For decades, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in the Caucasus has been a recurrent source of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the past weeks the conflict has escalated: since the end of September there has been a war.
Under international law, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding provinces belong to Azerbaijan, but have been occupied by Armenia since 1994. The Republic of Arzach, proclaimed in this area and supported by Armenia, is not internationally recognized. Currently, Azerbaijani troops with political Turkish support are advancing and attacking the region including its capital Stepanakert.
According to media reports, attacks on civilians and civilian facilities are lamentable on both sides. Nonetheless, the conflict is receding into the background in European public opinion. The suffering of civil society is hardly reported.
In the context of our Discuss Europe Event on the 17th of November, we also want to give the people in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh a voice and therefore we have talked to people from the different regions about their current situation.
Today’s interview is with Flora, from Stepanakert, the capital of the embattled Republic of Arzach. She is 24 years old and works as an English tutor alongside her Master in International Business Communication.
Questions by JEF NRW
To what extent are you or your family affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Flora: I come from Stepanakert, Arzach. I had to leave our house in Stepanakert on September 29th together with my mother and my younger brother and move to Yerevan. My father and grandfather are in Arzach. Our house was damaged by the rocket attacks on my home town. This war started in the middle of an epidemic, which makes it even worse. Almost all of our elderly people have been suffering from COVID-19.
One of my friends is now missing. The last thing he told his father was that he was in an ambush. We have not received any news from him since October 16th. I can’t remember the last time I slept really well. My daily tasks are very difficult to manage. Nobody in my family or around me can concentrate on their work or housework. With every day I feel more and more disappointed with our world, with this life, with humanity and its values. This is how much it has affected me and my family.
How does the war affect your everyday life in terms of job/education, social and leisure time?
Flora: I am one of the lucky ones who have worked online. I am an English teacher and therefore had the opportunity to continue working online. But my mother, for example, cannot do it. I personally don’t have much free time. I am either busy with my studies or my job. But I am not complaining. On the contrary, it helps me not to constantly think about the ongoing atrocities in my country or even feel a lot of hatred for the world. My mother works voluntarily, so she also tries to distract herself from this terrible situation. We may not suffer physically, but the psychological damage can never be undone. And all this only because Erdogan and Aliyev (the Armenian president) put their ambitions above the lives of so many innocent people.
How do you deal with the conflict? What do you think about it?
Flora: We try to stay strong. We cannot afford to be weak, especially nowadays when our men are fighting on the front line. One of my students called me a few days ago. He’s been on the front line since the war started. Do you know what he asked me? He asked me if I was okay and if I needed anything. Can you imagine that? He called me from the front line to inquire about my well-being. We simply cannot afford to be weak in the background. We don’t have the right.
Do you have contacts with people in Azerbaijan? Has anything changed since the last outbreak of the conflict?
Flora: No, I have not. But a few years ago, when I was studying abroad, I met a Turkish student. She was a friend of a friend of mine. We lived in the same dorm, so we spent a lot of time together. We weren’t that close, but the relationship was good overall. I don’t know how she feels in this situation, but I’m pretty sure she is ashamed of her government and also very angry, because I remember that she hated the Erdogan regime even then. But it does not matter how the people in Azerbaijan and Turkey feel, does it? It does not bother any of their leaders.
Do you see possibilities for peaceful conflict resolution? What would it look like?
Flora: I believe that this conflict should be overcome only by peaceful means. That is what we Armenians want, we, the people of Arzach. As we can see, the leaders of Turkey and Azerbaijan are not ready for it. The only solution that I see is that the people of Azerbaijan and Turkey finally find the courage to resist their leaders. I hope that there are still people in Azerbaijan and Turkey whose judgments have not been clouded by the disinformation of their governments.
What do you hope for from the European Union for the conflict resolution?
Flora: I hope that they will finally understand that we are fighting for the basic right to life. It is no longer about the territories: Our opponent, or more precisely our enemy, has set itself a clear goal of ethnic cleansing, a new genocide. The armed forces of Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, are targeting civil infrastructures, residential areas and cultural centers. They have even targeted a maternity hospital. We are fighting not only with their armies, but also with terrorists from Syria and Pakistan recruited by Turkey. We are fighting not only for the security of our nation, but also for the security of the entire region. We are also fighting against terrorism all by ourselves. I hope that the EU will stop appealing and finally start to act. I hope that the EU will not ignore the war crimes of Turks and Azerbaijan. And finally, I hope that it is not too late.