ArmenPress News Agency, Armenia
December 25, 2017 Monday
'Frozen conflict or a war in bain-marie' - Diario de Noticias
publishes article on NK conflict
YEREVAN, DECEMBER 25, ARMENPRESS. Armenia and Azerbaijan do not lay
down their arms. Despite the ceasefire signed in 1994, the peace
agreement never arrived. More than two decades into the
Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) war, the two countries continue to confront each
other. In the line of contact between Azerbaijan and NK every day
there are exchanges of fire, Armenpress reports citing Diario de
She goes unravelling bits and pieces of life. Telling about herself
and her people. Alternating between smiles and tears, which sometimes
stubbornly accumulate in her eyes. Lida Sargsyan is 82 years old and
features which do not belittle her age. The wrinkles are deep,
excavated by the passage of time and all the mourning that life has
put on her path. Her father died on a battlefield during World War II.
And three of the seven children had the same fate during the conflict
that in the early 1990s put Nagorno-Karabakh in the spotlight. In
April last year, she feared the worst, when Talish, the village where
she lived, near the northwest border of the territory, was attacked by
Azerbaijan's military. Fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces
lasted only four days, but it was enough to show that despite the
ceasefire signed in 1994, peace and security are far from palpable
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the 1920s, when, in the
aftermath of World War I, Joseph Stalin decreed that this autonomous
regionwith an Armenian and Christian majority would become an integral
part of the newly created Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan,
predominantly inhabited by Shia Muslims. The following decades, lived
under the unifying communist mantle, were of relative calm, but
everything changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shortly
after the Azerbaijani parliament revoked the autonomous status of
Nagorno-Karabakh, in December 1991, the region unilaterally declared
independence. Tension and clashes intensified and the war settled. The
weapons would only go quiet in 1994, with the Armenian victory. Since
then, the conflict has been frozen. Peace has never been signed and
the country is not recognized by any Member State of the United
Nations. In addition to dominating the territory of the former Soviet
oblast - composed of five provinces - the Armenian forces, as a result
of the war's achievements in the 1990s, also control seven other Azeri
regions, thus allowing for a link with Armenia.
Rotten peace collapsed last year. In the early hours of dawn on April
3, the village of Talish woke up under fire. "I left the house when
they started firing, and my husband asked me not to do it, but I told
him I was going out.If they are going to kill me, let them do it
outside, not in here," Lida recalls. Some neighbors got her inside a
car to escape the attack. Zora, her husband, refused to go. He
explained that he did not want to leave the house. That he would not
leave behind the photographs and the memories of the children who died
in the war.
Married for 61 years, during "three or four days" Lida and Zorahad no
newsof each other. Today, like 45 other Talish families, they live in
Alashan, a small place about 20 kilometers away. They live in
improvised, pre-fabricated housing provided by the government, while
they wait for the day when they can return home. For the time being,
Talish is a deserted village, with much of the houses destroyed by the
attack of the Azeri forces. The reconstruction work is progressing
little by little, but it will still take long months until the
inhabitants can return. Among laughter, children run across the dirt
floor. The wind stirs the sheets hung to dry in the street, hanging
from a rope stretched between two trees. They would be pieces of a
normal life, if Alashan were not just a piece of borrowed land.
The school and place of death
The house, of exposed bricks and with a zinc roof, is on the edge of
the dirt road. The vegetation, against which no one has fought for a
year and a half, is advancing toward the walls. The door is open.
Inside, in the living room, Captain Gegham Grigoryan, a press officer
for the Nagorno-Karabakh army, points to the bullet holes on the
couch. "The woman was lying here when the body was found, she was 95.
And here was her husband," the soldier explains. "They came in and
killed them. First they killed them, and then they cut off their
ears." Valera and RazmelaKhalapyan were two of the three civilian
casualties in Talish. Despite the brutality of the image, last year
the photograph of the corpses was widely publicized in the Armenian
press to serve as evidence of a war crime. When the attack on the
village began, the couple's son escaped by car with his wife and five
children. He would return hours later to try to save his parents, but
it was too late. He found the two lying on the floor. The blood marks
have already been washed, but the drawings of the children of the
family remain hung on the wall of one of the rooms, like colored
ghosts, made of naive traits, which veil the rest of the empty space.
