The Karabakh diary: April 2-12
As soon as the hostilities in Karabakh started, my colleagues and I traveled to the front-line villages. We saw and experienced a lot during those three days, and based on this, this small diary has been compiled from my Facebook posts, called “Hot on the Track. The only thing I can say for sure is that there is a great difference between the experience of those who are facing danger themselves and cannot fall asleep because of the rounds being fired and those people’s impressions who are watching the hostilities from the capital.
We arrived in the Agdam district at 9p.m. There was a mess in the village of Guzanli, which is considered the district center (after Armenian armed forces seized the town of Agdam in 1993). People in the streets were gathering in groups and actively discussing the war: which districts had been liberated, how many soldiers had been killed, shells that had fallen on the military units and how Russian had been assisting Armenians in waging the war. For example, one could hear that “the Armenian army is managed from the Russian military base in Gyumri.
Rumors about the army’s successes were quickly spread on social media, causing both joy or disappointment within the public, if these stories could indeed be confirmed. Baku perceived the news that local residents were leaving their homes in the same fashion that they would about losing pieces of their land. It seemed to us quite logical that people in Agdam were leaving their homes for a certain period of time during the war, especially when heavy artillery was used and there was no guarantee that their houses would not be turned into heaps of ashes if a projectile fell on it.
Both the elderly and youth, who had not left the village, gathered outside a grocery shop. Some tried to drown the feeling of fear and anxiety in alcohol, but there were more people there who did not drink and reproached the men who had left the village.
Agdam district officials met us without any hospitality. As soon as we had finished shooting our footage, the district police detained us on the instruction of the head of the executive power Ragub Mamedov and took us to the district Olympic complex, where the head of the executive power was.
On our way, the executive of the district, who was accompanying me in the police car, asked me to say that we had wanted to film in the executive office, but they did not allowed us to do that. It turned out later that we had been detained on his initiative.
“You have come here without any permission, you have no accreditation. You may cast a shadow over military operations, the head of the executive power was unfriendly and talked to us as a typical “system employee.
Tired after the traveling, we refrained from disputes with him. Besides, the materials had been already sent. We understood that we would not be allowed to continue shooting.
That night we were accommodated in one of the most uncomfortable rooms of the Agdam Olympic Complex, and the next day we left the district.
On April 3 we travelled to the Füzuli district. A part of the district is under control of Armenian military men, thus the contact line of troops has divided it into two parts.
Unlike Agdam, this district was controlled by the army. The modern military hardware, the commitment on the servicemen’s faces and their precise, well-coordinated work with the locals residents attracted our attention. The residents of the villages that we visited felt like they were in the heart of the war, and we too could feel the proximity of hostilities under the sounds of “Grad missiles.
Residents of Fizuli district behaved freely in front of the cameras, they spoke openly and expressed their feelings frankly. The district authorities did not get in the way of us shooting. In the evening we decided to return to Agdam district again.
03.04 – 04.04
This time we went to a village located opposite the Armenian posts. A host of the house, where we decided to stay at night to have a rest after traveling, had sent his little children to Mingachevir for security reasons.
In the host’s words, his neighbor, who was trying to calm his daughter, scared by the explosions, told her that those were actually balloons bursted in the sky and there was nothing to be afraid of. The girl responded, ‘Those people are bad; I would not have bursted so many balloons, but would rather have given them away.’
At nightfall, the shell noise became more intense and horrifying. But we were so tired, that our tiredness began to prevail over our fears. Having been awoken by the house shaking under the noise of falling shells, my colleague, Ramin, complained that the noise prevented him from sleeping. That had us laughing. Frankly speaking, the explosions did not frighten us, I was calm–for the first time I strongly believed in my army. Only afterwards, when the figures were reported and the death toll was increasing, I started understanding how many lives each of those sounds took.
07.04. – 12.04
Having returned to Baku, I went to the hospital to visit the wounded soldiers. I was mostly interested in live communication with the military servicemen, whom we had been so confident in that night during the firefight.
I saw absolutely different people there-cheerful, not paying attention to the pain from bullet and shell fragment wounds or those, who stared at one spot on the wall, despite being lightly wounded and having an unlively expression. It was interesting to see what they were thinking about. It seems to me that if I were in their place, I would be thinking about my first war, about my death that had been so close to happening, that I survived despite being wounded, about the bloody bodies around me.
I asked a wounded soldier in the Central Military Clinical Hospital: “Do you communicate with your companion-in-arms? I was shocked by his response: “With those…who have survived?
The next time when we were visiting the military servicemen in the same hospital together with sports reporters, we came to the officer’s ward. When he learnt that the sport reporters had come, he said, smiling: “I will also play like Garrincha. (Garrincha was a famous Brazilian football player, whose had one leg shorter than the other one, according to the author) I am looking forward to my recovery. As soon as I am on my feet again, I will show my companion-in-arms what volleyball is. Only afterwards we learnt that the officer, who did not lose countenance, had had one leg amputated.
And another soldier kept smiling. Having seen tears in the eyes of one of the women, who entered the ward together with me, he said, ‘Crying people should not enter my ward.’ The soldier was telling us the whole time about how a commander saved him after he had been wounded in the battle field. While communicating with the soldiers, it turned out that those were the officers who had performed the greatest number of heroic feats during that transient war.
When in the hospital, I came across Maleyka Asadova, the ‘People’s Artist.’ She was talking to the soldiers’ mothers, helping to cheer them up. And she was not doing it for the camera, as there were no cameras there.
All photos were taken by the author in the Agdam district.
Saday Guliev has a flock of several sheep; today one more lamb has been born
Water is brought here from the artesian well
A resident of the village tends sheep ignoring the artillery sounds
A secondary school. Classes were cancelled that day
• The armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh took place in 1991-1994. Since entering into a truce, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has existed as a de facto independent republic, not recognized by any country in the world, including Armenia. Azerbaijan considers Karabakh and the adjacent areas, acquired during the war, as occupied territories and demands their return.
• In 2016, the escalation of tension in the conflict zone lasted from April 2 till April 5. On April 5 the parties agreed to a ceasefire, but the firefight continues on a smaller scale. Azerbaijan and Armenia are blaming each other for a violation of the agreement.
• Information provided by the official sources of the conflicting parties is controversial and does not allow an answer to the question of who started the hostilities and who retaliated. International sources cannot yet answer this question either.
The opinions, expressed in the article, convey the author’s terminology and views and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.