Armenia and Azerbaijan have long fought for Nagorno-Karabakh

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Sirens silent for now, Vartan Abrahamian, a 53-year-old social worker and retired military man, has returned to seal the shattered windows of his home in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital.“We are used to it. For myself, I am not worried, ”Abrahamian said of the hostilities that once again rage in this disputed territory, a mountainous region nestled between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He is at the heart of a seething fight that has spanned decades, which began during the chaotic breakup of the Soviet Union and erupted again almost two weeks ago.

A man who gave only his nickname, Milord, takes refuge in an underground bunker while the sirens of the bombings sound on Stepanakert.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Abrahamian, one of some 150,000 ethnic Armenians who claim the enclave as their own – it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan – had fought in a previous iteration of the conflict; now her two sons were on the front line, waging a generational war that so changed life in this former Soviet enclave.

“It is our destiny. It’s our duty. … We will never leave Artsakh, ”said Abrahamian, using the traditional Armenian name of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Walking in the streets of Stepanakert is living the legacy of this fight, a conflict often described as “frozen”, although “hot” is perhaps more just: flowery boulevards lead to elegant cafes but also to army surplus stores. An unarmed tank, a trophy of the 1994 war, watches over the entrance to the city. Posters with stern faces of those who have fallen adorn the halls of a school. In a classroom, eighth grade students compete in how quickly they can assemble and disassemble a Kalashnikov rifle.

David Safaryan, 63, examines the rubble of a house destroyed on October 9 after a military strike in a residential area of ​​Stepanakert.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“Twenty-one seconds,” boasted David Safaryan, 63, a decorated and now retired artillery officer when asked what his best time was. “But you shouldn’t take a Kalashnikov apart. You should shoot it.

Safaryan, a neighbor of Abrahamian whose house was slightly damaged in recent days by a bomb that fell on a local florist, also has two of his sons and two sons-in-law in combat.

The war, which began in 1991, left 30,000 dead before decreeing a difficult ceasefire in 1994. At that time, the Armenians controlled not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but also part of the territory that surrounded him, even as more than a million people – including more than 600,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000 Armenians, according to figures from the United Nations refugee agency – were forced to leave their homes.

A man watches a crater explosion along a street across from a residential area of ​​Stepanakert.

A man watches a crater explosion along a street across from a residential area of ​​Stepanakert.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Since then, the world powers involved, including France, Russia and the United States, have failed in their efforts to move the negotiations forward, as the conflict has settled into a steady pace of skirmishes followed by ceasefire. impermanent fire.

The clashes are different this time around.

Azerbaijan, backed by strong backing from its longtime ethnic ally in Turkey, has deployed armed Turkish drones, even as it has used its cache of petrodollars to spend billions on armaments from Israel and Russia. (Russia also sells arms to Armenia, but at a reduced price.)

Turkey has also reportedly deployed hundreds of Syrian rebels to the front lines in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group covering events in Syria. Turkey denies sending fighters.

Local residents pray at the Holy Mother of God Cathedral.

Local residents pray at the Holy Mother of God Cathedral.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Turkey’s intervention, meanwhile, boosted the memory of the Ottoman Empire – precursor of the modern Turkish republic – and the murder of around 1.5 million Armenians from 1915, a massacre widely considered to be genocide, except by Turkey.

The improved equipment gave Azerbaijan greater range, allowing it to strike areas well away from the front line. In recent days, towns and villages in Nagorno-Karabakh have fallen victim to hour-long bombings.

Population centers were also affected on the Azerbaijani side, including Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, according to government officials, who said Armenia had targeted residential areas as well as civilian infrastructure. Since the beginning of the fighting on September 27, 404 fighters of Nagorno-Karabakh have been killed, according to its soldiers. Azerbaijan does not give figures on military losses. Dozens of civilians have been injured and injured on both sides.

The assault on Stepanakert was particularly intense.

 A view inside the living room where a gun pierced the ceiling of a residential building.

A view inside the living room where a weapon pierced the ceiling of a residential building following a military strike.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A few hours of relative calm on Friday saw Haik, a 36-year-old uniformed communications expert from Yerevan, walk with his team to the site of a large antenna tower that had been strewn with shells.

“For us, there is no difference between Azerbaijan and Turkey. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan says it’s one nationality, two countries, ”Haik said. He refused to give his last name for security reasons.

“But the war is different this time: there is no more human contact. It’s just artillery. It’s just bombing.
His words were interrupted by the sound of shells landing nearby, sending a group of reporters and Haik’s team hurtling down the stairs of an old post office. There, a team of six repairers were removing debris from the hallways and stringing lights to prepare the area for shelter.
“We are used to this. We have already seen three wars. Now our children also see war, ”said Hamayak Vanyan, 60.

“My son is also fighting now,” said Vanyan’s colleague, a 70-year-old man who only gave his nickname, Milord. Although he was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and once had many Azerbaijani friends, he now sees little chance for peace.

 A man takes a cigarette break in an underground bunker as the sirens of the bombardments roar.

A man takes a cigarette break in an underground bunker as the sirens of the bombardments roar.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“At any moment since 1988, I am ready to fight. We can no longer live with the Azeris. Maybe we can live in peace, but there will be no communication between us, ”he said, before listing the names of the sites where the Armenians had faced pogroms at the hands of the Azerbaijani over the years. “There is already too much history. You cannot change that. ”

This story has also hampered repeated ceasefire attempts.

Early Saturday, after 11 hours of difficult mediation by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts, he announced a humanitarian truce that would allow the exchange of prisoners and corpses.

The truce was supposed to have taken effect by noon, but the howl of air raid sirens continued to flood Stepanakert.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh five minutes after the start of the ceasefire. The Azerbaijani authorities accused the Armenian forces of bombing several regions of Azerbaijan.

Men gather to smoke and chat near a telecommunications company in Stepanakert.

Men gather to smoke and chat near a telecommunications company in Stepanakert.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“Where is the ceasefire? The war continues. They didn’t want to stop him. And because of that, we don’t trust the Azeris, ”said Bishop Pargev Martyrosyan, the white-haired Primate of the Artsakh Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In an interview in his office next to the Holy Mother of God Cathedral, a pink-colored structure overlooking a mountainous view, he spoke about the beauty of the area and how the conflict has stunted its development.

“Our people are suffering. This has been abnormal for years. But it is a beautiful country. After the war a lot of people will come, ”he said.

A thud interrupted his sentence: “A bomb.” Let’s go, he said, walking quickly to the basement of the cathedral.

A woman bows her head in prayer before leaving the Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God.

A woman bows her head in prayer before exiting the Holy Mother of God Cathedral.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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