Life goes on, post-traumatic syndrome remains
A year has passed since the last war for Karabakh ended. The rest of Artsakh is now protected by Russian peacekeepers, and the Armenian army is not enough even to fully defend its country. This week the situation between the republic and Azerbaijan has worsened again. At the same time, the republic has not yet recovered from the consequences of the last war: tens of thousands of people are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. And the authorities are unable to explain to their fellow citizens what future awaits them, because they themselves do not know.
Armenia has changed a lot during the year. This is especially noticeable in the number of masks on people's faces. If earlier in Yerevan almost no one thought about protection from coronavirus, today some wear masks even on the street. The fact is that during the pandemic, the virus killed over 7 thousand residents of Armenia, and during the war with Azerbaijan, the republic lost about 3.8 thousand people. These are huge numbers for a country with a population of 2-3 million.
But the economic crisis in Armenia is not felt as strongly as one might expect against the background of the lost war and the pandemic. Moreover, business is optimistic about the future: Russia and Western countries have allocated billions of dollars in investments to the republic. One billion euros will be spent on the North-South road, which will have to connect Armenia with India and China. The south of Armenia, which has found itself in the center of the regional conflict, is planned to be turned into a large trade hub. True, for this, you first need to unblock communications with Azerbaijan.
The optimism of business does not yet correspond to the mood in society. Many complain about the helplessness of the Armenian authorities in the border conflicts with Azerbaijan. They say that even some veterans of the Karabakh war who have become volunteers now want their children to leave their homeland when they grow up. & Nbsp;
Against this background, the authorities tried to ignore the anniversary of the end of the war, reducing it to formal procedures so as not to heat up passions once again. It is noteworthy that Nikol Pashinyan never even once traveled to Karabakh for a year. Some believe that this is due to his fear of the locals. Others suspect that Pashinyan is not going to Stepanakert, because Azerbaijan is against it, & ndash; and this makes people even more angry. & nbsp;
The road to Artsakh
At the entrance to Karabakh, you will first be greeted by a billboard with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, then by an Armenian military post, and then by a post of Russian peacekeepers. Behind them begins the Lachin corridor, which is essentially a 'gray zone'. In theory, civilians should not live there, but they are there. About 100 people live on the territory of the corridor, most of whom are located in the village of Ahavno near the border with Armenia.
After the end of the second Karabakh war, a mass exodus of Armenians, who feared a possible genocide, began from the Lachin corridor. The exception was five families of Armenian refugees from Syria, who considered that they had had enough resettlement. Later, admiring the example of the neighbors, several more people returned to their homes. The main source of income for them is & ndash; this is the service of the Russian peacekeepers stationed in Lachin. There is a school for their children, taught by teachers from Stepanakert, and on weekends they are said to go to a church located in the same area, but outside the Lachin corridor. Azerbaijanis do not attack them.
Where the Lachin corridor ends & nbsp; and Artsakh (Karabakh) begins is impossible to immediately understand. It may even seem that Azerbaijan does not claim these places at all, but when you reach Shushi, all illusions dissipate.
The fork in Shushi – Stepanakert is divided by a fence, on one side of which there are Russian peacekeepers, on the other – Azerbaijani military. The first ones look at those passing to the capital of Artsakh very focused and a little nervous, but they can be understood: the Russians are the only ones who keep the region on the brink of a new war. & Nbsp; Azerbaijani soldiers look at those passing to Stepanakert rather hostilely.
Against the background of this silent confrontation, an unprecedented large-scale construction project is unfolding in Karabakh. The peacekeepers installed lighting and bumpers in the Lachin corridor (for some reason, the Artsakh people did not think of doing this for 25 years). The Armenians are building an alternate route for the corridor, erecting houses for refugees on the outskirts of Stepanakert and in its suburbs. Azerbaijanis are digging tunnels, laying routes, erecting modern strongholds. Both have great views on these lands.
