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Artsakh under the bombs: the struggle for the survival of a people.

EN - Thursday, 08 October 2020

"We heard a big boom this morning, around 7 AM. Afterwards, it stopped but then it started again, and it hasn't stopped since", explains Arminé to the French magazine Le Figaro.

For almost a week now, Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, has been bombed by Azerbaijan, forcing the population to evacuate the town or to hide in cellars.

civils hidding underground Armenian government

In the basements of the buildings, the elderly are huddled together, they who let the children take the buses driving the inhabitants to the safer regions of Armenia. They are joined by a few soldiers back from the front who are looking for a little rest and give news to the women who are worried about their husbands and sons. There they wait for the bombing to stop, often in darkness because the electrical installations have been hit, intentionally.

Stepanakert is not the only target under fire... all the towns near the front line are under shells and bombs. In Chouchi, the Cultural Centre was targeted. "There are hundreds of people in the cultural centre. There are children too, some killed. I came to help as I could", a man whispers to Le Figaro. The bomb killed four people and wounded around fifteen.

A timid International community.

Nothing is spared and Azerbaijan's repeated assaults to the north and south, as well as air and artillery strikes, show a willingness to cut off Artsakh from its supply routes by Armenia. The fighting has not lost intensity since Sunday despite calls from the international community.

France, but also Russia and the United States, as co-chairmen of the Minsk Group in charge of negotiations since 1992, have called for an immediate ceasefire. A call to which both sides replied that they would continue the fight, Armenia because it defends itself and therefore claims to be in its full right, Azerbaijan because it demands as a precondition the complete withdrawal of Armenia from the territory of Artsakh, in addition to an official apology.

One might wonder why the international community is content with declarations. It should not be forgotten that Armenia is a member of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation), a military alliance led by Russia, while Azerbaijan is supported both militarily and diplomatically by Turkey, which is still a member of NATO.

Caution should be exercise among all those who risk being sucked into an alliance game... except Turkey, which encourages war! The only significant intervention was from Emmanuel Macron who said that the strikes by Azerbaijan at the origin of the fighting had "no justification" to his knowledge.

An important support mobilised by the Armenian diaspora.

Demonstration in front of the general consulate of Azerbaidjan in Los Angeles

If States delay acting, people react. Centralizing donations through the "All Armenian Fund", the Armenian diaspora has collected several tens of millions of euros for Armenia offering humanitarian, medical and logistical support. It has also made itself heard through demonstrations, sometimes massive as in Los Angeles where the city centre was blocked by the crowd while the mayor questioned the federal authorities in favour of Artsakh.

Conversely, Azerbaijan is struggling to gather support. Many swarms of Turkish internet users flood the social networks but no notable international support. So much so that the Azerbaijani ambassadors are reduced to try intimidating those who speak in favour of the Armenians, such as the Dutch deputy Geert Wilders who announced that he supported his "Christian Armenian friends against the violent Islamic barbarity of Azerbaijan". He was astonished to read a letter from the ambassador which compares his words to the "calls of the National Socialist Party" and presents the Armenians as genocidal barbarians who would have massacred the whole Caucasus.

A frozen conflict since 1994.

a soldier of the Army of defence of Artsakh defending against the Azerbaidjani attack

Artsakh has been a source of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the fall of the USSR. Indeed, Moscow had thought it was a good idea to administratively attach the mountainous plateau to the Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. So, when the regime fell, the overwhelmingly Armenian population naturally hoped to be able to return to the bosom of the Republic of Armenia. Azerbaijan did not hear it this way and at the end of 1992, fighting broke out and lasted until 1994, after 30,000 deaths and a precarious ceasefire.

The conflict has been mediated by Russia, the United States and France within the OCSE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) since 1992. Unfortunately, no solution has been accepted: the Armenians of Artsakh want to be Armenians and Azerbaijan would feel humiliated to lose 20% of its territory.

Thus the ceasefire is regularly violated, either by sporadic clashes, or by attacks of greater magnitude, as in 2016, when the "Four Day War" caused several hundred deaths for extremely minimal gains by Azerbaijan, which has not failed to weaken the regime.

A new escalation caused by Turkish nationalism.

However, the statuquo has a new enemy: the panturcist ideology of Erdogan, President of Turkey and Aliyev, President-Dictator of Azerbaijan. "One Nation, Two States" is how the two countries define their relationship. The only shadow in the picture: Christian and millennia-old Armenia, the survivor of a genocide they do not recognise, stands between them…

We have one condition the unconditional total and immediate withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from our territory

Thus, using the wealth provided by its oil, Azerbaijan is working to massively take up arms, with a military budget equivalent to the GDP of its small neighbour, buying its weapons from the Russians, the Turks and Israel.

On 27 September, a massive and coordinated assault was launched against Artsakh with the help of Turkish officers. Aliyev is clear: the objective is the total reconquest of the plateau. Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia, is equally clear: Armenia must resist because Turkey is trying to finish the genocide started a century earlier, as he confided in several interviews with Western media.

Azerbaijan is fighting for an ideology, Armenia for its survival. President Aliyev cannot afford a new humiliation, and Turkey supports his offensive by all means, even if it means massively employing mercenary jihadists from Syria, as confirmed by many sources including President Macron. 

In Artsakh, people are fighting for a land which is Armenian since immemorial time, as shown by the numerous monasteries in the region. They are fighting to defend the "first Christian country in the world". And they are fighting ferociously to stop the bombing of their house.

Copyright photos par ordre d'apparition : Areg Balayan / ArmGov PAN Photo via AP ; Mike Blake / Reuters ; Handout / AFP ; Narek Alesksanyan / AFP