After the War: Picking Up the Pieces
You can read Part 1 of"After the War" here.
What has been left in the wake of the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September-November 2020? How are the events remembered by those who lost their homes or loved ones, and those who experienced psychological trauma?
How can the governments of both Armenia and Azerbaijan eliminate the aftereffects of the war?
"We couldn't take anything from our house except pictures"
Armen Voskanyan, 44, and Narine Hakobyan, 35, from the village of Mets Tager (Boyuk Taghlar in Azerbaijani - ed.) in the region of Khojavand, have moved into a three-room rental apartment on the outskirts of Yerevan with their mother and three daughters.
According to the family members, they left everything — their house, shop, and farm — in the village of Boyuk Taghlar, where they had lived until now. Now, they can barely manage to pay their monthly rent.
Narine Hakobyan shows the photos on her phone and reminisces about their village:
"This is when there was a wedding in the village. Here’s the yard in front of our house. This is all we could take — a few photos from our house. Look, here’s the garden in front of our house, and that’s a 120-year-old pear tree. ”
Narine Hakobyan shows us more pictures. In the village, they kept bees, and she shows us the hives of their bee colonies:
"Look, here are the children playing by the river."
"We couldn't believe a war had started"
Narine says that she is originally from the village of Tumi in Khojavand. She moved to Boyuk Taghlar after getting married and lived there for 12 years:
"In September, it was my sister’s birthday and I was baking a cake. The bombing started early in the morning. At first, we couldn't actually believe that a war had started. My husband went to the front as a volunteer. I stayed in the village for a few days with my mother-in-law and children."
"The children were scared — they were traumatized"
Narine says that it wasn’t easy for her to be on her own with the children and her elderly mother-in-law. She can still hear the sound of of the bombs today:
"The children were really scared — they were traumatized. Then my sister called and said I should go to our village (Tumi) and stay with our parents. She said that in such a situation, it’s dangerous to be at home alone with children without a man around. We stayed at home for a few more days after she gave me that advice, but then we decided it was dangerous to stay in Khojavand. We decided to move to Armenia."
"Drones were flying over us the whole way"
Narine Hakobyan says that when they made that decision, there were very few people still remaining in their village and in Khojavand in general. When the situation became even worse, her brother went to the village and managed to get several people out:
“When we left the village, 30 of us piled into a Ford. We spent all night and all day on the road. We didn’t believe we’d make it to Armenia alive, because drones were flying over us the whole way."
"18 refugees were living in one house"
She recalls those days, and the more she thinks about them, the more tense she becomes. She says that no one met them in Armenia when they arrived. They were forced to go to her brother's house:
"There were 18 of us — my sister and her children, my aunt and her children, other relatives… We all ended up together in my brother's little house in the city of Abovyan, and we lived there for two months. But we couldn’t stay there long, either. My brother was renting an apartment, and some of our relatives were already looking for houses to rent.”
"The money the government gave us ran out a long time ago"
The family first found an apartment to rent on Movses Khorenatsi Street in Yerevan and moved there. At that time, the state was providing support:
"The government was paying AMD 300,000 (about USD 565) per family member, and we used that money to pay rent and utilities. I also bought clothes, school notebooks, pens, and other supplies for the children. We were given a child allowance, but all of it has been spent already, because when I left home, I couldn’t take my passport, documents, or jewelry. ”
"We can't pay for the apartment where we live"
Armen Voskanyan says that all of the aid provided by the state has already been spent. Without that aid they can’t afford their rent and they have to leave the apartment where they’re staying:
"We have to leave this apartment, too. I don’t know what we’ll do. My mother has health problems and the children have to go to school. We’re registered in the Yerevan municipality. When we first got here, they provided us with food, but they can't anymore because they ran out. We had our own shop in Khojavand, a farm with cows and pigs, and a colony of 30 bees. Now we have nothing. We’re trying to start over from scratch."
"It would be good if the government gave us a place to stay"
In the village, Narine Hakobyan had worked in a store that sold construction materials. She says that she’s actually a teacher, but she worked at the store because she couldn’t find a teaching job. Their life wasn’t bad, but now there’s no work and and they have no place to stay:
"Frankly, I loved my job. I really hope that one day we’ll go back and I’ll pick up my job where I left off."
