Stepanakert panorama by Vardan Petrosyan

Artsakh Representative to US Calls for Continued Support by Compatriots

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STEPANAKERT — Robert Avetisyan, Permanent Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the United States, is usually based in Washington, but he was in Stepanakert as the current attacks by Azerbaijan unfolded.

Speaking on September 30 from Stepanakert, Avetisyan said that naturally the normal pace of life in the capital of Karabakh (Artsakh) cannot be maintained now. Though things are calmer there than at the frontlines, the city can be reached by the Azerbaijani armed forces. There have been drone attacks and artillery shelling from time to time. Avetisyan said, “The good thing is that the civil defense system is working very well. We have notifications right away, which are very loud, so that everybody, no matter where you are, hears the sounds.”

The shelters have been improved compared to the period of bombardments of Stepanakert during the war in the early 1990s. Avetisyan said that people go in the shelters and stay there until the sirens go off. This is okay during the day, he said, but to run to shelters at night four or five times is a different story.

The attacks on the capital, he speculated, were dependent in part on the successes of the Artsakh army on the frontlines, and on weather, when it comes to Azerbaijan’s use of attack drones. Initially, perhaps they were an attempt to instigate panic and fear but that has not worked. Also, the city is now packed with foreign journalists from all over the world from the top media outlets, which might be giving Azerbaijanis second thoughts about attacking Stepanakert, though many of these journalists have already heard the sirens and seen the drone attacks.

The majority of the male population up to 55 years old are either on the frontlines or are waiting their turn in the reserves, Avetisyan related. While women are not mobilized in this way, there are female contract servicewomen, and volunteers, and unfortunately there have already been at least two female military victims.

In the villages or provinces, there is no centralized evacuation, but everything is up to the local populace. Avetisyan said that in places indiscriminately fired upon by the Azerbaijanis, some people try to remain if they feel secure, while others may escape from Azerbaijani attacks to elsewhere in Artsakh or Armenia. Avetisyan said, “Human security is number one for us. If people wish to relocate, they are free to do so, as there are no barriers to that. But we are proud that many decide to stay and support the troops as much as possible.”

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The use of greater modern technology has changed the nature of the conflict. Avetisyan said, “Even civilians cannot walk in the streets in small groups because they will be an easy target for drones or rockets at one shot.” All types of weaponry, including long-range artillery, drones, helicopters, jets and even flamethrower missiles which spread fire after exploding are being used, but dozens and dozens of such military equipment are being neutralized, declared Avetisyan.

The army has all the necessary equipment to handle these attacks, Avetisyan explained. On the one hand, the military industry of Armenia has developed greatly, and prepares certain items from start to finish. Other items are purchased elsewhere, and sometimes modified.

At present, he said, all medical facilities are involved in the war situation and as of now doctors have everything they need. If a patient is in a particularly serious state, he can be transported to Yerevan. While some drones came close to hospitals and other civilian structures, they were shot down before they could do any damage to them, Avetisyan related.

COVID-19 is another challenge, with masks and sanitizers as omnipresent as anywhere else in the world. However, Avetisyan said, sometimes when there is a strike half a mile away, many people may not think about it while rushing to their basement. In the army, taking appropriate measures is possible but very inconvenient, and in the battlefield, naturally social distancing cannot be maintained. Consequently, no one knows what the effects on the spread of the novel coronavirus will be after this is all over.

Though it is the season for agriculture, and so many are economically suffering right now, there is no shortage of food or supplies, according to Avetisyan, and the projects of creating modern roads inside Artsakh, and linking Artsakh to Armenia through the Armenia Fund are now showing their full utility.

Overall, Avetisyan declared, “This is the type of war, unfortunately, where they are striking any object or civilian building, anything and everything that they can hit. It is very strange for us that there does not seem to be a proper understanding of the scale of this conflict. Many are saying that a largescale war must be prevented, but this is already a largescale war. It is the largest the entire region has seen since 1994. If the world can do something, it is never too late, but they should have done something much earlier.”

It is hard to say how it will end, Avetisyan said, but he noted that the president of the Karabakh Republic said they were preparing for fighting as long as it takes. The presence of mercenaries is not different from the situation in the early 1990s, Avetisyan said, but their only threat is as propaganda. The unprecedented direct Turkish involvement on the side of Azerbaijan, on the other hand, and its instigating role, is very dangerous, he said, though it is also testimony to the disappointment Turkey must have in the military capabilities of Azerbaijan.

The Turkish involvement and the continuation of genocidal attitudes towards Armenians, he said, make it impossible for this country to continue as a member of the mediating OSCE Minsk Group. On the other hand, he stressed, as the Artsakh Foreign Ministry has stated, this is the right time for the international community to recognize Artsakh as a sovereign state, which will help move the conflict from the battlefield into the diplomatic realm.

The Azerbaijani media is providing propaganda and fake news, so Avetisyan urged Armenians abroad to rely on Armenian news sources. At the same time, he expressed his appreciation to those who contributed to the Armenia Fund, which is working to intensify its humanitarian efforts. (Those who wish to do so now can go online to https://armeniafund.ejoinme.org/donate).

The messages and support from Armenian and non-Armenian friends throughout the world has been palpable, Avetisyan said. In particular, he declared: “We feel the involvement and support of the worldwide Armenian community, particularly when we are thinking about the Armenian community in the United States. We appreciate it and are inspired by the unity which we have been seeing.” The fight which is being fought now on the frontlines echoes in all major capitals and countries where Armenians have a presence, he said, and what is important is that they are continuing the pressure for political statements to turn into actions and actions into concrete results.

He concluded that the current situation is an existential threat to the Armenian nation, which must be ready for any development, even the most difficult scenarios.

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