By Nune Arakelyan

Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) have experienced so many days of blockade that choosing one of these days and describing it is a relatively complex task.

One day at the beginning of the blockade, together with other city residents, you frantically stormed supermarkets and stocked up on provisions. Another day in the middle of the blockade, the Red Cross started delivering food and medicine through the blocked Lachin corridor, and the authorities introduced a rationing system, and life began to take on relatively bearable contours. And now, there is one day, when the blockade has taken on a total and exhausting character — these are completely different days. One day during winter, the relentless pursuit of essential goods is coupled with the tormenting effort to heat homes in the absence of gas and regular electricity blackouts. The threat of hunger gives way to the threat of being left without warmth and light. And another day during summer, it’s warm and sunny, and the soul longs for fruits and vegetables, but their delivery to the city has become nearly impossible due to the lack of fuel — this is also a different day.

Despite the differences between these various days of the blockade, there is a common thread for people of my generation and older. It’s the persistent feeling of déjà vu because this is already the second blockade we have experience. The first blockade began in the late 1980s and ended in the early 1990s.

When discussing those days with colleagues, neighbors, and relatives, and comparing the previous blockade to the current one, we constantly use the question: “Do you remember?” And we admit that back then, things were worse because regular shelling and airstrikes were added to complete isolation, the absence of food, water, gas, and electricity.

What is a typical day of the blockade? Probably, for more than 120,000 Armenians who remain living in Artsakh, each day is different. For those who have chronically ill or young children in their families, it is undoubtedly more challenging.

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My day begins with gratitude to the Lord for the fact that despite the hardships and trials, the war and the blockade, the night passed relatively peacefully, and I woke up not in a basement where we hid from bombings, not abroad, but at home in my own bed. And I am also grateful that my loved ones are alive.

If there is electricity, I brew myself some black coffee (without sugar, as sugar has been unavailable for a long time), which I stocked up on during the early days of the blockade, and then I boil hot water for my family in a thermos. But electricity has become a luxury in recent times, and there has been no gas for a long time. So, more often than not, I go to work without having my favorite coffee, comforting myself with the thought that I’ll have it with my colleagues during a break. But even at work, there is often no electricity. Never mind the coffee, the absence of electricity during classes means a return to the classical teaching methods of our ancestors when the word of the teacher became paramount again. And it’s crucial that this word be the right one. No matter how difficult it may be for a teacher or lecturer, students should hear words of hope and faith in their speech, not despair and melancholy.

I return home from work on foot since there’s no point in waiting for a minibus. Due to the lack of fuel, minibuses are infrequent, and taxis are also scarce. In general, I enjoy walking through our cozy city, but not in the snow or heavy rain, and this year the rains have been plentiful. They say it’s good because it supports our small dying power plant, which has become our sole source of light and warmth.

On my way home, I try to do some shopping, to buy whatever products are still available in stores. The most common question among my fellow citizens, when they enter grocery stores, is: “Do you have anything left in terms of food?” And lately, more and more often, the answer from the sellers is negative, and the forgotten Soviet word “to obtain”[1] has quickly replaced the word “to buy” in our blockade vocabulary. Stores open out of habit, just so that the population can purchase bread, which is available but with interruptions. Before, there used to be dairy products, but for over a week now, they are gone, packaging has run out, and there is no fuel to deliver goods to different locations.

My route back home often takes me by meat shops. There are many people in the city who ask for leftover meat, and the butchers know them by face; they know they are the dog owners. Even the four-legged residents of Artsakh bear the hardships of the blockade. However, I don’t have a dog, I am simply a volunteer, helping with other city residents at the first shelter for stray animals, which was opened shortly before the blockade. Thanks to financial aid from our friends in the diaspora and beyond, the shelter is still holding up. Many people in the city don’t understand us. They reproach us for thinking about animals instead of focusing on people in our difficult situation. How can I explain to them that we are precisely thinking about people and trying to preserve their humanity?

Returning home, I try not to encounter familiar faces, because every conversation about everyday matters will inevitably be followed by the question: “What do you think will happen to us next?” Well, how can I know the answer to that question? But overall, I like how our people are holding on, trying not to despair, and even making jokes about our strange situation.

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In the evenings, I’ve grown afraid of phone calls, as each call could contain information that someone close to me is seriously ill, and due to the lack of proper medications in Artsakh, it will be impossible to treat them, and getting them to Armenia is not an option as the blockade has fully isolated us from the rest of the world. It could also be a call about shooting at the border, a drone dropping a bomb, and someone’s son losing their life. Oh Lord, how I fear these calls…

Sometimes, the ladies from our animal protection organization can call with messages that the animals in the shelter are hungry, and urgent action is needed. But what can we do? Even if we find food, how can we transport it when the shelter is outside the city, and hardly anyone has fuel, not even the taxi drivers?

What strange turns fate takes! From my youth, I loved Tendryakov’s story “Bread for a Dog.” And who could have thought that many years later, I would find myself almost living in that story? “It’s a kind of payment, and for me, it was enough that I fed someone, supported someone’s life, meaning I had the right to eat and live too. It wasn’t a starving dog that I fed with pieces of bread, it was my conscience.”

In the evenings, there’s often no electricity, no chance to read, no way to get warm if it’s cold, and no possibility to watch a film. Thankfully, we have mobile internet, which saves us from the oppressive silence of the dark apartment. Reading stories about other people’s lives, looking at photos of traveling friends, somehow soothes me. There is normal life somewhere out there, it turns out, and there is hope that it will return to us someday. Maybe… Someday…

Although friends and acquaintances from beyond Artsakh seem more interested in what we eat during the blockade, whether we can get groceries, etc. Sometimes it’s not easy for us to explain to them that we knew what we were getting into when we decided to stay in Artsakh, that food is not our most significant problem, and that something worse than hunger, cold, and isolation can threaten us — the loss of our Homeland. And every night, we go to sleep, thanking the Lord that another day has passed, and we survived and continue to live on the land of our ancestors. We are alive, we are still here, and we are holding on…

*******

Since the writing of this article, about a month has passed. Since then, the situation in the blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh has become critical: due to the lack of electricity and fuel, water supply has been disrupted, and garbage collection has stopped. Ahead lie hordes of rats and epidemics. And all this is happening amidst the absence of medicines and the onset of complete famine. Pregnant women are collapsing from hunger, as even bread is no longer available. The number of miscarriages has tripled. People are dying without receiving medical assistance. The situation at the moment is catastrophic.

This is genocide! Genocide happening in the 21st century, genocide in real-time, an apocalyptic “reality show” orchestrated by the Azerbaijani oil dictator in a self-proclaimed democratic republic that he wants to engulf. This is genocide against a people who first fell victim to Stalinist and Soviet policies of territorial divisions and deportations, and later to Azerbaijani policies of ethnic cleansing and destruction of cultural heritage.

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who watch and do nothing.” Albert Einstein

[1] In Soviet times, even if people had money, it was impossible to buy groceries because of their scarcity. People had to obtain everything through connections or acquaintances.

(Nune Arakelyan is a lecturer at Artsakh State University.)

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