"We haven’t been given refugee status"
The family says they don’t have any kind of refugee status yet, but the state could at least give them a place to stay:
“We left Jabrayil and entered Khojavand, but they were getting closer day by day,” says Armen Voskanyan. “Troops even entered our village. There were casualties — my cousin died, and some of the guys with us in Yerevan died, too. Their bodies were found just recently. I don't know… We were always retreating. The drones rained bombs down on us. There were so many drones.”
"We couldn’t understand what happened"
Narine Hakobyan still hopes that they’ll return one day. She says that this hope won’t allow them to concentrate on what to do now:
"I don’t know how to live any other way. Everything’s very uncertain. I hope our village will be retaken and we’ll be able to go back. Our village, Tumi, was always safe. Other villagers used to come there and stay because it wasn’t close to the front. There were never any Azerbaijanis in Tumi or Taghlar. Right now we can’t understand what happened or how it happened. We never thought we’d leave the village and never be able to go back."
"If I knew we’d never come back to our village, I would’ve taken a handful of soil"
Narine Hakobyan says that if she had known in advance that she would not be able to return, she would have taken a handful of soil from her village:
“We were born in Khojavand and lived there all our lives. They tortured relatives of ours — a woman and her son — who couldn’t get out of Hadrut in time. A lot of people were tortured or mistreated, but not a single country commented on it. There are prisoners of war and these issues still haven’t been resolved. I think that, after so many things, it’s impossible to live in peace alongside Azerbaijanis. We can’t live with them together in one place. One of the villagers is missing. There’s still no word from him."
"If we start living together, history will repeat itself"
Narine Hakobyan is afraid to live alongside Azerbaijanis. She says that if they start living together again, history will repeat itself. It will be the same war, the same situation all over again:
"Even if they live in Fuzuli, it still won’t be safe. For example, I have three daughters. How can I take them to live there? How can I consider myself safe knowing that Azerbaijanis are living nearby? If this problem is resolved, if Karabakh is given [a special, internationally recognized] status , we can all go back to our homes and lands. All our memories are there, we couldn't even take a photo as a memento. Today is the 10th anniversary of my father's death, but there’s no grave for us to visit. ”
"We can't go to Shusha, but we still want to go back to Karabakh"
Marlen Vardanyan, 65, and his wife Susanna Khachatryan, 63, came from Shusha. They say they had lived in Shusha since the day they were born. Now they hope to move to a shelter in Nagorno-Karabakh:
"We can’t go back to Shusha, but we still want to go back to Karabakh,” says Marlen Vardanyan. “It’s our home.”
The elderly couple’s life has been difficult since they lost their son to cancer, but they have come to terms with his death and carried on with their lives:
“We had a plot of land where we worked. Even when bombs were raining down from the sky, I would go out into the garden to pick some garlic. My wife said, ‘Why do you need garlic?’ I thought the shooting would probably end in a few days, but we would still need garlic for the winter. How could I have known that the situation would change so much?”
"It never occurred to us that we might have to leave Shusha"
As Susanna Khachatryan remembers, they thought that this war would end quickly just like in April 2016, and then everyone would pick up their lives where they left off. But things didn’t turn out that way:
"We’ve been living in basements and cars while we wait for the situation to improve. It never occurred to us that we might have to leave Shusha. "
After a while, the family had to leave their home. Marlen Vardanyan was unconscious for a long time after a bomb exploded in their garden:
"After the explosion, I realized we had to leave our house. Plus it was reported that the Azerbaijanis were already very close to Shusha.”
Many families have already returned to Nagorno-Karabakh. The government is trying to relocate people to Stepanakert (Khankandi - ed.) and other areas which are not under the control of Azerbaijan.
"We helped other children leave the village, too"
The Yengoyan family left the village of Haykavan in Hadrut on October 30. Hmayak and Astghik Yengoyan live in poor conditions with their 7 young children in a one-room cabin in the village of Arbat in the Ararat region. Hmayak moved to Hadrut in 1995 and lived there until the war. In Hadrut they had a house and a farm, but they lost everything after the war.
“I live with my 7 children, my husband, and my mother-in-law,” said Astghik, 27. ”On September 28, the day the war began, we took 3 of the children, and the other 3 stayed at home. Our seventh child hadn’t been born yet. My brother-in-law called from the front and told us to abandon the house. We went and left everything behind — our house, our farm, our cows and pigs.”
