Karabakh: what awaits 'new' and 'old' refugees
The second Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which began on September 27, 2020, ended on November 10 with the signing of an armistice. Under the terms of the agreement, most of the territories controlled by the Armenian forces came under the control of Azerbaijan.
During the first conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-1994, hundreds of thousands of people from both sides became refugees. The second conflict has also caused the appearance of new refugees – this time, Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions.
At the same time, the ‘old’ Azerbaijani refugees, despite the fact that their home towns and villages have returned to Baku’s control, will not be able to return home soon.
JAMnews correspondents in Yerevan and Baku met with ‘new’ and ‘old’ refugees to find out what they have experienced and how the new war has affected their lives.
Even those who have somewhere to return are afraid to return
Armine Martirosyan, Yerevan
“There will be no life in Stepanakert”
“On the day of the surrender of Shushi [Aze. Shusha] the clock, together with a prayer book, fell to the floor. I was shaking, thinking: ‘Lord, can this really happen?’, Armine Grigoryan says, pointing at a clock with an image of the Shushi church Kazanchetsots in the middle.
Once again, her family is leaving their home and seeking refuge in a strange city.
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The first time the family fled from Shushi to Stepanakert [Aze. Khankendi] at the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, in 1988. Then the Azerbaijanis, who constituted the majority in the city, expelled the Armenians. But after the capture of Shusha by Armenian forces in 1992, the family returned to their homeland. 28 years later they were overtaken by the same fate. This time, fate threw them to Yerevan:
“The war began, everything we have was left, left. House, property … only the children we were able to take out.”
Armine married a native Shushi resident, and says that the history of their family is connected with the history of the city. The house of her husband’s parents is next to the famous Ghazanchetsots church, which was twice bombed during the second Karabakh war.
They themselves built their own house, as it later turned out, near the ancient Armenian cemetery:
“I will never forget that the workers came to change the pipes so that the water would not freeze in the yard. They dug a deep hole, found a skeleton: fingers, a skull. We thought, apparently, this is a continuation of the cemetery. Then they found a tombstone from the 14th century, if I am not mistaken, it was 1376, on the stone – inscriptions in Armenian”.
The city of Shushi, which came under the control of Azerbaijan, is of great strategic importance. The only road connecting Karabakh with Armenia passes through it, along which the Armenians travel, accompanied by Russian peacekeepers.
Now Armine’s family, which has six children, lives in Yerevan and is afraid to return to Karabakh:
“Whoever goes to Karabakh will get a heart attack while he gets there. This is normal? Fight each other, and then surround them with enemies and say, live. I don’t know how safe it is that people were returned to Stepanakert. “
Shushi is located above Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh is visible from here at a glance. Armine recalls the shelling from Shushi in the first Karabakh war in the 1990s. Then she lost many relatives, friends and acquaintances:
“How many years Stepanakert was in a depressing position. What they just didn’t do over us. The Grad shells rained down on our heads day and night. My aunt’s family was smashed against the walls by a shell. They managed to save only one child, who was hidden behind a column in the bathroom. What a shock we experienced. Not one, not two, not three. And now we have been returned to the same situation. If there are Azerbaijanis in Shushi, there will be no life in Stepanakert.”
“Hadrut baklava” in Yerevan
The strategically important city of Hadrut also came under the control of Azerbaijan. It was through him that the Azerbaijani troops managed to reach Shushi.
Alena Avetisyan, her three children and her husband’s parents left Hadrut on September 27 after an artillery shell hit their yard and damaged their house.
“The time was 7:15, we were still asleep when it all started. Artillery came raining down, the drones were flying. When the children started crying, we left, there was no point in staying there anymore.
Our family first moved to a village on a hill next to Hadrut in the hope that this place would not be shelled. Then we left from here – already to the Armenian city of Goris. Again – with the hope that we would return back to their home. But I had to move again – to Yerevan. Here, we rent an apartment.”
Alena recalls the first Karabakh war. She was seven years old when the war began.
“In the 90s, Hadrut was also fired upon, but we continued to live there. They went to school, parents went to work, lived for themselves, the city never passed into the hands of Azerbaijanis. This time there was another war. It was impossible to stay, ”Alena says.
She watches with horror on the Internet videos from Hadrut, posted by Azerbaijanis:
“We are watching these videos of what our city has become. Hadrut is now in a terrible state, everything is destroyed there, houses, buildings are burned, a terrible state. This city has never been Azerbaijani, and I can’t imagine what could be Azerbaijani about it.”
Alena’s family left a house and a business in Hadrut. They had shops and cafes. In Yerevan, they have to start from scratch. To make money and ease the worries of the family, to dispel her sad thoughts, Alena decided to start her own small business. She bakes baklava according to the Hadrut recipe and sells it online. “Hadrut baklava” in Yerevan is now a recognizable brand.
“The people of Hadrut are tough by nature, and we all do not lose hope that we will return to our hometown,” she says.
Refugees and the state
During the war in Karabakh, about 90,000 people left their homes. After the signing of the trilateral agreement, according to official data, about 30,000 have already returned back.