Very close to the house of Lida and Zora, stands the village’s school,
facing the Azeri positions. The glasses are broken. Scattered on the
floor are books, photographs, scrolls, drawings, and student work.
"The existence of this school in Talishproves that neither the bombing
(1991) nor the artillery shelling (1990-1992) nor the forced removal
of the population (1992-1994) were able to break the will of a people
who accepted Christianity as the religion of the State in the year
301, "can be read, almost ironically, on a billboard hung in one of
the now empty classrooms.
The trenches and the cleanliness of the capital
The so-called Nagorno-Karabakh-Azerbaijan line of contact is heavily
militarized on both sides. It is there, on the border, that the
expression "frozen conflict" sounds a lot like a euphemism. This year,
by mid-October, the Armenian casualties amounted to 47 soldiers.
Andduring the four-daywar, last year, more than 90 died. About the
number of Azeri victims there is no information available. The Baku
government does not disclose the casualties.
"The cease-fire regime is violated almost every day," says Major
RudikHakobyan, commander of this post on the north-western front of
the territory. "The last shots were only four hours ago," he adds. A
periscope, installed in the trenches excavated in the almost white
earth, allows observing the Azeri positions from a distance. But an
eye that is not trained for military purposes doesn’t distinguish
anything, except for harmless houses, isolated and scattered across
In the so-called four-day war in April 2016, Rudik’s detachment
suffered two casualties. He is 30 years old, and nine serving on the
front line, but many of the soldiers accompanying him are young men
between the ages of 18 and 20, who are on compulsory two-year military
service. Unless it is necessary, men, as a rule, spend no more than
two weeks in a row in the line of contact without going home. "All
families are prepared for something to happen. We all have war in our
daily lives, but we try to live normally," says the commander.
Far from the trenches, Stepanakert is the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.
With about 55 thousand inhabitants, it is far from being a militarized
place. Here, unless spoken of, war cannot be seen or felt. It is a
city like almost every city in the world. With shops, restaurants,
hotels, children on the way to school, adults busy with their normal
ArtakBeglaryan was born in Stepanakert. He was six years old when a
landmine explosion made him totally blind. The accident happened while
playing with three friends in the yard. His parents placed him in a
school in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, dedicated to students with
special needs. The inability to see did not stop him from studying. He
graduated from Yerevan State University and holds a master's degree in
political science from University College in London. Today he is a
spokesman for the government of Nagorno-Karabakh.
More than two decades into the 1994 ceasefire, landmines are an almost
overcome problem. The Halo Trust, a Scottish-based NGO, has been
working permanently in the region since 2001 and believes that by 2020
the land will be mine-free. "We have already cleared 90% of the
territory," says Amasia Zargarian, an Iranian American with theHalo
Trust team. The official accounts show that, since 1995, there have
been 287 accidents with mines. These provoked 374 victims, 78 of them
mortal. In total, since the NGO started to work in the former Soviet
oblast, almost 12,000 explosive deviceswere deactivated.
In Karegah, a community situated in the narrow corridor of Lachin,
which connects Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, it is time for lunch.
Nazeli, a 40-year-old woman, is in her restingbreak. For a year and
four months she has been working as a de-miner. Sitting on the ground,
on a slope in the middle of the woods, she explains that she feels
that her functions are important. Not just to save lives, but so that
people can use the land to gather firewood and collect other food.
"I am convinced that peace will be impossible in the coming decades,"
regrets ArtakBeglaryan. "Currently Azeris are poisoned with hatred of
the Armenians because of the propaganda of the authorities. It will
take several generations to change that. Peace is impossible when the
strategy of one side is to kill the other," continues the spokesman of
the government, chatting in the balcony of a restaurant in the
capital. To exemplify the difference in attitude, Beglaryan resorts to
the rhetoric of military communiqués on both sides: "They use the term
‘enemy’ and we use ‘adversary’. Our army says it ‘protects’ and
‘defends’, but Azeris speak of ‘revenge’". With the eyes that do not
see resting on the interlocutor, he explains that peace will be
impossible while the vocabulary of hate lasts.
It is not difficult to find official quotes that attest to the
aggressiveness of words. "Our main enemies are all Armenians in the
world," said, in 2012, IlhamAliyev, president of Azerbaijan since
2003,when he succeeded his father. "Armenia, as a country, has no
value at all. It is a colony, a territory artificially created in
Azerbaijan’s lands," he said.
