The wine-making village of Areni is a few kilometres from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan© Aris MESSINIS

Areni Village, Near Azerbaijan, Is Now in ‘Permanent Fear’

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ARENI, Armenia (AFP) — Khalida Asryan is still anxious two weeks after fleeing the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh which was seized by Azerbaijani forces, fearing they may advance further after their victory.

Asryan has resettled with nine family members in the wine-making village of Areni, a few kilometers from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan.

Now she is worried, like many Armenians, that Azerbaijan will launch military operations around her new home — this time to create a land corridor to Nakhichevan.

“We didn’t realize we were going to be near another border when we came here,” Asryan told AFP.

Nakhichevan does not share a border with Azerbaijan but has been tied to Baku since the 1920s and is located between Armenia, Turkey and Iran.

September’s offensive triggered the exodus of over 100,000 ethnic Armenians, who regarded Nagorno-Karabakh as part of their ancestral land. A hundred and six people found refuge in Areni.

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From her new home, Asryan can see the red mountains marking the borders of the Azerbaijani exclave.

“The elders try to calm us down, but the younger ones are very worried,” she said.

Far from reassuring them, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month went to Nakhichevan to celebrate the victory of his ally, Azerbaijan.

During the visit Erdogan said a “window of opportunity has opened to settle the situation in the region”.

Khalida Asryan has resettled in Areni but she is worried Azerbaijan will launch military operations around her new home© Aris MESSINIS

Asryan’s family was housed for free in a bed and breakfast belonging to Alina Mayrapetyan, a 48-year-old farm owner.

But Mayrapetyan is also worried by the looming threat.

“We’re ready to leave at any time. We have this permanent fear in our hearts,” she said.

AFP spoke to Mayrapetyan from her family home, as her mother was de-seeding bell peppers, and she said that every day she wakes up “happy to be in our own home.”

But her family has stopped renovation work on their house, in case it ended up in the hands of Azerbaijanis.

“We don’t know how long we’ll stay here,” she said.

Such concerns are widespread in the village, said Norayr Gregoryan, an official in charge of commerce and tourism at the city hall.

“Of course, we see that people are anxious, we hear that in every conversation,” he said.

The few shops in the village were still open, and children biked down the dirt roads.

But the mood is heavy.

Authorities have cancelled a planned wine festival, which was due to attract thousands of tourists.

Everyone “is preparing to defend the village,” Gregoryan said.

Nestled in between mountains, Areni does not look like an unassailable target.

Russia negotiated the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan after their latest war in 2020, and stationed peacekeepers in the region.

Locals like Ara Musaelyan have little faith in Moscow’s support© Aris MESSINIS

But it refused to intervene during Azerbaijan’s offensive on Karabakh, and locals like Ara Musaelyan have little faith in Moscow’s support.

Musaelyan also fled to Areni from Karabakh with his three children.

The former soldier is moved by revenge, rather than fear.

“Of course, there will be war again, it doesn’t matter where I have to fight,” he told AFP from the terrace of the house, still in renovation, where his family settled.

Musaelyan said he saw Azerbaijani troops commit atrocities during the September offensive.

“I want to get revenge, no matter where I am,” he said.

 

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