The Armenian authorities are giving the refugees one-time aid in the amount of 300 thousand drams [about $600].
They are also assisted in finding accommodation. The government allocated 68 thousand drams [about $140] monthly to every Karabakh resident who moved to Armenia during the fighting. Those who do not have their own real estate in Armenia receive additional 15 thousand AMD [about $30].
The state should solve housing issues for these people within a few years, and before that it will pay rent.
“Armenia should differentiate programmes for those people of Artsakh who will not be able to return at least in the next few years, and for those groups that may return – under the guarantees of Russian peacekeepers, even if not 100%. Those who cannot return now and in the near future should be provided not with their own houses, but with social apartments. Further development will depend on the unity of the spirit of the Armenian people, ”said the first ombudsman of Armenia, human rights activist Larisa Alaverdyan.
In addition to providing financial and material support, in her opinion, the authorities of Armenia and Karabakh should actively raise the issue of refugees in international structures.
“Artsakh and Armenia should appeal to all international institutions, first of all, political ones, make this problem public, concretize that many of these families have been expelled from their places of residence for the second, third time. International organizations must commit themselves to support these thousands of families who find themselves on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, ”Larisa Alaverdyan said.
It’s still a long way to return
Sevgi Ismayilbeyli, Baku
According to Baku, during the years of the first war in Karabakh, from 600 to 700,000 Azerbaijanis left the region. Approximately 300,000 Azerbaijanis, who lived directly on the territory of Armenia until the end of the 80s of the last century also became refugees.
A JAMnews correspondent met with the refugees of the first Karabakh war who have been forced to live far from their homes for about 30 years.
“Where did the nations get such enmity towards each other?”
Mammadhasan Hasanov heads a public organization that provides assistance in solving social and economic problems to people who have suffered from mines in the conflict zone.
He comes from the Fizuli region, which was liberated by the Azerbaijani armed forces on October 17, 2020.
Mammadhasan Hasanov recalls the events of the first war and says that after returning from service in the Soviet army, he found war in his native land.
“I would never have thought that peoples, Soviet people could harbor so much enmity towards each other. At that time, the inhabitants of our village dug trenches to protect them from the advancing enemy army. My uncle and brother also went to fight against the invaders, but we had no weapons. There was one weapon for every ten people, which was issued by the district police department,” he says.
Then, at the beginning of the conflict, Soviet troops were stationed in Azerbaijan, a curfew was in effect. Mammadhasan accuses them of helping the Armenian side: “The Russian soldiers were by our side during the day, but at night they joined the occupiers, told them about our weak spots and where it was better for the Armenians to attack our villages”.
Recalling the first war, Hasanov fondly recalls his commander, Mobil Yusifov, who directly led the creation of the militia from local residents:
“It is a pity that Yusifov did not live to see the liberation of the region, he died in 2016. He never admitted that we, four brothers, went to battle together, said that at least one of us must survive. “
Mammadhasan Hasanov is looking forward to returning to his native Fuzuli.
“I have dreamed of seeing the graves of my relatives for 30 years”
During the first war, Dilruba Behbudova left her home in the Agdam region. This area, virtually without a fight, was transferred to the Azerbaijani side on November 20, 2020, according to a trilateral ceasefire agreement.
Behbudova in the first Karabakh war lost not only her home, but also her own son.
She recalls that since 1988, conflicts between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began in Karabakh. According to her, there were cases of insults from the Armenians, “the buses were stopped halfway and people were forced to walk the rest of the road”.
“My son Abbas Behbudov was one of the first conscripts of the internal troops of Azerbaijan, created in 1991. Some time after the start of the war, they were taken to the Zangilan region. Once we even managed to go to his military unit. They said that he was on the front line, and could not meet. In December 1992, the Armenians occupied the village of Gazanchi, Zangilan region. After that we went to look for Abbas, but he was nowhere to be found. They never found out whether he was captured or died … ”, – says Dilruba.
She cannot speak without tears about the feelings that she experienced during the liberation of the Zangilan region:
“For me there is no difference – Agdam or Zangilan. All Karabakh is our land. Our homeland. For 30 years I have dreamed of seeing the graves of my parents and ancestors, but I cannot do it. Now I am proud. I am proud that we managed to return to our native lands. “
Dilruba Behbudova notes with some pride that almost all the male part of her relatives volunteered for the Azerbaijani army and took part in the liberation of Karabakh.
She is waiting for the day when she will be able to return to Agdam and to Zangilan region, where she lost her son 28 years ago.
The return will not be soon
“Old” refugees in Azerbaijan will have to wait for a long time to return home. In addition to the fact that settlements and infrastructure have been almost completely destroyed on the territory of the liberated regions, the main danger is minefields. Several people who, after the end of hostilities, wanted to visit their homes, died as a result of mine explosions.
It will take at least three years to clear the minefields in the liberated settlements, the Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action said. Only after that it will be possible to begin full-fledged construction work there to return refugees there.
And the complete demining of Karabakh will take from 10 to 13 years.
The government has not yet presented any program for the return of refugees to their homes. This means that the “old” refugees will have to wait for years before they have such an opportunity.
With the support of RLNE