In parts of central Asia, time has stood still since Sunday, 27 September. As the world has been fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and gearing up for perhaps a second and more disastrous wave, some three million Armenians have been waging another war, which includes not only troops, artillery and aircraft, but also mercenaries and even banned weaponry.
Armenians’ unfinished Sunday began at 9:49 a.m. with the news that Azerbaijani troops had attacked the entire length of the “Line of Contact” [the border that divides Azerbaijan from the historically Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians call “Artsakh”] since early morning. In response, the Republic of Armenia and the government of Artsakh declared martial law and total military mobilization.
The first casualties among civilians were reported at 10:17 a.m. — one woman and a child. Soon after, Armenians received word that 16 men died, then another 15, then 28. In a month, the total of Armenian deaths reached 1000, most of them young men born between the years 2000 and 2002. War does not like numbers, and casualty counts do not matter to some, but in such a small country, with the nightmare of the Armenian Genocide present still, the life of every soldier matters. Here, there is no such thing as someone else’s child. They are everybody’s children, backup, and guarantor of their safety and security.
Apart from targeting military positions, hospitals, medical and maternity facilities, emergency vehicles, churches and cultural centers have also been shelled in the first month of the war [there are reports claiming the same from the Azerbaijanis], resulting in the deaths of 39 civilians and 122 wounded. Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, has issued appeals urging both sides to refrain from using widely banned cluster munitions, observing on 23 October and 30 October that the devastating munitions killed civilians in Artsakh and Azerbaijan.
According to initial estimates, some 90,000 residents of Artsakh, primarily women, children and the elderly, have fled their homes. The resettlement and accommodations of these families, including provision of the first essentials and food, was quickly organized by the public and private sectors — including Caritas Armenia — forging partnerships to support the refugees. Besides providing hundreds of families with food, clothing and hygiene kits, more than 20 people have been resettled in a summer camp operated by the Armenian Catholic Church in Torosgyugh in the Shirak region.
Fifty-four-year-old Rima Poghosyan from the village of Kotchoghut in the Martakert Region of Artsakh has been living in Toros along with her daughter-in-law and five grandchildren. They left their homes on 29 September, when it was no longer possible to protect the family from the missiles.
“My three sons are on the front lines, the youngest has recently joined the army, while the other one had been discharged in January. Although my eldest son was not allowed to go to war — he is the father of five children — he volunteered to protect our home and homeland.”
Although Russia brokered a cease-fire in 1994, the peace has been tenuous, with violations over the years that have killed several hundred people. Prior to the present conflict, the most recent large-scale hostilities occurred in April 2016, the so-called “four-day-April-War.”
Armenians knew this was unfinished business, as was evidenced by the large-scale armament by Azerbaijan, and the frequency of munitions tests and subversive incursions. Armenians probably underestimated Azerbaijan. And while the cochairs of the Minsk Group, representing France, Russia and the United States, have tried to broker humanitarian truces to curb the war, Armenians have probably overestimated the international community’s support, certain that such hostile actions would not be allowed.
Armenians are resolute. From every corner of the country, people are collecting clothing, food, toys and other basics for the refugees seeking comfort here. Schools, cultural centers and even the art departments at the National Gallery and the Theater of Opera and Ballet of Armenia are weaving camouflage netting and making blankets — in short, the entire country is mobilized. The Armenian Diaspora — estimated to include some 7 million Armenians worldwide — have organized peaceful demonstrations to demand peace and international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as the independent Republic of Artsakh.
Mrs. Rima has fled her home twice. In 1988, she was forced to leave during a wave of deportations engineered by the then Azeri authorities. Despite her personal sorrows, she remains hopeful.
“We have already won. The Armenian nation has never been defeated and we will never be. We were reborn after the 1915 Genocide, we won in 1994 and 2016, and we will do it again now.”