After the War: Starting Life Over
After the Second Karabakh War, living conditions in the region draw attention.
What has the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September-November 2020 left in its wake? How will the events be remembered by those who lost their home or their loved ones, and those who experienced psychological trauma?
How can the governments of both Armenia and Azerbaijan eliminate the aftereffects of the war?
“30 years ago, we started over from scratch...”
On October 17, at the height of the war, an artillery shell fell in the village of Yenikand in Tartar in the courtyard of the home of the Farzaliyev family, displaced persons from Aghdam. Ulduz Farzaliyeva recalled what happened:
"I only heard my son shouting, 'Mom, get down, it’s coming.' When I came to, I was in a trench outside the gate. My son was crying as if my father had died."
It was morning when the artillery shell hit the courtyard. Members of the family were there at the time — Ulduz Farzaliyeva was milking a cow, and her son and husband were waiting while she finished:
“My husband would let the large animals into our yard, and my son would feed the calves. If my son hadn't heard that noise, I’d be dead now. I don’t know how I escaped. I don’t remember what happened afterwards, but the artillery shell landed right where I was standing."
Ulduz Farzaliyeva is grateful that her family members survived. But she says that since that day she has had problems with her blood pressure and her heart. In addition, it affected her ears, and she can’t hear well. She hopes her hearing will be restored in time.
The Farzaliyev family also suffered serious property damage.
"The cow I was milking died on the spot, another one lost its unborn calf, and another was wounded and died on the way to the vet. On top of that, 17 of our turkeys and our dog died. The roof of our house collapsed and all our windows were smashed. Our barn, our outbuilding in the courtyard, and all our belongings inside were destroyed. Our house was cracked in the back and our belongings were severely damaged,” she said.
Panic when the house was shelled
Before the war broke out in Karabakh, Gazanfar Farzaliyev was a military instructor at the school in Aghdam. He says he had a nice house, a good job, and good living conditions. However, the war turned all his plans upside down, and he had to enlist as a volunteer in the army:
"Our life changed, we lost everything. I was wounded in the military, we began life as displaced persons, and it was difficult to get back on our feet again. Finally, at a good time in our lives, war broke out again. My home was shelled. We panicked. Sure, I was in the military, I was used to it, but it’s a completely different thing when your home is shelled. I thought my son and my wife were dead. I still haven’t recovered."
Gazanfar Farzaliyev says the second war gave him déjà vu. He recalled leaving their home in Aghdam:
"It all flashed before my eyes again. The worst part was that no one really cared about the trauma or the damage. A few months ago some people came and inspected the house. They took some pictures, wrote something down, and left. Yes, people also came from ANAMA (the Mine Action Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan - ed.). They looked at the place where the artillery shell landed, wrote something, crossed it out, and took pictures. But they didn’t provide any aid or compensation. We replaced the ceiling and windows in our house ourselves. We couldn’t remain exposed to the cold and wind. Plus the more we looked at it the more we panicked. It’s a good thing we repaired it or we’d still be living in a collapsing house.”
Gazanfar Farzaliyev says that he does not receive any benefits from the government for his participation in the First Karabakh War, even though he has applied several times:
"I got a reply that said ‘you didn’t sign a contract for military service with the government, so you don't get a pension.’ The Armenians were coming into the country and fighting us. Who was I supposed to sign a contract with? I made my decision and went off to fight. I was given clothes and weapons and put on the food ration list. That’s not a contract? What else do they need? Plus, my military ID, a doctor's note about my injuries, my rank on my military ID — it’s all written down. But it was no use."
A house split in two, a kitchen gone...
The village of Zangishali in Aghdam also suffered damage in the war. The shelling of the village destroyed the houses there. The owner of one of those houses is Vidadi Guliyev. He says that when the war broke out, they went to Guzanli to be safe. On October 7, while they were away, their house was shelled. Both their house and their son's dental office, which is adjacent to the house, were destroyed.
"Half of our house is gone. The main thing is that our kitchen has disappeared. The bathroom and lavatory have become completely unusable. Half of the living room has collapsed. In a word, the house is in a state of serious disrepair. There isn’t a single piece of unbroken glass in my son's dental office. The expensive equipment inside was damaged, too.”
Vidadi Guliyev says it is dangerous to live in a house in such a state of disrepair — it could collapse at any moment. He has made repeated appeals to the Executive Authority of the Aghdam Region, but to no avail. A commission even visited their home several times. They took measurements and left. The last commission estimated the damage to the house and the dental office at AZN 800. “I had just renovated my house. I spent AZN 10,000 on renovating and equipping my kitchen alone. What use is AZN 800?”
"I demand the compensation that the president ordered"
Vidadi Guliyev says that he appealed to the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ministry of the Economy, the Presidential Administration, and local agencies regarding the injustice he experienced. However, his appeals came to nothing, and a correct assessment was never carried out.
Vidadi Guliyev states that he is not one to cause trouble. If the President had not allocated funds from the state budget for the victims, if he had told everyone to rebuild their own houses, they would have repaired their homes themselves, even though it would have been difficult:
"We would have thought, ‘it’s our fate, what can we do?’ But the president said that if even one piece of glass was broken, then people should be compensated. I demand the compensation that the president ordered. Half of my house is gone, what can we do? AZN 6,000 should be given for each house and AZN 1,500 to family members. The commission estimated the damage to our house at AZN 800. But half of the house is missing.”
