and memory of the people. A new war has brought new destruction upon them.
The people of Karabakh are hardworking people. They love their land and tend to it with utmost care. Since they declared their independence, new industries began to develop here, which spurred economic growth of the region to a higher level.
The spirit of this nation is exceptionally high. The first Karabakh war was relatively recent, and every man with whom I spoke, went through the process of being a protagonist in conflict. From a humble shopkeeper, an attendant at the hotel, a famous sculptor and writer, or just a passer-by – they all fought for this land.
Some were injured and others were lucky and had emerged unscathed, but they all suffered for their human rights and dignity for the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“How are you doing,” I asked all the women. “Are you scared? Your children, husbands can be killed any time …”And I heard a common reply from these brave women: “If necessary, we ourselves will go to defend our land.”
Regardless of the fact that any war is very scary. Some of women told me in confidential conversations how they stopped sleeping, or how they started losing their hair out of constant tension. Children suffered very similar symptoms. Their spirit of patriotism is growing very high, but they are still children.
The well known Karabakh writer, Ashot Beglaryan, told me how he heard the sound of exploding shells and went to check his youngest son, “to cover him with a blanket,” but the boy was awake. What it was, he asked. And his father – a good soul – said it was fireworks somewhere. He told me this story, and we both were smiling at the fact that Dad could not make up a story more creative than “fireworks”.
His child skeptically answered that there no fireworks, but shootings somewhere. We shared a laugh at the clumsy attempt of Dad to protect his child from the fear of war, but in fact there was nothing funny that children, young children, know that if there’s something that makes such a loud noise it is a “shooting”, and unfortunately not fireworks.
Thus, this is part of the tragedy of living under the constant threat of war and the incitement of this periodic, but particularly hot phase of the conflict.
We visited Talish, Martakert and Madagiz and wished them all peace. The very following day the Azerbaijani side was shooting from “Grad” artillery batteries along the perimeter of the front line and directly into the peaceful settlements, including these villages – Talish, Martakert and Madagiz.
In the comments section of my previous report from NKR was a rebuke in the fomenting of Islamophobia by VT. During a few days of my trip, my team worked hand in hand with a Chechen journalist, who is a Muslim, of course. We were also accompanied by Orthodox Armenians. I am not a religious person and consider faith a purely personal affair. So, we had plenty of diverse people from different religious views operating within our group.
But we all wanted the same thing — peace for all people; life without tears for mothers and children; and for all soldiers to return from military service healthy and happy instead of being violently reduced to beheaded corpses; and for old people to live out their lives naturally and die of old age with nobody mistreating their dead bodies.
We wish for people to live in their homes, rather than hunkered down with neighbors. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are not at war against Islam, but only standing for the sanctity of their lives and for their land.