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Armenia: Artsakh under iron and fire.

EN - Wednesday, 07 October 2020

Sunday, September 27, the world woke up in the stupor of Azerbaijani aggression on Armenia. Among all the peoples, if there is one who should feel touched in the heart by these horrific images, it is the French. Immediately, discussions between members of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient are moving forward: a permanent mission should open 10 days later, but an emergency mission should be launched to assist the people asap.

Very quickly, the realities on the ground are being clarified thanks to the help of the association “Solidarity Armenia” whose president is soon leaving for the front as many men of his age who volunteer to defend the homeland. Our network, built in three years of ad hoc actions in the country, guides us to assess the real needs and helps us organize the first logistical elements. On the spot Aram, a young Franco-Armenian who return to his country three years ago to find his father’s land, gives us the guidance to set up our mission in record time. His knowledge of the country is equal only his love for his history and terroirs.

All our French commitments canceled or postponed, we fly with François-Marie to Yerevan. Barely time to rest, we leave to spot and buy as many foodstuffs as possible to transport them to Goris, the central node of aid to the people, the last crossing point before entering the Artsakh.

At Goris around midnight and a half we immediately go to the city hospital to offer our help. We are welcomed by the hospital director and the Armenian Minister of Health who explains the health situation and the functioning of aid, show us around the hospital and thanks us warmly for our presence. The minister congratulates us early in the morning on his official tweet account as our interview continued until the hours of early dawn.

In the first light of the day, we discover the hospitality of the people of Syunik, this welcoming and fundamentally patriotic people of the rustic mountain. Passing past the Eiffel Tower standing on the main square of the city, close to the French cultural center, we learn from the lips of Carmen, the manager, that Goris is a “francophone and francophile” city proudly twinned with the city of Vienna. Carmen is a wonderful young woman with 1000 commitments and will be crucial to us in the location and distribution of aid to the refugees of Artsakh.

sos chretiens orient armenie familles armeniennes deplacees a goris

Though bruised by the brutal assault on Artsakh, its inhabitants are not afraid. They've been living out there for centuries and are determined to stay. First of all, we meet these families who have found refuge in Goris. Traveling through hotels and individual homes, welcoming them to provide food and some warm clothes, we are always welcomed as kings. Wives and children invite us to have tea and pray for their husbands, brothers and fathers gone to defend, whatever the cost, their position on the front line to protect their fathers land.

These prayers will not be superfluous in the heart of a modern conflict that sees drones and artillery wreaking havoc in the trenches beaten by rain and wind. In these muddy paths stand shoulder to shoulder veterans of the war of 1988 and young volunteers who engaged massively as soon as the proclaimed mobilization.

sos chretiens orient armenie ruines stepanakert

We ourselves see this violence in the heart of the city of Stepanakert, capital of Akhtsar.

Minutes after we arrived in the hospital parking lot, the sirens resonate: Azerbaijani drones were seen over the city. It has been several days since the martyred city has been heavily bombed by Azerbaijan. We take advantage of a few minutes of calm between two alerts to unload the equipment we brought with us: emergency 'trauma' bags for crew members from the Public Security, large amounts of medical consumables, and splints of all kinds, radios to coordinate the efforts of rescuers and doctors as well as food for city residents. Despite the numerous injured soldiers and civilians who flock to hospital, everyone is outstandingly holding their posts: staff volunteers have come from all over Armenia and renowned doctors from the Diaspora have returned from Europe and United States to help.

In the ER lobby, nurses are resting on stretchers, some smoke listening to music to release the pressure while waiting for the next wave of injured to follow the upcoming bombings. In a small hospital room, a 60 years-old lady holds an impromptu cafeteria and serves us generously in coffee. Hospital staff, with sharply drawn features, drink a glass of water, eat a warmed can and escape for a few minutes despite the permanent reminder of the sirens that sound again. Below explosions are being heard, it's time to get back to their position. We ourselves refuse the invitation to stay for lunch and take the road to the city center to see the damages.

sos chretiens orient armenie equipe a stepanakert

Many homes are hit by missiles, businesses collapsed, a destroyed power station is still smoking. As we walk in Stepanakert, we cross the route of a missile planted in the ground in front of a building. The latter didn't explode and its last inhabitants were spared, for this time.

We are passing a Red Cross centre ahead of which three land cruiser are parked when 100 metres further we  see a crater about 3 metres deep that immediately reminds me of the coalition bombing during the Battle of Mosul, except this time, not a single military target is in sight, only building and shops.

As we pass past the official buildings of the young republic, the bombings resume without being announced this time. We take the route to Chouchi, welcoming the former Azerbaijan headquarters overlooking Stepanakert and released in 1992. It has been the target of bombing for several days. We arrive at the city hospital that had to be evacuated as soon as the first missiles fall. Quickly, the director joins us but we barely start to assess his needs that a first explosion is heard followed by three or four others nearby. We then enter a basement nearby where non-medical staff have arranged shelter and are now living. We exchange on the situation as the shots calm down then we return to Goris where we will review the needs assessed today and continue our action with displaced families fleeing this fire and steel hell.

In this situation of emergency, your help is precious to Armenian families threatened by Azerbaijani bombs. As my team continues its mission, we need you to help us meet the basic needs of these threatened women, children, and fathers.

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François-Xavier Gicquel, head of the operations.