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Armenians fear new war with Azerbaijan despite talk of peace

  • By Grigor Atanesian and Tim Whewell
  • BBC World Service

Legend, Nina and her family left their home in Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani troops moved in there in September 2023.

When more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh last September, Nina Shahverdyan and her brother, parents and cousin spent 30 hours on the road trying to leave.

“People were dying of heart attacks. People were dying because they were just too old to go through the pain. Children were crying,” she remembers.

Within days, the Azerbaijani army recovered all the land lost in the war sparked by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What worries the Armenians today is that their neighbor wants more, even if the Azerbaijani president says he is closer “than ever” to a peace agreement.

They have already heard Ilham Aliyev refer to Armenia as “West Azerbaijan” and see this as a sign of an imminent invasion.

Last month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned that Azerbaijan was seeking to start “a new full-scale war.” He has since agreed to return four abandoned border villages, a sign of improving relations.

Azerbaijan says Armenian fears are unfounded. However, President Aliyev demanded that Armenia give his country a free rail corridor crossing its territory to its enclave of Nakhichevan.

Armenia wants to control the route and Azerbaijan’s leader has threatened in the past to take the corridor “by force”.

A growing number of civilians in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, are receiving military training from voluntary organizations.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl,” Nina says of learning how to use guns. “You have to know how to protect yourself in a country like Armenia, where all borders can be attacked.”

Image source, ANTHONY PIZZOFERRATO/Images from the Middle East/AFP

Legend, Armenia has agreed to return four border villages to Azerbaijan, provoking protests from surrounding residents.

Independent foreign policy expert Zaur Shiriyev believes that all discussions on West Azerbaijan were nothing more than a “tactical move aimed at forcing the Armenian side to give up its demands regarding the rights and security of Karabakh Armenians.”

But it’s not just the statements that worry Nina. The conflict between the two countries extends well beyond Karabakh.

Before Azerbaijan retook Karabakh, clashes took place along the Armenian-recognized border.

Cities deep within Armenian territory were bombed for the first time in 2022 and Azerbaijani forces advanced into Armenian territory and remained there. More than 300 soldiers died in just two days, and as recently as February this year, four Armenian servicemen were killed by bombings.

According to a recent opinion poll, Armenians consider national security and border issues their main problem. Their feeling of insecurity is fueled by disillusionment with Russia, traditionally seen as the guarantor of Armenia’s security.

Russia and the Russian-led CSTO military alliance, of which Armenia is a member, have remained neutral and refused to intervene in the most recent conflict with Azerbaijan. And Moscow also failed to deliver $200 million worth of Russian-made weapons that Yerevan had already paid for.

Armenia was already looking west even before the fall of Karabakh.

It held a joint military exercise with the United States and has since secured arms sales from France as well as a commitment to train Armenian officers. The French ambassador said his country was the first NATO member to supply weapons to an official Russian ally.

Legend, Karabakh Armenians were forced to leave their homes when Azerbaijan retook the enclave

For both the government and public opinion, it was clear, says Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Yerevan: “In reality, Russia has never been such a security provider for Armenia as it was in Armenia. , or it hasn’t been the case for a very long time.”

Armenian officials have hinted at their intention to apply for EU membership, and the European Parliament last month adopted a resolution on deepening ties with Yerevan.

Nikol Pashinyan says he simply wants to “diversify” Armenia’s foreign policy, but Russia and Azerbaijan see a threat to their interests and warn of serious consequences.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says Armenia has become “a tool that the West plans to use to set fire to the South Caucasus.”

However, tens of thousands of Russians have fled to Armenia since 2022, either because they oppose the war in Ukraine or because they are fleeing the mobilization.

They created a bilateral delimitation commission responsible for agreeing on borders.

Armenia has promised to return four Azerbaijani villages on the northern border held since the 1990s. Mr Pashinyan has rejected criticism of the deal, arguing it is the only way to avoid war.

Legend, The village of Movses, in northern Armenia, far from Nagorno-Karabakh, was reportedly bombed earlier this month.

But residents of Armenian border villages fear being exposed to attacks and being cut off from the rest of the country.

The Prime Minister tried to reassure them.

“We don’t want you to say, ‘Oh no, Azerbaijan is 50 meters from here,'” the Armenian leader said. “We want you to be able to say, ‘Wow, Azerbaijan is 50 meters from here, let’s go trade there.’

After three decades of enmity and war, this seems like a big step forward.

Even if the two leaders manage to agree on the terms, Alexander Iskandaryan of the Caucasus Institute is skeptical about such a warm peace, and independent Azerbaijani expert Zaur Shiriyev agrees.

“It is important not to overemphasize the peace agreement.”

News Source : www.bbc.com
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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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