The end of Nagorno Karabakh: “The soldiers shouted at us that if we didn't leave they would kill us in our homes” | International

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The artery of Nagorno Karabakh is black: a winding road that goes into the mountains of this Armenian enclave - in internationally recognized territory as Azerbaijani - and that kept it alive for more than three decades. And in that same way it has bled this week. Since the Azerbaijani authorities opened the border late last Sunday, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people have fled. On Saturday morning, the UN said that more than 100,000 Armenians had left Nagorno-Karabakh, with an official population of 120,000 (although some experts believe it was somewhat lower). And on Thursday, Karabakh authorities announced the dissolution of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, which functioned as an independent state. in fact since 1991. This puts an end to an Armenian presence in this land that dates back centuries.

Aniuta Grigorián cries leaning on her family's old Lada. The luggage rack is loaded with the grandchildren's bikes: “We haven't been able to bring anything, not even blankets. We don't know where we will sleep tonight. But the children started crying when they saw that we left their bicycles.” The children, their grandchildren, chew with relish sausage and cheese sandwiches bigger than their heads, given to them by volunteers from humanitarian organizations; They are hungry after nine months of Azerbaijani blockade, a week of chaotic evacuation and two days on the road. “So we decided to bring the bikes and not anything else, so they can play with something. "They don't understand what's happening." She does, and she cries, and she wipes the tears from her wrinkled face with her flowered dress. She has just crossed the border into Armenia, and the only thing she thinks about is returning to her home. But she knows she can't: “The Azerbaijani soldiers applauded us and mocked us as we left. “We can’t live with these people.”

In the decree dissolving the Armenian enclave, its authorities added that the population "must familiarize themselves with the conditions of reintegration presented by Azerbaijan to make an independent and individual decision on the possibility of staying in Nagorno Karabakh", but all refugees consulted by it newspaper agree that they will not return. The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, reiterated this Friday that the rights of Armenians will be “protected” and his government has established a system for those who decide to stay or return to register. "Safety [de los armenios] It is guaranteed,” stressed Azerbaijani presidential advisor Hikmat Hajiyev. “But, in the meantime we respect freedom of movement. “It is a sovereign and individual decision of each person,” he added.

“We did not decide to leave, we were forced to leave. The Azerbaijani soldiers began to yell at us that if we did not leave they would kill us in our homes,” says Asia Avetisian. This Karabakh woman narrates how Azerbaijani soldiers handed over the body of Mikhail Manukian, a volunteer relative of the Karabakh defense forces, only after “cutting off his arms and legs.” And that a woman from her parents' village, Verin Horatagh, was murdered by Azerbaijani troops after refusing to leave the town because she wanted to wait for news of her son, who was said to have died in combat.

War crimes difficult to prove

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Several Armenian and international legal associations are collecting testimonies for further investigation and denunciation, although these accounts of war crimes are difficult to independently verify because the Government of Azerbaijan has not allowed passage to Nagorno-Karabakh or the foreign press. nor human rights organizations. The Baku Government has accepted the UN request to send an observation mission, but preparations did not begin until this weekend. “Artsakh [como los armenios llaman a la región] It is almost completely empty, only a few hundred people remain, who will also leave. What are international observers going to verify? If the rights of the remaining cattle are protected by Aliyev's genocidal regime?” tweeted former Karabakh State Minister Artak Beglarian.

What is proven is that these violations of the rules of war are not new. During previous war confrontations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis (the border combats of 2021 and 2022, the Second Karabakh War in 2020...) videos of executions and torture of prisoners of war and mutilation of corpses by Azerbaijani troops emerged. The First War (1991-1994) was a paragon of atrocities on both sides: massacres of civilians, torture, rape...

Zoya Davitian cannot erase the image of her parents from her memory; it comes back to haunt her again and again: during the war of the nineties, her parents were found decapitated and without arms. “[Los azerbaiyanos] They killed civilians, even children, before our eyes, and raped women. To a friend of mine. I have seen everything in this life, so, although it is very hard to leave one's land, I prefer to leave. I do it for my children and for my grandchildren, so that they are safe,” she explains. The children entertain themselves on the shoulder of the road, with the garbage left by the passage of tens of thousands of refugees, while they wait for the rest of their family to arrive, still on the road that leads from Nagorno Karabakh to the Armenian border.

Traumatized refugees

In the square in the center of Goris, the first large town in Armenia they pass through, the refugees sit on their packages, receive food, some attention. Some remain still, staring into space, or walk aimlessly. Many prefer not to speak: “Remembering what happened will only make me cry,” one woman excuses herself.

“The psychological situation in which they arrive is terrible. "They are traumatized after nine months of blockade, the recent escalation of war and the trip here, 36 hours stuck on the road," explains Urmat Kushchubekov, coordinator of the Doctors Without Borders team that offers emergency psychological care: "You hear heartbreaking stories, of people who have had to travel with the bodies of their dead children. People just want to go out [de Nagorno Karabaj]but when they get here, they realize that, in addition to the traumas they have suffered, there is nothing clear about what is going to happen to them.”

An example is Slavik Harutunian, still in a state of shock. “I left the house to buy tobacco and I met some soldiers, there were 40 or 50 of them,” says this man from the town of Martakert, one of the first to be taken by the Azerbaijani troops: “They started hitting me, kicking me in the the ribs with his soldier boots. I had not done anything, I swear, I asked them not to kill me, but they told me that they were going to kill me if I did not tell them where the Armenian soldiers were.” They put him in a vehicle and took him away, but four Armenian neighbors managed to convince them to let him go. “I don't know what happened to my neighbors, or to my animals. As soon as they released me, I escaped.”

“They also beat me up, but in 2020,” the elderly Ela Josepián recalls at his side: “I lived in Shushi [Shusha en azerí]like my grandparents and their grandparents, my family had lived there for 200 years, but I had to go to Stepanakert [la capital del enclave]. This time, during the bombing, in the shelters, I cried so much that I thought my heart wouldn't take it. But I'm alive and now I'm here [en Armenia]"Much better than there, with the Turks." Most Armenians call Azeris “Turks”, very few use the term azerbaijani (Azerbaijani), thus establishing a parallel with the Ottoman Turks and with the genocide perpetrated in 1915.

It also doesn't help that the Azerbaijani and Turkish authorities continually use the slogan “two states, one nation” to reinforce the close collaboration they have established over the past 20 years. And this despite the fact that the Azeris have more culturally in common with the Armenians – with whom they have lived for centuries door to door and in peace for most of their history – than with the Turks of Anatolia. Or that, despite the promises of a future life together in Karabakh promoted by the Baku Government, Azerbaijan's official media continually spew hate speech against Armenians. Speeches that permeate the population, as some comments on social networks show. “Look at these disgusting faces, how has our land tolerated these bastards?” writes a user on an Azeri nationalist Telegram channel, under photographs of Armenian refugees. And another, reproducing a message from Armenians searching for two children missing during the recent offensive: “I offer 600 dollars for these children. “600 dollars if they have not suffered a scratch, if they have I will pay more.”

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