In September, addressing the United Nations General Assembly,
IlhamAliyev stressed that Azerbaijan is a "center of multiculturalism,
where all religions and ethnic groups live in harmony." The Azeri
president also stressed that the conflict must be resolved on the
basis of international law and that Azerbaijan's control over its
territories must be restored.
DN contacted by e-mail the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baku.
HikmatHajiyev, the spokesman, answered the questions (see interview),
arguing that any step towards resolving the conflict will have to
start with the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the occupied
territories. In 1993, between April and November, the United Nations
Security Council adopted four resolutions calling for this withdrawal.
Hajiyev further asserts that Armenia has carried out an "ethnic
cleansing" in these territories and stresses that even in the Armenian
textbooks there is also a hate speech against Azerbaijan.
DN even made an interview with an Azeri researcher, an expert on
international relations, who offered to find other members of civil
society willing to speak. Later she explained that no one had accepted
and asked - justifying himself with the "sensitivity of the subject
and the safety challenges" in the country - for the interview not to
be used in this article.
Friends will be friends; countries not necessarily…
Anna Safarian (fictitious name) is 24 years old, born in 1993, a
native of Stepanakert and her mother became pregnant during the
conflict in the 1990s. She is part of a new generation of Armenians
who were born after, during or shortly before the war. After
completing her degree in Armenia, she completed a master's degree in
International Law from the University of Birmingham in the United
Kingdom, and now works for the Nagorno-Karabakh Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. She assures that she never felt any kind of hatred towards
the Azeris. "They are normal people. Just like us, they have their
families. Just like us, parents have their children in the army,
serving in the front line. They also feel the same fear and the same
pain. No, I never hated them”, she insists, stressing that the problem
lies with the aggressive discourse of the government of Azerbaijan.
While studying in the United Kingdom, she made contacts with Azeri
colleagues, but the connections ended up being lost: "They do not want
to keep in touch on Facebook, because it would be dangerous for them
to have Armenian friends."
Ani Minasyan (fictitious name) is 28 years old, holds a degree in
History from Yerevan State University and specializes in politics and
society in Azerbaijan. She made a point of learning the language of
the neighboring country in order to have access to "propaganda-free"
sources of information. A few years ago she participated in several
"peacebuilding meetings". Meetings held on neutral ground, usually in
Georgia. Organized by Armenian and Azeri emigrants living in the
United States, these meetings are aimed at getting young people to
know who is on the other side and to establish a dialogue. Ani recalls
that at one of these meetings, when she was presenting her vision of
the conflict, a girl from Azerbaijan stormed out of the room shouting.
"She claimed I was lying. She was not prepared to listen to my side of
the story. Later I was able to understand her reaction. I understood
that she was subject to propaganda, that she had never left the
country, that she had never met anyone from Armenia. It was something
very new for her. She was just expecting to hear me apologising, not
to listen to my side of the story," she explains.
From these meetings some friendships were born. One of Ani's friends,
whom she met in a 2012 meeting in Georgia, was to be arrested in 2013
by the Azeri authorities and sentenced to eight years in jail. He was
involved in N!DA, a civic movement that fights for human rights and
democratic values. He was released last year. Ani prefers not to say
hisname: "I do not want to get him into more trouble." The academic is
convinced that neither the Armenians nor the Azeris want war. Butshe
has no short-term illusions: "The conflict is useful for Aliyev, the
Azeri president. It helps him keeping power."
Last year's clashes have shown that the return of a large-scale war is
a danger that is not far off. "Even before April 2016, it was not a
frozen conflict, it was a shaky situation," said AshotGhulyan, speaker
of the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament. "Azerbaijan has long been playing
with the ceasefire regime to see what the reaction of the
international community would be. When they realized that there was no
clear and assertive response they decided to attack. They showed again
that exterminating the Armenian population is still on their
agenda.This seriously affects the negotiation process,"he adds. For
Ghulyan, it will be very difficult to re-establish relations in the
coming decades: "Since kindergarten, Azeri children learn that
Armenians are the enemy."
