BY MARIA TITIZIAN
“The Azerbaijanis are once again shooting at the village…for the past thirty minutes now…
God bless our people protecting the frontier…peace…”
This status was written on the Facebook page of the village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur on January 10, 2014 at 9:00 PM. The mayor of the neighboring village of Aygepar informed certain media outlets that their village was also being targeted. Paravakar village also reported gunshots at about the same time.
All of these villages are located on the border with Azerbaijan in the northeast corner of Armenia in the marz of Tavush. According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, as of October 2013, sixteen villages in the region have been effectively cut off from the rest of the country because of the continual risk of gunfire from Azerbaijani forces. Most secondary roads are impassable, especially in the winter months.
During the Soviet era, a portion of the Ijevan-Noyemberyan-Tbilisi highway passed through Soviet Azerbaijani territory, through Azerbaijani villages. During the Karabakh war, that road was closed. After the 1994 ceasefire, civilian Armenians restarted using the road although it came with many risks and heavy losses, dozens were killed. They were fired upon but they didn’t have a choice. A close friend who is from Noyemberyan recalls that in 2001 he was driving on that stretch of the highway with his young family when his car broke down. It took him close to an hour to fix the problem and continue on with his journey. Almost 13 years later as he recalls the incident, you can see how it has shaken him, the fear of being fired on by enemy snipers while trying to protect your family isn’t a feeling you easily forget.
During Robert Kocharyan’s presidency, funds from the Lincy Foundation were used to build a new road that didn’t pass through Azerbaijani territory and was also out of range of Azerbaijani snipers except for a one kilometer section near the Voskebar-Baghanis stretch of the highway. Now even this portion of the highway is closed. An alternative road is now being utilized.
Thousands of Armenians living in their villages, working on their farms, trying under crushing circumstances to make ends meet are also living in perpetual fear because of continued Azerbaijani aggression. In the last week alone, the Azerbaijani military has violated the ceasefire agreement countless times not only on the Line of Contact between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh but on state lines between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the marz of Tavush.
The press secretary of the Armenian Armed Forces said that during this last incident different calibre weapons, including large calibre machine guns were used by the Azerbaijanis. Blessfully no one in the villages targeted were killed or injured in the attack. This time.
Toward the end of last year however, an Armenian soldier was killed and three others were injured when the vehicle they were traveling on a highway in Tavush came under attack. Another Armenian soldier was killed on December 15 by Azerbaijani sniper fire near the village of Movses. In September, Azerbaijani troops opened fire again on Movses and Aygepar. In the same month, a young resident of Aygedzor was wounded after stepping on a mine near the Azeri border. He bled to death because Azeri forces kept shooting, preventing his fellow villagers from getting medical assistance to him. In February of 2013, a resident of Movses and father of three children, Mher Yeghshatyan was killed by an Azeri sniper. Two years earlier the same village, which lies some 300 meters from Azerbaijani territory had come under heavy attack.
In fact, 2012 saw a serious escalation in border clashes in Tavush; some of the worst violence in years was unfolding just as then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region. In May of that year several Armenian villages in the marz came under fire until the early morning hours.
The worse was to come. In June 2012, the villages of Chinar and Berdavan came under heavy Azerbaijani attack. Three Armenian soldiers were killed and six wounded while fighting back a cross-border incursion by Azerbaijani forces. The following day, five Azerbaijani soldiers were killed. The Armenian Defense Ministry said they were part of an Azeri unit who had tried to infiltrate Armenian positions near the village of Voskepar in Tavush. On June 6, Azeri soldiers attempted to infiltrate Nagorno Karabakh this time near Horadiz. During that attack one Armenian soldier was killed and two others wounded.
In August 2012 Azerbaijan fired on Nerkin Karmiraghbyur…
The list goes on. The list is endless. These are stories we keep hearing over and over again. And along with the villagers, our young men are on the frontiers of our two republics, defending our borders.
Today, the Noyemberyan –Baghanis- Voskebar and Berd-Vazashen-Paravakar sections of Tavush are probably the most vulnerable areas of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh combined. Azerbaijanis have advantageous military posts along the border with Tavush with many villages in plain view of their snipers.
The soldiers along the Line of Contact, along the state border with Azerbaijan in Tavush marz continue serving under dangerous conditions. They serve for two years as part of their mandatory military service and then most go on with their lives. The villagers living along the border however serve their whole lives. From the moment they’re born to the minute they leave this earth, they are by virtue of their existence, on the front lines.