Ptghni village, Kotayk Province, Armenia (Marut Vanyan photo)

PTGHNI, Armenia — “Karabakh was sold. I blame the former and current authorities for that, but first of all I blame so called our ally Russia. They sold Karabakh now they have made Syunik a topic of trade. It was the plan of Putin, Erdogan and Aliyev,” said Sahak Sahakyan, a resident of the village of Ptghni.

He adds, “Let the Russian military base leave Armenia so that we can live peacefully. Let the French come. Pashinyan wants to go to the West that’s why Russia is pushing Aliyev to attack Armenia. Many Karabakh Armenians have come to our village, I know that it is very hard for them to adapt here, but where can they go? They have nowhere to go. They can’t live under Aliyev’s flag. Today, there are no Armenians left in Karabakh, so what are the Russians doing there? Did they remain as guarantors of vacant apartments?”

Sahak Sahakyan, a resident of Ptghni village, Kotayk Province, Armenia (Marut Vanyan photo)

Empty houses and the property of Artsakh Armenians (refugees) is another topic to talk about. Usually, they are pleased to hear that the doors of the apartments are sealed and are under the protection of Russian peacekeepers. But footage regularly appears on Azerbaijani social media, where it is clearly seen how they enter people’s houses and throw their belongings on the streets. Moreover, today the news about the demolition of the Artsakh parliament building became known.

Armenia’s Parliamentary Speaker, Alen Simonyan, says much the same as Sahak Sahakyan: “It became obvious in more than a dozen episodes that our ally (Russia) is not helping us.”

On February 22, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan criticized the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in an interview with France24, saying the organization did not intervene in 2021 nor 2022, and similarly did not prevent Azerbaijan’s attacks against Armenia. He concluded that Armenia has “frozen” its participation in the CSTO.

“Putin, keep your word,” “We believed you,” Protest in front of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Ivanyan (Khojalu), Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh. 27 September 2022 (Marut Vanyan photo)

In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that it is time for Armenia to decide on its status in the CSTO.

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“The statements of the Armenian authorities that it was Russia that provoked Azerbaijan to start a war against Armenia in September 2020, accusing us of everything, including betraying the people of Nagorno-Karabakh — let’s call a spade a spade, it’s nothing but an outright lie,” said Lavrov at the press conference following the Antalya Diplomatic Forum over the weekend.

As for why the CSTO did not intervene to prevent attacks against Armenia, the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, said earlier that it would be naive to think that this structure would intervene, while at the same time, he said he believes that Armenia should remain a member of the CSTO.

“All the CSTO member countries have much better relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, therefore it would be naive to think that the CSTO can intervene when Azerbaijan attacks us. It is simply out of the question. The CSTO is not a dead structure; it simply operates where everyone’s interests coincide, as we saw in the case of Kazakhstan. Should we stay or not in the CSTO, of course we should. First of all, there is no other structure to replace CSTO. We should remain a member of that structure, but not get our hopes up in terms of security,” said Kocharyan.

He added that in the case of Karabakh, the CSTO could not be involved at all, taking into account its status and the Russian contingent stationed there (which is still located there), was considered the guarantor of Karabakh’s security.

After the signing of the statement on November 9, 2020, when Russian peacekeeping cotangent were stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, the locals felt a sense of security and peace. They believed and wished that the Russians would stay in Artsakh, not for five years, as stipulated in the contract, but far longer, to guarantee the security of the Armenian population.

However, the shootings did not stop in Artsakh. As a result of the 2020 war, the Artsakh and Azerbaijani military positions were located very close to each other, and the Azerbaijani military regularly fired at Armenian farmers, preventing them from doing agricultural work. Such incidents usually ended only with statements that the Artsakh authorities had informed the Russian peacekeepers.

Ptghni village, Kotayk Province, Armenia (Marut Vanyan photo)

On March 24, 2022, when the Azerbaijanis occupied the village of Parukh, which was being protected by the Russian peacekeepers, Artsakh Armenians began to distrust and disillusionment with the Russian peacekeepers. Later when the only vital road connecting Artsakh to Armenia — the Lachin Corridor — was closed by Azerbaijani “eco activists,” the distrust of the Artsakh Armenians grew. A group of activists holding posters “We need true peacekeepers” blocked the entrance to the military unit of Russian peacekeepers in Ivanyan (Khojalu).

The desire of the Artsakh Armenians is being fulfilled today, but in a different way. Russian peacekeepers continue to stay in Artsakh, and yet the residents have left. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova cynically stated that there is no evidence of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh.

“As for the claims about ethnic cleansing in Karabakh, it would be desirable to see evidence. If there is at least a document by any international organization that is considered reputable in Yerevan, for example, the United Nations or any other organization… if there is at least one document or any statement that would testify that such ethnic cleansing took place, please provide us with reference to those documents,” Zakharova said in January.

Of course, the proof is that the entire population of Nagorno Karabakh was forced to relocate to the Republic of Armenia. No one leaves their home on a whim.

After the 2020 and 2023 Artsakh wars, Armenia’s Kotayk region accepted the most refugees from Nagorno Karabakh. About 20 families from there live in Ptghni village in Kotayk, locals say. Arriving in the village, one immediately notice them. Some are in a ruined church sacrificing and praying, the others buy bread from the store and go their rented home.

Luba Aleksanyan with grandchildren Narine (right) and Ani, Ptghni village, Kotayk Province, Armenia (Marut Vanyan photo)

Luba Aleksanyan’s family is one of them.

“In 1991, our home in the Khandadzor village (Hadrut region, Artsakh) was set on fire because of the war. We came to Hadrut and built a new home from scratch. It seemed that we would finally live in peace, but no, we lost everything again in 2020. My husband and I are disabled people. We cannot build a new home again. We are old, we survive somehow here in Armenia, without any help,” said Luba Aleksanyan.

“Every day, every second, I am waiting to return to my beloved Karabakh, if it is possible to live safely there. No matter how hard it was in Karabakh, it was home. Our walls kept us warm, a piece of bread is enough for me, just to be in my home. I don’t know if another war starts here in Armenia, I don’t know what will happen to us. 1915 (the Genocide) is an example for you. I have a feeling that we are in a pot with a lid on it, surrounded on all sides. I don’t know who can guarantee our security. I just want peace. I want to return to my Karabakh,” she concluded.

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