Astghik Yengoyan says that they had cows in Haykavan, where they were farmers:
“We did our best to raise our children. At the farm we had 17 pigs, 17 bee colonies, 11 geese, 16 ducks, 4 cows, and 30 chickens. There was also a mill where my husband worked. Our house had four rooms and all our things were brand new."
Astghik Yengoyan remembers the day she left their home very clearly. She says it was a terrible day:
"It was scary. Drones and rocket launchers were bombing everywhere, but my husband said he would take us to Yerevan. We helped other children leave the village, too."
Astghik's brother-in-law, Rubo, was killed in the war. His mother, Gayane Mkrtchyan, 57, said she spoke with him two days before he died:
"He asked me how I was and what I was doing. I said I was looking after the turkeys. ‘Fatten them up well so we can cook and eat them together when I get back,’ he said. Two days went by, he didn’t call, and we couldn’t contact him ourselves. I tried his Viber number but there was no answer. Then we found out something bad had happened. We couldn't believe it."
Rubo’s family began searching for his body. It took more than 20 days:
"Later we heard that his body was taken to Yeghegnadzor, and our relatives went there,” said Gayane Mkrtchyan. “I told them that he had a cleft on his palm. In Karabakh, when he was a child, something happened and there was an explosion, so he had scars on his body. There was a clearly visible cleft on one hand and a tattoo on the other. My relatives found the cleft, the tattoo, and even some documents on the body. He didn't have a head above the neck… his head had exploded."
Mrktchyan speculates that it may have happened on October 6. She says that her son served in the army as a volunteer on a five-year contract:
"He was 37 years old with a family and 5 daughters. Their youngest child is 6 years old. They lived in Haykavan, too. He was the one who called us and told us to leave the house, or it would have been too late. He was a sniper. October 7 would have been his birthday. Now his wife and 5 daughters live in a rented house in Sisian. They’re living on a subsidy they get from the government because of her husband and another subsidy for people in need of aid. I don’t know. I told them to come here, but they didn't."
"In the middle of the night it was like the world had ended"
Rubaba Jafarova lives on Mukhtar Hajiyev Street in Ganja. On the night of October 17, a rocket fired from the territory of Armenia struck the neighborhood where she lived. It destroyed three houses completely and the rest were seriously damaged.
Rubaba Jafarova always believed that nothing would happen to Ganja: “Because this is the city of Imam Huseyn. As they say, the thing we couldn’t imagine happened to us. That night we all went to sleep. I heard a low sound in the middle of the night, and then it was like the world had ended. We lived through some terrible moments. Our home was destroyed."
"We’re all anxious, we’re traumatized"
Rubaba Jafarova says that the cold winter days made things even more difficult. They lived with cellophane on the windows for months. True, the state has provided a dormitory, but they were able to stay there only one night:
"My grandchildren were scared, they cried that the house had collapsed, but we weren’t under it. The building is many stories tall, and if it collapsed, we wouldn’t survive. All the children are traumatized. When they hear the slightest noise from outside, their pupils get big — they’re captives [to fear]. Right away, "Where did it explode? What’s that noise?" they ask. Actually, we adults aren’t much different. We’re all anxious."
"It’s hard for 15 of us to live in a half-destroyed house”
Rubaba Jafarova has applied several times to be provided with a rental apartment. She says that her application was never reviewed. As a result, she was forced to return to a home in disrepair:
"Haji Nuran sent us AZN 800. We fixed the roof with my pension and we put in windows. Everything else stayed just the way it was. The house was cracked and our belongings were damaged. My son and daughter, whose houses were completely destroyed, moved in with us with their families. It’s hard for 15 of us to live in a half-destroyed house.”
"They managed to rescue 6 people from under that collapsed house"
Rubaba Jafarova tells us about her problems. She recalls the day of the incident and becomes excited. She says her son lives 5 houses away from them. When the event occurred, she thought her son had died. She ran outside in bare feet and cut her leg on a piece of glass. The wound still hasn’t healed:
"I have diabetes — I shouldn’t get cut or it won’t heal. I went out because my son was standing on the street by himself, screaming with his hands raised at the sky. His friend's house had collapsed with 11 people inside. My son was calling, ‘Help, my friend died in there.’ They managed to rescue 6 people from under that collapsed house. The other 5 people died. In my son's house, not a single thing was left intact. It was as if, instead of his newly renovated house, there were ruins in its place.”
