Irina Safrayan, 23, awoke the morning of Sept. 27 to the sounds of heavy artillery, and her apartment building in Stepanakert, located in the Republic of Artsakh, shook from ongoing shelling nearby.
Amidst the chaos, she crammed her passport and money into a red backpack and fled, managing to escape with her sister and niece.
They now reside in Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan, where Safrayan mourns the death of her childhood friend who was killed while fighting for Armenian forces, and spends what spare time she has after work organizing protests and visiting her mother at a nearby hospital, who is sick with the novel coronavirus.
“You live for this moment. I don’t have any plans for tomorrow. I don’t have any dreams, anything like what everyone is doing in peaceful countries,” she said. “The only thing that I want now is to finish all this, to wake up and see that everything is over and we can go back home.”
Safrayan urged for a peaceful resolution, insisting “we don’t want oil. We don’t want gas. We don’t want money. We just want blue skies and peace for our land, just let us live in peace. For this, we just need to be recognized.”
The most recent ceasefire was facilitated by the United States government just one day earlier, and the third attempt at a truce to have failed in less than one month since Sept. 27, when a decades-long conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region turned violent.
The past two ceasefire agreements have been brokered by Russia, the last of which was violated less than three days after it had been ratified on Oct. 17.
As early as 8 a.m. GMT, officials from both Armenia and Azerbaijan said they were adhering to the ceasefire agreement when they were subjected to open artillery fire and enemy shelling.
Shushan Stepanyan, press secretary of the Minister of Defence of Armenia, was quick to accuse Azerbaijan of “grossly violating” the ceasefire on Monday, claiming Azerbaijan had “targeted positions located in (the) south-eastern direction, firing five artillery shells in that direction” on Twitter.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence countered in an online statement saying Armenian armed forces had fired at “human settlements,” at “positions of units of the Azerbaijan Army along the entire front, as well as on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border using various types of small arms, mortars, and howitzers.”
At the heart of the clashes is the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations, but has been under ethnic Armenian control since the first Karbakh war ended in 1994. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan declared their independence in 1991.
The Canadian government has suspended certain military exports to Turkey while it investigates claims the Turkish government has been providing Azerbaijan with modern-day weapons such as drone technology, which would give Azerbaijani forces an edge in the battlefield.
As of Monday, The Associated Press reported 974 Nagorno-Karabakh military and 37 civilians have been killed since the most recent escalation on Sept. 27, while the fighting has killed 65 Azerbaijani civilians and injured 300 — although Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his intelligence indicated the death toll was closer to 5,000.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev likened his republic to those on a “righteous path, united as a fist,” in a series of tweets on Monday, claiming “everyone must reckon with the new reality” he claims Azerbaijan has created. For some Azerbaijani who grew up during the aftermath of the first Karabakh war in 1991, however, the fighting has gone on long enough.
Saida Huseyn, 33, is an ethnic Azerbaijani who lives in Toronto with her husband, Qiyas.
She grew up in the countryside of Georgia, neighbouring Azerbaijan. When she was two years old, her father’s cousin got on a truck with five others that would drive to a field where crops were harvested. The truck was bombed, and she never saw him again.
Most of her family members, including her mother and grandparents, still live in Georgia today as veterans of the first Karabakh war.
“Blood does not clean the blood. It’s endless,” said Huseyn. “They have experienced (war) firsthand and they just don’t want it to happen again.”
According to Huseyn, “we have to and we can co-exist, like we have coexisted for centuries.”
“When the war is over and everybody returns home including Azeris, we have to learn to live as we did for many centuries before the conflict.”
— With files from The Associated Press