The peace process seems to be in a dead end. Baku government continues
to assert that it will never abdicate from Nagorno-Karabakh, and the
United Nations does not recognize the region's independence. Created
in 1992 by the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe,
the Minsk group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States,
aims to find a platform for understanding. Despite efforts, progress
has been scarce. One of the problems is Stepanakert's absence from the
negotiating table. Baku does not agree to dialogue with
Nagorno-Karabakh until Armenia withdraws its troops from the occupied
"The involvement of Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiations is
indispensable for the resolution of the conflict. Without our
participation it is impossible," said BakoSahakyan, President of the
country. "If Azerbaijan and the Minsk group want to find a solution
they have to make Nagorno-Karabakh part of the negotiating process,"
AshotGhulyan points out. Neither Sahakyan nor any other politician
interviewed for this report agreed to reveal what percentage of the
Nagorno-Karabakh state budget is invested in Defense.
And which desire is stronger: independence, or reunification with
Armenia? Regardless of whom the interlocutor is, in Stepanakert or
Yerevan, the answer is almost always the same: first recognition of
independence, and then reunification. Going immediately to the union
of the two territories would be a step bigger than the leg and more
difficult to understand for the international community.
"Reunification is a natural thing, but if the world is not prepared to
see us as part of Armenia, at least be prepared to accept us as an
independent territory," says Ghulyan.
President BakoSahakyan, noting that Nagorno-Karabakh has many friends
in Europe, draws attention to what he considers a paradox: "European
countries have very close relations with Azerbaijan - which is a
dictatorial regime that disrespects basic international principles
–simply because it is recognised. At the same time, they refuse having
institutional relations with Nagorno-Karabakh - which is a completely
democratic state - only because it is not recognized internationally.
This is ridiculous”.
According to Stepanakert, the justification for Western immobility
lies in Baku's "aggressive diplomacy." "European politicians do not
want to lose money. Some recent news shows how Azerbaijan uses
corruption," Ghulyan said. These statements were made just days after
the German newspaper SüddeutscheZeitung revealed that an ally of
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had received money to lobby for
"In the West, people are not well informed about Nagorno-Karabakh.
Gaps are filled by Azeri propaganda because they have money and exert
pressure on a much larger scale," adds Armine Alexanyan, Deputy
Foreign Minister in the government of Stepanakert.
Knock down borders
For Armenia, Azerbaijan is not the only neighbor with whom relations
are problematic. There is also Turkey. Although there are flights
between Yerevan and Ankara and Istanbul, land borders are locked.
Fending off the two nations is still the spectre of ethnic cleansing
of the Armenian population at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 during
First World War. Turkey does not recognize the Genocide, which for
Armenia is an undeniable historical fact. Everything happened more
than a century ago, but the wounds remain open, impeding good
relations between the two countries.
David and Davit are Armenians. Elif and Asya are Turks. The four are
between 16 and 18 years old and it is easy to see that there is
genuine friendship and complicity between them. They study together in
Dilijan, northern Armenia, in one of the 17 colleges of the United
World Colleges network in the world. Here there are 213 students from
82 different countries, who live and learn together. "Last year, the
Armenian and Turkish students organized a celebration to honor all
those who died. It was an opportunity for me to understand and
empathize with the pain of the Armenians," Elif says, sitting next to
Davit. In Turkey, she studied in a private school, but Asya attended
public education. Both have contrasting experiences. The first tells
that the subject was addressed in the classes, and they studied and
talked about the subject. But for the second, the reality was
different. "A university professor came to our school and gave a
presentation on the Armenian Genocide saying it never happened. In
public schools the curriculum is based on the denial of genocide,"
Elif explains that in Turkey it is possible to find three different
views on the subject: there are the negationists, there are those who
admit that there were massacres but they do not accept to speak about
genocide, and there are still others who recognize the genocide.
"There is no doubt that we are two close peoples and two distant
neighbors," summarizes Asya. "There is a mental border because there
are no links between the two peoples," adds Elif. Both said that
living in Armenia showed them the cultural similarities between the
people. "It would be good if it was also possible to live with Azeri
students. I am sure they advocate peace," says David.
Perhaps the new generation may be able to bridge the walls that
politics has been building for decades. Perhaps the trenches, dug in
the line of contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, may one
day be nothing more than fossils of a past conflict. Perhaps Lida and
Zora may one day return to Talish.
The journalist José Fialho Gouveia travelled at the invitation of the
European Friends of Armenia, an NGO in Brussels.