"Nobody cares about us"
Rubaba Jafarova says that their home was destroyed and they were traumatized, but no one cares about them. She thinks that the local chief executive is unaware of their problems, and that President Ilham Aliyev is also unaware of these injustices:
"The president signed an order to compensate the victims. They came and assessed all the damages at AZN 1,000. My TV was broken in these events. We bought that alone for AZN 1,200 on credit only a year ago. That money has already run out. I mean, the amount of money set by the commission isn’t even the price of the TV."
"Everything in the house was full of holes"
Rubaba Jafarova says that they have been living with this burden for 4 months and have suffered both psychologically and materially:
"It was as if the curtains had been cut with scissors. Everything in the house was full of holes. For 4 months now, 15 of us have been living under one roof, and we can't get anyone to listen to us. When a stone falls from the neighbor's roof, the children shout that they’re safe. I’m not even getting into the psychological trauma we’ve suffered."
"The funds have been allocated, but they’re not giving them to us"
Elbir Jafarov is also a resident of Ganja. A commission found that his destroyed house needed repairs. He doesn’t agree, rather claiming that the house must be demolished and rebuilt because there’s nothing left inside:
"On the night of the explosion, TRT broadcasted live from my house, and the whole world saw the state the house was in. But they tell me that the house needs repairs. The most ridiculous thing is the allocation of AZN 1,000. I refused that money. Apparently, the President isn’t aware of these things, because the funds have been allocated, but they’re not giving them to us."
"It happened while we were asleep in our beds"
Elbir Jafarov says he understands very well that he has been living through war for 30 years. But it was the first time he had seen the war up close and felt it with his body and soul:
"I did military service. It was right on the border. You know that you’re face to face and if someone comes out, you have to either kill or be killed. But what happened here wasn’t like that. It happened in the middle of the night, while we were asleep in our beds. Most importantly, this is Ganja, not Karabakh — a city completely outside the conflict. No one expected it. That’s why children died asleep in their beds, and we lost our neighbors and friends. My son’s room is gone, it was destroyed. Fortunately, the child wasn’t inside. We sent him to stay with his grandmother a few days before. My friend Bakhtiyar and I talked 40 minutes before he died. A bomb hit his house and now he’s gone. Do you know what that’s like?”
"There’s nothing left of my house and they allocated AZN 1,000"
Elbir Jafarov remembers that night. He says everyone claims there was a loud noise, but he heard a very low sound. Then wood, stone, earth, and concrete fell on the house:
"Parts of the house that was hit by the rocket rained down on our houses and destroyed everything. People died here, we lost close friends. In such a difficult psychological situation, we shouldn’t have to stand up and talk about compensation. It should be given unconditionally, without upsetting people. Because that's what happened to us. What did they do? They found a need for repairs and allocated AZN 1,000. There’s nothing left of my house. Who can build a new life for themselves with AZN 1,000? Whether our life was good or bad, we had a house with all the amenities. I had just renovated it. Now they’re telling me to rebuild everything I built over 40 years but don’t spend more than AZN 1,000. That’s not fair."
"Not a single thing in the house was left intact"
Elbir Jafarov made an approximate calculation. He says the damages to his house cost at least AZN 25,000-26,000:
"I know the government can’t pay for everything, but the President just signed a decree. He said, ‘AZN 6,000 should be paid for each house, and AZN 1,500 to each occupant of the house.’ At that rate, we should get more than AZN 10,000 in compensation. But they won’t give it to us. They came and allocated us AZN 1,000. Not a single thing in the house was left intact. The president allocated a certain amount of money, but those funds don’t reach their recipients. I’m saying this for him to see and know. He should know that our lives are over. Our lives, built on poverty and oppression, penny by penny, have been ruined.”
On September 27, 2020, heavy fighting broke out on the line of contact between the Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces. On November 9, before the fighting had ended, Azerbaijan announced that it taken back control of about 280 villages, four settlements, and five cities.
What were the other consequences of the 44-day military operation?
