Holy Mother of God Cathedral. Stepanakert 17 September 2023 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

A New Reality for Displaced Artsakh Armenians


YEREVAN — The shock is gone, and so is the attention, it seems. What bothers Artsakh (Karabakh) Armenians after the ethnic cleansing, in their new lives in Armenia?

“All the same, Stepanakert is a  wonderful city… I am there every night in my dreams. I saw the cars flying through the streets like airplanes. Just as we see on the Internet what the future cities will be like,” says Armen Mirzoyan, who was forcibly displaced from Artsakh in September 2023 and now lives in Abovyan, Armenia. “I was breathing there, the nature was different there, the air was different, everything was different. Everyone is guilty for this disaster. If you can’t keep something, they take it from you. I wonder if the Azerbaijanis will be able to live in Stepanakert,” he asks, before answering himself, “I don’t think so.”

Stepanakert, 13 September 2023 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

In the days prior to this disaster, the majority of the Armenians of Artsakh came to Armenia (directly to Yerevan) for two reasons, either for medical treatment or for education. In Artsakh, everyone lived in their own town or village and spoke the subdialect of their region. Whenever they met in the Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert, it became clear from each other’s accents who was from which region of Artsakh — Martakert, Martuni or Hadrut. However, the situation is so shocking that six months later, the Artsakh Armenians still don’t understand why they ended up in Armenia, although it is also their homeland.

Mirzoyan continues to muse, “The Armenians of Artsakh don’t want to accept Armenian citizenship. They think that they will return to their home soon; after all, the cemeteries of our loved ones are there, aren’t they? Do you think that Azerbaijan will be able to fill Stepanakert with its citizens? Maybe Aghdam, but not Stepanakert, which always was Armenian. I wonder if they will extract the gold from Artsakh [the Kashen gold mine]? I don’t know in what capacity, but Armenians should live in Artsakh. How do they live in Javakhk (Javakheti)? I don’t know what to do for this life to make it better.”

Displaced children from Getavan village, found refuge at the Gribayedov school in Stepanakert. September 22, 2023 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

Today, the entire population of Artsakh, spread across Armenia, faces various socio-psychological problems. From the beginning, there was a lot of talk about how to organize the life of Artsakh Armenians in Armenia. There was a suggestion that it would be good to place them in Syunik, because the dialects of Artsakh and Syunik are similar. But the reality is different. The fact is that these new refugees live where they can at the moment. Others who have the opportunity, unable to endure the difficult social situation or simply to seek the good life, are emigrating. It is not easy to go to another country. It is worse in Russia now, they say, while going to Europe or the U.S. seems as impossible as returning to Artsakh.

According to the National Security Service of Armenia, more than 6,000 Artsakh citizens have already left Armenia.

On September 2023, as a result of military clashes, the Artsakh villagers were forced to come to the capital Stepanakert. The city authorities placed them in school buildings. This grandma spent the night at the Abovyan school in a bed made from school benches. Two days later, the entire population of Artsakh was forced to leave their homes. September 22, 2023 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

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The return of Artsakh Armenians to their homes at least seems unrealistic at the moment; certainly no one wants to be in Karabakh in the way proposed  by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. No one wants to live under the Azerbaijani flag, otherwise, why did more than a hundred thousand people leave their homes where they lived for centuries?

According to Artsakh Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan, serious international guarantees are needed to return to Artsakh and the guarantees of Russian peacekeepers are not enough.

Artsakh is ours. Abovyan, Armenia. 9 January 2024 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

“My opinion is that international guarantees are needed. In other words, only that guarantee of the Russian peacekeeping troops deployed in Artsakh after 2020, as history has shown, is not enough to ensure security in Artsakh. A much more desirable and much higher guarantee can be provided if peacekeeping or international forces are formed on the international platform,” Stepanyan said during a press conference held in Yerevan on February 14.

“Going back to Artsakh is possible only if the Armenian (Artsakh) authorities lead there, if the guarantor of security is our army. Only under the Artsakh flag. That’s it. Life has shown that it is not possible to live even next door (with Azerbaijanis), much less living together,” says Anush Martirosyan, who has lived in Stepanakert all her life.

She continues, “How and when to return can be discussed at length but they (we) need a home to live in right now and  they want or not that house is in the Republic of Armenia. They have to pay for it (rent). which is very expensive for them. After all, the Artsakh people have always owned property, that’s why it’s uncomfortable to live in a rented house. It is a kind of psychological pressure for them.”

Artsakh street, Abovyan, Armenia 17 February 2024 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

On a recent day, displaced Artsakh residents gathered in the corridor of the Labor and Social Affairs office in Abovyan with anxious faces. Everyone was standing and waiting to get the clarifications they needed. Three children sitting on the chairs in the lobby, with phones in their hands watching a cartoon.

“The landlord demands the rent. I should pay the utility costs. My children don’t get pensions, they don’t give any clear explanation here. They say wait… How much? They send me from one place to another, they demand documents, I’m already tired of these humiliating queues. They don’t even give these fifty thousand drams, but they say that they will allocate ten million drams to the Artsakh refugees to build a house. Are they making fun of us,” says the mother of one of the children.

Stop another Armenian Genocide. Stepanakert 17 October 2022 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

Perhaps the most urgent problem for the Artsakhtsis is housing. The financial support provided by the Armenian government is not enough if they have to pay rent, because the rent for an apartment in Yerevan, as they would say, is as expensive as in London.

“As of December 31, 2023, 10,000 forcibly displaced persons of Nagorno-Karabakh had already found employment in Armenia. This is good, but this isn’t all, because this is perhaps only 30 percent of the total number of employable people displaced from NK. All pensioners receive their pensions, and we are planning to launch a housing program soon, and we’ve made two important conclusions during its debates: first, this project must be accessible also for the citizens of Armenia, second, our brothers and sisters who were forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, who would want to use this program, would have to obtain citizenship of Armenia [as a mandatory requirement of the program],” said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during his meeting with the Armenian community in Germany where he was on a visit for the Munich Security Conference on February 19.

God knows when and where we will have a home, say those forcibly displaced from Artsakh. To build a home is as difficult as to lost it, they say.

Rally in Stepanakert. 25 December 2022 (Marut Vanyan Photo)

Concludes Anush, “I’m honestly not much optimistic. We have seen how houses were built for Hadrut and Shushi residents who were displaced in 2020. Until now they are as homeless as we are. I just need my home in Artsakh. I don’t need another one even if it’s a  magnificent castle. I am even ready to live in a tent but in Artsakh.”

(Marut Vanyan is a freelance journalist from Artsakh/Karabakh. He has worked in journalism since 2015.)

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