Yerevan, Armenia – Alisa Ghazaryan was full of pleasure and nerves as she began her first 12 months at college in Stepanakert, having moved from her village dwelling in Nagorno-Karabakh.
However simply as time period started, Azerbaijani forces started shelling the town, which they know as Khankendi, on September 19.
As they carried out what they solid as an “anti-terrorist operation”, the 18-year-old took shelter within the college’s basement.
“I used to be born there, I grew up there,” she mentioned of her dwelling. “After I was there, I felt utterly free.”
Till not too long ago, Nagorno-Karabakh, a long-troubled mountainous enclave, was dwelling to about 120,000 ethnic Armenians who dominated the area. Since Baku’s lightning offensive, greater than 100,000, together with Alisa, have fled to Armenia.
Regardless of assurances by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to guard their civil rights, many say they feared persecution after years of mutual mistrust and open hatred between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
A number of displaced folks Al Jazeera spoke to in Armenia mentioned they have been anticipating a bloodbath.
In response to ethnic Armenian officers, a minimum of 200 folks have been killed in Baku’s assault, together with 10 civilians, and greater than 400 have been wounded.
Baku performed down the claims of civilian casualties however acknowledged “collateral injury” was potential.
Azerbaijan, which has mentioned 192 of its troopers have been killed within the operation, mentioned its blitz was geared toward disarming ethnic Armenian separatists within the area, elements of which now resemble a ghost city.
Al Jazeera was unable to confirm both aspect’s toll.
The assault got here after a 10-month blockade, successfully imposed by Azerbaijan after it closed the Lachin hall to Armenia, stopping the move of meals, gasoline and drugs. Baku had accused Armenia of funnelling weapons to separatists via the winding, mountain highway, a declare denied by each events.
The native unrecognised authorities surrendered after 24 hours of preventing. Aliyev mentioned his “iron fist” restored Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. Late final month, Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian officers said the area will stop to exist as a self-styled breakaway republic on January 1 subsequent 12 months.
‘We’re solely right here to not be on the streets’
Alisa and her household fled via the Lachin hall, which has since been reopened.
They’re staying at a good friend’s home exterior the Armenian capital, Yerevan. Fourteen folks at the moment reside within the cramped area, sharing two rooms.
At night time, they sleep aspect by aspect on the lounge flooring.
“We’re solely right here to not be on the streets,” mentioned Alisa.
It’s a far cry from their home in Karabakh, which that they had simply completed renovating.
The journey to Armenia, which normally takes a number of hours, took days for some, as folks poured out of the area.
The European Parliament this week mentioned the “present scenario quantities to ethnic cleaning”.
Those that left are scattered throughout Armenia, going through an unsure future and mourning the lack of their homeland.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as Azerbaijan’s territory, together with by Armenia. The ex-Soviet rivals have fought two wars over the enclave, within the nineties and in 2020. The primary battle noticed ethnic Armenians seize swaths of land, ensuing within the displacement of Azerbaijanis, whereas Baku triumphed within the 2020 warfare. Since then, Russian peacekeepers have operated within the area, however Armenians blame them for permitting Azerbaijan’s newest assault, which was extensively condemned within the West.
Now, there are only some hundred left in Karabakh, primarily aged or disabled folks.
“The character was so stunning. There are mountains and forests. Our dwelling was proper on the sting of a forest, we used to stroll there so much,” mentioned Alisa, as she checked out a photograph on her cellphone of a verdant hillside.
Ina, her mom, wished to throw away the important thing to their home, however Alisa begged her to not.
“Possibly at some point we are going to return, perhaps when I’m an previous lady,” Alisa mentioned hopefully.
“Aliyev describes us and our heroes as terrorists, however in actuality, he’s the terrorist. I would like the world to know that Artsakh is our motherland and never [Azerbaijan’s],” she added, utilizing the self-styled title for the area.
Lots of these displaced had already fled, in earlier wars.
Angela Sazkisjan-Yan, a glamorous 65-year-old, left Baku in 1995.
“No one would keep [in Karabakh] as a result of all people clearly is aware of the handwriting of Azerbaijan,” she mentioned.
Some folks destroyed their furnishings or dishes earlier than they left, however Angela cleaned her flat in Stepanakert, and even left the fridge on and crammed with meals, within the hope that at some point she is going to return.
“All people left their property however that’s a small a part of it – the worst half is that we left our homeland, our roots. Even my grandparents are buried there,” she informed Al Jazeera in Abovyan, northeast of Yerevan.
She is staying along with her sister’s household, whom she had not seen in two years.
“I’m very blissful to rejoin with them as a result of we’re an inseparable a part of one another, however I’ve a giant soul ache for every part that’s occurred,” she mentioned.
