Russian poet Osip Mandelstam suffered a creative drought for five years. He was stuck, and only a trip to the then Soviet republic of Armenia, in 1930, managed to unlock his writing. In Journey to Armenia, Mandelstam talks about the landscapes, the people and the long and dense history of this country, and finds in the most sacred mountain for the Armenians, Mount Ararat, the symbol that best expressed their pain after centuries of wars and loss of territories. Ararat can be seen from many parts of the country, but after the conflict with Turkey that followed the First World War and the genocide of the Armenians by the decadent Ottoman Empire, this mountain remained within the Turkish border. Almost a century later, this time on the country’s eastern border, Armenians see how neighboring Azerbaijan imposes itself on a territory, Nagorno Karabakh, that many consider their own. This week, a new offensive has caused hundreds of deaths and the Armenian fighters in the enclave have surrendered. In the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, and in other cities in the country, hundreds of people protest against the passivity of the Government and fear a new ethnic cleansing, but resignation prevails in the face of the lack of international support and fatigue with a conflict that drags on. more than 30 years.
Gor, a 37-year-old father of a family who has a transport business and takes care of his horses near the city of Sevan, changes his expression when asked about the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: “Of course we are worried, we have “many friends there.” Gor served as an Armenian soldier in the armed clashes that for a few days in July 2020 pitted Armenia and Azerbaijan over disputed territory. Despite being part of the Azeri country, Nagorno Karabakh has a majority Armenian population and came under the influence of this country after it won the 1991-1994 war.
Gor, in his horse farm, in Sevan. Josep Catà Figuls
Now, the self-proclaimed republic of Artsakh – the name with which the Armenians of the enclave baptized the State in the early nineties, but which has not been recognized by almost any country, not even by Armenia, although it always maintained guardianship and contact through the Lachin corridor – has been left without allies: not even the Government of Nikol Pashinián, fearful of a new defeat; nor Russia, far from Yerevan; nor the EU, which needs Azerbaijan as a new source of hydrocarbons after the sanctions on Russia for the war in Ukraine. “I was there in 2020, we are their allies, but now they don’t let us go. The Armenian forces have withdrawn and the Government of the Republic of Artsakh has surrendered,” Gor says with a sad face through Google Translate. Its proximity to the disputed territory is very great: with 120,000 inhabitants, it extends behind the mountains that are on the other shore of Lake Sevan, the lake that can be seen from his house.
In Gyumri, the city in the north of the country that boasts its cultural and artistic dynamism, thirty-something Levon runs a ceramics and art workshop. A sign in his studio indicates that all profits from sales will go to humanitarian aid for the self-proclaimed republic of Artsakh. “It is a very long conflict, it goes beyond the last 30 years, and I don’t think it will end now,” he points out. In addition to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, both countries have several territories within and outside their borders that are in dispute. Levon insists on the human drama that Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin corridor has entailed in recent times.
After the bombings last Tuesday, which left hundreds dead, and in the face of the passivity of the Armenian Government, hundreds of people have demonstrated every day in Yerevan and other parts of the country. Clashes have been reported in the capital and more than 80 people have been arrested. Thursday, Armenian Independence Day, was one of the days with the most mobilizations.
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SubscribeYoung people collect food this Saturday in the center of Yerevan to help Nagorno Karabakh.Josep Catà Figuls
On many of the maps and magnets sold in souvenir shops, the territories of Nagorno Karabakh are represented as their own, and messages of support appear in cafes, restaurants and even on the mobile application for ordering a taxi, but despite everything , in the Armenian capital life goes on. Full of tourists, mostly Russians, in Republic Square there is only one police van and a dozen soldiers protecting the doors of the Government Palace, whose windows are broken after the latest protests. There is no more presence of the conflict, except for some young people who, on a nearby street, collect clothes, food and medicine to send to Nagorno Karabakh. The police ask them for their documentation, they roll up the flag of the Republic of Artsakh that they had displayed – something that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago, when it could be seen everywhere, and which reveals how the Armenian Government seeks to accommodate the demands of Azerbaijan—and monitors their activity, but lets them continue.
“They just want to control what we do,” say Gohar, Anzhelika and Marina, three girls aged 16 and 17 who, like the rest of the interviewees, preferred not to give their last name. They consider that “absolutely all Armenians have the people of Artsakh on their minds,” although they admit that not all of them mobilize: “Older people are tired after two wars; Returning to these feelings makes them sad, and that is why they do not express themselves. Now everything is in our hands,” the young women say. Gohar states that the current situation “is reminiscent of 1915″—when the Armenian genocide began—and she expresses fear of a repeat in the enclave that Azerbaijan now controls. She also criticizes the Pashinyan Government: “she says that everything will be fine for the Armenians who live there, but it is simply a lie.” Anzhelika also regrets the lack of international support: “It seems that if it doesn’t happen in Ukraine, nothing happens. And people are dying.”
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