A poster with Putin on the way to Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: Artur Avakov
From love to suspicion
If you ask a resident of Stepanakert what he thinks about the peacekeepers, he will, without a shadow of a doubt, first of all tell about his gratitude to them for ending the war, which, from his point of view, could well have ended with another Armenian genocide. However, this is only the first thing that comes to his mind. Dig a little deeper, and everything is not so simple there.
For the past 25 years, Armenians have been convinced that there can be no new Karabakh war, because if it starts, the Kremlin will press a magic button and Azerbaijan will stop. For this reason, the concentration of patriots of Russia and personally of President Vladimir Putin in Stepanakert was higher than anywhere else. But the war has begun & ndash; and ended sadly for Armenia. Russia assumed the role of a mediator and sent peacekeepers to Karabakh.
But even after that, many wanted to see the peacekeepers as their defenders, not mediators. Reality here too has deceived their expectations. A peacekeeper cannot use weapons in cases where he is not in danger. In the year since the end of the Karabakh war, they have never been attacked, so they never fired. But the Armenians were less fortunate.
In early October, 55-year-old tractor driver Aram Tepnants asked the peacekeepers to accompany him during the harvest. The Russian military got into the tractor with him, and they went to the field. This did not bother the Azerbaijani sniper, and he killed the worker.
In early November, four Armenians were repairing a pipeline through which water was supposed to flow to the peacekeepers. It was several tens of meters from their post. Suddenly, an Azerbaijani soldier came down to the workers from the mountain, who began to swear at first in Azerbaijani, and then switched to Russian. The Armenians did not understand what was the matter, but the brawler took out a pistol and started shooting: he killed 22-year-old Martik Yeremyan and wounded three more of his “ enemies ''. The peacekeepers did not detain the attacker. But a few days later, a friend of the murdered man threw a grenade at the Azerbaijani military at a turn in Shushi, with which he wounded three. The peacekeepers caught the avenger and handed him over to his compatriots, who immediately dubbed him a hero.
One can often hear from the residents of Stepanakert that two thousand peacekeepers are not enough to ensure the complete security of Artsakh. However, even if there are 20 thousand of them, and they stand at every house in the self-proclaimed republic, this is unlikely to change anything, given their status and powers. The presence of peacekeepers can help stop a major war, but individual excesses will continue until the Armenians and Azerbaijanis learn to live in peace.
At the same time, peacekeepers do not lie when they say that they are out of politics. Those of them who agreed to speak to the MK correspondent believe that the main thing for them is that no one is shooting now. And the rest should be dealt with by politicians. But from their point of view, the side of the conflict that does not engage in provocations evokes more sympathy.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry is satisfied with the actions of the Russian peacekeepers, but would like to improve their working conditions. Yerevan is now thinking about installing a video surveillance system around the entire perimeter of Artsakh. With the help of video cameras, it will be possible to quickly identify the culprit of the provocation and the cause of the escalation of the conflict. In addition, you need to make sure that no one has the physical ability to go down the mountain, shoot people, and then calmly return to their original position.
A year after the war in Stepanakert, nothing seems to remind that this war took place at all. Children run along the streets of the capital of Artsakh, play weddings, bars, shops, hotels and banks work. There is lighting and running water, although today there is a tense situation with them. The republic has lost most of its own power generation and all sources of rivers.
It seems that there are significantly more people in Stepanakert than in 2019. There are even traffic jams in the city. According to official data, before the war, about 50 thousand people lived in the capital of Karabakh, but now there are at least 60 thousand of them. The increase was provided by refugees from the regions that went to Azerbaijan. But in general, the population of Karabakh has decreased by about 25 thousand people & ndash; 90-100 thousand.
A festive concert of the peacekeepers at the Stepanakert airport. Photo: Artur Avakov
Locals say that during the war marauders first appeared in their city, but now crime has returned to almost zero level. It has been empirically proven that if you accidentally lose your passport on the other side of the city, they will try to find you and return the document without demanding anything in return.