Many Armenians residing in Nagorno-Karabakh say they have been cut up up from kin through the blockade.
Lilit Shahverdyan, a 20-year-old freelance journalist, was in Yerevan along with her sister through the tensions, whereas the remainder of her household was at their dwelling in Stepanakert.
“We simply hugged one another and began to cry,” she mentioned, describing the second when she lastly noticed her household, within the border city of Goris, after nearly a 12 months aside.
She mentioned the blockade made her household nearer and stronger than ever.
“All we have now now’s simply our household and only one condominium in Yerevan. All the things else – not simply the property, however all our reminiscences, life objectives, and the long run was in our homeland – now it’s all gone.”
As her mom locked their entrance door for the final time in Stepanakert, tears streamed down her face.
“It was probably the most stunning home. My father constructed it 10 years in the past. I actually loved waking up there day by day simply going to the backyard, hugging my cats or speaking to my neighbours. In my childhood, every part was linked to that home.”
Lilit had hoped to return to Stepanakert to work after she finishes her college course in Yerevan. Now, she desires to go away Armenia altogether.
“I’m simply afraid that some sh** will occur once more. And I don’t need my youngsters to endure as a lot as I did. Armenia will not be a protected place so long as we have now a neighbouring dictator and we have now this authorities. I don’t wish to have one other traumatised technology,” she mentioned.
Hopes of a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to be fading after a vital assembly deliberate for this week, between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, was cancelled by Azerbaijan on the final minute.
“It’s not solely unrealistic, it’s additionally a criminal offense to consider that now’s the time to collaborate on a peaceable relationship,” mentioned Angela, who mentioned she is aware of 10 individuals who have been killed within the current preventing.
“They killed us, how can we reside with them in peace?”
Ara Papian, an Armenian lawyer and former diplomat, thinks additional aggression by Azerbaijan is feasible sooner or later, notably within the Syunik area the place Azerbaijan desires to construct a hall via Armenian territory to attach with its exclave, Nakhchivan.
Even when a peace treaty is signed, Azerbaijan will “discover an excuse and assault”, he predicted.
Papian accused the West of refusing to sentence and sanction Azerbaijan as a result of some nations don’t wish to get on the improper aspect of NATO member Turkey – Azerbaijan’s closest ally.
The European Union’s gasoline cope with Azerbaijan exposes the bloc’s hypocrisy, he added.
“The EU and the West don’t purchase oil and gasoline from dictator [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to not gasoline the warfare in Ukraine, however they purchase the identical from Azerbaijan realizing that the cash will go to not prosperity of individuals in Azerbaijan, it should turn out to be new weapons, which implies a brand new warfare – which has occurred.”
Housing is now the principle precedence for displaced folks, mentioned Margarit Piliposyan, deputy nation director for the NGO Fund for Armenia Aid (FAR), which has been distributing meals and humanitarian provides in Vayk, a city south of Yerevan.
The Armenian authorities not too long ago introduced monetary assist for displaced folks with 100,000 dram per individual ($239) after which 40,000 dram per 30 days ($96) for six months for housing prices.
Nevertheless, a number of folks informed Al Jazeera they have been but to see any authorities help, equivalent to Lira Arzangulyan, 33, and Alina Khachatryan, 31, two sisters, who fled after the newest escalation.
They moved with their 4 kids and mothers-in-law, to Mrgavan village, in Artashat, a province within the shadow of Mount Ararat, the place greater than 100 displaced households now reside.
They have been beforehand displaced from their dwelling in Martuni after the 2020 warfare.
The home is small with peeling wallpaper and one gasoline range. It’s chilly inside – even on a light September day. The proprietor is letting them keep there totally free, for now.
“We don’t have another place to go so we’re going to remain right here. The homes for hire are too costly, we are able to’t afford it. We’re nonetheless unsure and in shock,” mentioned Alina.
The kids play within the different room as their moms cry softly. Lira’s mascara runs throughout her cheek as she says how a lot she misses visiting her mom’s grave in Karabakh.
They each lament the Russian peacekeepers, who Lira described as being “detached and doing nothing” to guard or assist them.
The primary United Nations monitoring mission visited Karabakh on Sunday.
“Why didn’t they arrive after we had nothing to eat? It’s empty now, there isn’t any one residing there. In the event that they got here earlier than this escalation began and so they gave us hope and a assure that there’s somebody to assist us, then we might have stayed there,” mentioned Lira.
Their kids run in and hug them shut.
“I hope this subsequent technology will change and perhaps when our youngsters develop up they may be capable of return there, perhaps as a vacationer, to see the place they’re from,” Alina added.