Karabakh fighting turns residents into ‘vagabond’ refugees


“We’ve become vagabonds,” says Knarik Movsisyan, one among the tens of thousands forced to flee fighting between Armenian separatists and the Azerbaijani army in the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The worst fighting since an all-out war in the early 1990s has seen hundreds of families escape across the border into Armenia.

It has already cost hundreds of lives, and authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh say half the population — some 70,000 people — have fled, mostly women and children.

Many are in Tegh, a peaceful scene of cows and rural hills, though distant explosions can now be heard from over the frontier.

“There are around 800 refugees in the village. Children, women, grandparents. The young are still back there, fighting in the war,” said one local resident.

Gyulvart, 49, came with her two youngest children, but most of the family stayed behind. She is desperate to return as soon as possible.

“My son, my husband, all my close relatives, all the young people are still there,” she said.

“I’m afraid that I’m raising my children for a war that will not end,” she said with tears in her eyes.

For Knarik, a nurse at a rural clinic in southern Karabakh, it is the second time she has had to flee in her life.

The first was when she lost her home and her parents to the earthquake that devastated northern Armenia in 1988.

“We want peace, we want our army to win and it will win,” she told AFP. 

 – Bare feet –

An Armenian-majority enclave within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan after the breakup of the Soviet Union, triggering a brutal conflict that ended in a 1994 ceasefire but has never been fully resolved.

The latest fighting came suddenly, leaving many without time to prepare.

“We left in bare feet — we were wearing slippers — can you imagine?” said Maro Hagopi Petrosyan, 67, now in the town of Dilijan, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Armenian capital Yerevan.

“It’s terrible… the house, the roads are in ruins. Even if we wanted to go back, we can’t.”

Kristina, who fled the town of Martuni, said she saw a bomb fall on her neighbour’s house, killing him and his child.

She hid in her mother-in-law’s cellar for hours before feeling safe to run.

Zabella Bejanyan, 53, stayed in the forest for three days, sleeping in her car with her six children.

She is determined to make it home as soon as possible, “even if there is nothing left, no house, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

“The important thing is that the children are safe and we are alive. We will return to our land,” she vowed.


PHOTO: The worst fighting since an all-out war in the early 1990s has seen hundreds of families flee their homes. AFP

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