The newly homeless search for justice
Tarana Hasanova is one of the people whose houses were destroyed in the shelling of Ganja on October 17. Since that day, she and her family have been living in a dormitory provided by the state. She says that her house and her husband’s car were destroyed in the explosion. They received AZN 1,000 in compensation:
"They found that the house was in need of repair. For the repairs, they paid AZN 1,000 in compensation. You tell me, is AZN 1,000 enough for this house?”
Tarana Hasanova remembers the night of the incident well. She says that she experienced a trauma she will never forget:
"We had gone to sleep. It was 5 minutes to 1 am. There was an explosion. I thought my children were dead. Neighbors pulled us out from under the rubble. The smoke had filled our lungs. I couldn’t tell if I was dead or alive. We found out that our neighbors were dead. We saw their bodies pulled out. Neither my children nor I have recovered from that day."
Tarana Hasanova works as a janitor at the school. She says they had managed to build a small house over 20 years. They bought their belongings on credit, and now there is nothing left. They only received half of the AZN 1,000 they were awarded:
"No one’s looking into our complaint. All our belongings are in terrible condition. Since all this happened to us we’ve been living in a dormitory for 4 months. The unjust compensation, the unjust way they’ve dealt with us is killing us. I'm tired of going to the executive authority. I sign up for an appointment and they say, ‘we’ll call,’ but they don’t. Now I'm ill."
The mother says that her daughter needs psychological support, but they can’t afford it:
"Every day she looks at pictures of the dead on the phone and cries. We can’t keep it away from her. Thankfully, the president has made certain decisions and allocated funds for us, but they won’t give us the funds he allocated. I go to our house every day, I stand on the street for hours hoping maybe someone will take an interest. No one comes. In the evening, I go back to the dormitory in despair."
"The moment we heard that Azerbaijani soldiers had arrived, we left the village"
"We hope that one day we’ll return to our village and our home."
This was said by Artashes Arakelyan, a resident of Aghdara (called Martakert by Armenians). At present, Artashes lives with his wife Narine and 5 young daughters in the village of Lenughi, near Yerevan. It’s a stretch to call the place where they’re staying a “house.” Their relatives have given them this place, which has a hallway, a kitchen, and a bedroom.
The Arakelyans are a displaced family. They say they abandoned their homes because their village was under constant bombardment:
"It was impossible for us to stay. All the cars in the village were left without owners because all the men were at the front. I managed to find a car, I got my family, and we headed for Stepanakert (Khankandi),” Artashes said, adding that they left the village only when they heard that Azerbaijani soldiers had entered. Some residents couldn’t leave the village. He says that 12 villagers were captured:
"As far as I know, two of them have been extradited, but the others are still in captivity."
When Narine left the village, she was only able to take her children's documents and some clothes with her. At that time, it didn’t occur to them that they might not be able to return home:
"It was difficult but we made it to Stepanakert and we lived in a basement for a few days. Twice we tried to leave the basement and get a taxi to Armenia, but we had to go back because drones were flying over our heads all day and bombs were dropping constantly,” Narina recalls.
"We want to return to our village"
Artashes Arakelyan, 56, was born and raised in the Aghdara region. He fought in the First Karabakh War, in which he lost his leg:
"I’ve been wearing a prosthesis ever since. In Aghdara, I had 50 cows — I was a cattle breeder. I supported my family with that business."
Now Artashes, who has lost everything, is thinking about how to support his family:
"There’s no work here. We want to go back to our village. The village has been Armenian for decades and is part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. My great-grandfather's grave is in that village."
The Arakelyans’ only hope is that a miracle will return them to their villages.
"We don't want a war," Narine continues, looking at her children.
"I don’t want them to witness a new war like we have. I hope something can be accomplished through negotiations."
Unlike the Arakelyans, thousands of other families have been welcomed into hotels, schools, and kindergartens.
"This is the second time I've lost my home"
Gulnara Stepanyan is from Hadrut (Aghoghlan). She and her family have been living in a kindergarten in the Armenian village of Arshalus since October last year. They left the village where they lived, Tumi, when Azerbaijani soldiers entered Hadrut:
"This is the second time I’ve lost my home. We lost our house for the first time in 1992 and had to leave Martakert (Aghdara). Since my parents are from Hadrut, we settled there."
Gulnara currently lives in a kindergarten with her son, daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren.
The Armenian government and some charities have provided food and some necessities to displaced families. But the assistance they’ve been provided with and the shelters in which they’ve been placed are no replacements for their homes:
"How long are we going to live like this?" asks Anush Stepanyan (Gulnara's daughter-in-law). Her two daughters were born in August before the war. Anush shares some memories, finding parallels between her children’s experiences and her own childhood:
“In the 90s, I was a month old when my mother took me and left Martakert (Aghdara). History repeats — when I took my daughters and left Hadrut, they were a month old, too."
The family's plot of land in Hadrut and their cows were their source of income. They don’t know what kind of lives they’ll have after all this:
"We can't live alongside Azerbaijanis after what they did to us. That’s impossible,” said Gulnara, despite having lived alongside Azerbaijanis until relations between the two nations soured. She can remember the time when the two peoples lived normal lives side by side:
"After so much death and loss, everything’s different," said Gulnara.
Secondary School #2 in Gyumri has also been turned into a shelter for displaced people from Karabakh. Since October 2, the school has opened its doors to 300 people. At present, only 12 families, or 48 people, remain.
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 had regained 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 regained territories.
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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