Nevertheless, behind everyone's smiles, pain is hidden, which spills out after the first glass of intoxicating. The men of Artsakh were forbidden to leave the republic during the war, and now the war haunts each of them. For example, 28-year-old Alexander told the MK correspondent that he spent 25 days out of 44 in the defense of Hadrut. The guy lost his childhood friend there and almost found himself surrounded. But he fought back his positions to the last. He still dreams of war and sees the arrival of artillery shells.
He will marry soon, but does not know how to raise children in Stepanakert. Alexander's future father-in-law admits that before the war he never closed the door to his house, and now he does it because he is afraid that Azerbaijanis will come to him. Peacekeepers cannot provide protection to every home, there is no hope for their own authorities, the future, to put it mildly, is in a fog.
If the current situation persists for 5-10 years, Alexander intends to leave his land. If Azerbaijanis come, he will not stay here all the more. But the 28-year-old veteran does not want to move to Yerevan either: it is a foreign city for him, despite the fact that there are many of his friends there. And not only he thinks so. The majority say that they stay with their children in Artsakh only out of despair: there is no money to move.
And in Stepanakert, they sincerely dislike Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. He is considered a traitor who disgraced the Armenians. & Nbsp; After the Karabakh war, some cannot even call Armenia their homeland. Because, in their opinion, the homeland cannot behave like that.
To a large extent, such positions are dictated by PTSD. Moreover, for a year the residents of Artsakh have not been able to receive professional psychological assistance, which they obviously need. International organizations are ready to join in solving the problem, but there is a nuance: from the point of view of international law, Artsakh & ndash; this is Azerbaijan, which means that international organizations should enter Stepanakert from the Azerbaijani side. At the current stage of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, the Artsakh people will not accept such assistance.
Icon rescued from the temple in Shushi. Photo: Artur Avakov
Between Russia and Armenia
The authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh are not abandoning their attempts to convince the ruling elite of Russia of the indispensability of Artsakh for Moscow. Local politicians regularly stress that their republic is the last stronghold of Russia in the South Caucasus, which is holding back the advance of NATO troops and the Turkic world. At the same time, they diligently ignore Putin's words that for him the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples are equally close, just each in its own way.
The head of the Caucasus Institute, Alexander Iskandaryan, notes that Azerbaijan has been preparing for the Second Karabakh War since the 1990s and in 2020, in a month and a half, it almost solved its task: to regain the territories cleared of Armenians. But almost does not count & nbsp; & ndash; now a new system of relations is being formed in the region.
One status quo in the South Caucasus has been destroyed, and the second has not yet taken shape, Iskandaryan believes. With this he connects the haste of Azerbaijan, which seeks to have time to maximize its advantage, because then there will be no such opportunity.
Alexander Markarov, head of the Armenian branch of the Institute of CIS Countries, agrees with his colleague and emphasizes that if Artsakh wants to become strong, it will need a strong ally. “ There are two options: either a strong Armenia or a strong Russia. Now Armenia cannot even solve its own security problems, & ndash; emphasizes Markarov. & ndash; Russia remains, but Artsakh has problems with subjectivity (an unrecognized republic), so Moscow does not conduct public direct negotiations with it & nbsp; & ndash; only through Yerevan. ''
Speaking about Karabakh, Armenian experts cannot ignore Turkey. According to them, Ankara, having taken a direct part in the 44-day war, could not fully realize its plans: it did not become the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, could not deploy its peacekeepers in Karabakh … Nevertheless & nbsp; Turkey remains a loyal ally of Azerbaijan, and Armenia has no such ally.
Moscow's views on the South Caucasus differ from what Yerevan wants, MK said. Iskandaryan. “ Moscow wants a normal border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it does not care how and where it will pass. She wants to open roads in the South Caucasus, but she is not concerned about the safety of Armenian goods and carriers, while Azerbaijan only needs a railway to Nakhichevan '', & ndash; says the political scientist.
With the peacekeepers, from his point of view, the situation is more difficult. They stopped ethnic cleansing in Artsakh, but their main task is to ensure the presence of Russia in the South Caucasus. And this is possible only & nbsp; as long as there are Armenians here.