On November 10, a ceasefire was announced by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. According to the agreement, the regions of Kalbajar, Aghdam, and Lachin were returned to Azerbaijani control. Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the Lachin corridor and on the line of contact. Most of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, which is recognized as an integral part of Azerbaijan in international documents, remained under the control of Armenia and Russian peacekeepers.
The consequences of the war — more than 6,000 casualties
Azerbaijan announced the burial of 2,841 servicemen killed in the war as of January 11. It also provided the photos, names, surnames, military ranks, and dates of birth of 64 people considered missing. To date, however, there has been no official statement on the number of people disabled in the war.
Azerbaijan has stated that during the 44-day operation, about 100 civilians were killed, about 400 were wounded, and more than 40,000 were displaced.
The Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement on the property damage suffered by the civilian population that 4,186 homes on the Azerbaijani side were destroyed during the war. The agency also said that 135 apartment buildings and 548 civilian facilities had been rendered unfit for use.
3,360 Armenian servicemen were killed in the escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian Ministry of Health says there are still hundreds of unidentified bodies. 1,600 people are missing and 8,300 were wounded in the war.
However, it is estimated that more than 5,600 people were killed on each side in the war.
A report on the war published by Human Rights Watch states that civilian structures in Khankandi were damaged by indiscriminate rocket and land-based strikes. At present, operations have ceased, but the civilian population is still suffering from the infrastructure damage.
The report states that, by early October, more than 50,000 residents of Khankandi had fled to Goris and Yerevan.
According to the authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), about 90,000 residents of Karabakh were forced to leave their homes during and after the war. Most of them lost their homes after their settlements were transferred to Azerbaijan’s control.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, 52,278 Armenians have returned to Nagorno-Karabakh since November 24.
Some displaced people from Shusha, Lachin, Kalbajar, Aghdam, and Khojavand have taken refuge in the homes of their relatives and acquaintances in the territory of the unrecognized NKR and in Armenia proper, and others are living in hotels, schools, and kindergartens. For example, all the hotels in Goris, the Armenian city closest to Karabakh, are now full of displaced persons.
What has the Azerbaijani government done to mitigate the effects of the war?
Azerbaijan is paying AZN 11,000 (USD 6,475) to the family of each soldier killed in the war. In addition, President Ilham Aliyev signed an order on additional measures to compensate damages incurred by the civilian population during the war.
According to the order, each family is to be paid AZN 6,000 (USD 3,532) for damage to household items in a destroyed or damaged home, and AZN 1,500 (USD 883) per family member for damage to personal belongings. For homes which sustained other damage, each family will be paid AZN 1,000 (AZN 589). This assistance, however, seems not to have reached its recipients.
In addition, Azerbaijan has allocated AZN 2.2 billion (USD 1.3 billion) from the 2021 state budget for the reconstruction of the territories again under its control.
At the end of 2020, AZN 50 million (USD 29.5 million) was allocated for the design and construction of a road from Fuzuli to Shusha (the Ahmadbayli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway).
Mitigation of the effects of the war in Armenia
The Armenian government has called the flight of refugees from territories transferred to Azerbaijani control a humanitarian catastrophe. It paid a lump sum of AMD 300,000 (USD 600) to each displaced person. It was announced that utilities would be free starting January 1 for Armenians living in Karabakh.
The Armenian government is also assisting displaced persons from Karabakh to find housing. Each displaced person will receive AMD 68,000 (about USD 140) per month. Those who do not own real estate in Armenia receive an additional AMD 15,000 (about USD 30).
Meanwhile, the Armenian government has developed a second state support program for displaced persons. The program will provide AMD 250,000 (USD 500) or AMD 300,000 (USD 600) to residents who lost their homes in the fighting or whose homes were in the territories handed over to Azerbaijan.
The Armenian government plans to pay USD 10,000 to the families of servicemen killed in the fighting. In addition, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that there are state programs in the works to support servicemen wounded in the fighting. The program provides treatment for those who need it, the purchase of prosthetics, etc.
The governments announced that they were carrying out aid campaigns to eliminate the aftereffects of the war and to improve the conditions of the affected population. Clearly these measures could not comprehensively help people whose lives had changed completely since the war.
This article was produced as part of Meydan TV's project "After the War.”
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