Online, Armenian channels are rife with support for troops on the frontline, as a Russian-brokered ceasefire has failed to stop the fighting this week. But privately, the war is taking an emotional toll on families as the conflict claims tens of new lives daily.
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After Armenia and Azerbaijan declared martial law on September 27, soldiers and reservists were deployed to the frontline. In Armenia, volunteers also signed up, including ethnic Armenians from the diaspora.
Families in Armenia shared their experiences of the ongoing war with Al Arabiya English, revealing a mixed picture of their hopes and fears about the conflict and the future of their country.
“My cousin was completing his mandatory service and was called in. His father rushed to volunteer, they are now both on the frontline,” said Varduhi Movsisyan, a 27-year-old resident of Yerevan.
“We have to fight for peace to be restored. Artsakh is a symbol of our patriotism and independence,” said Nina Shahverdyan, 20, a student in Yerevan who is from Nagorno-Karabakh, referring to the territory’s self-declared republic of Artsakh, which is run by ethnic Armenians.
But this is coupled with anxiety as calls to uphold the ceasefire agreement were ignored, and hostilities continued for a third week.
“Every day we read the news to hear that more people have died,” a Yerevan resident who declined to be named said. “I worry that my son, who just finished his military service, will be called in.”
A war of attrition
The disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since 1994. Armenians say they have a historic claim to the land, which was an Armenian-majority republic during the Soviet Union.
Since September, Azerbaijan has sought to reclaim the territories militarily, citing the failure of diplomatic processes to resolve the dispute. What has ensued is a war of attrition, with heavy losses on both sides, and disputed claims about the extent of Azerbaijan’s advances.
Despite the ceasefire coming into effect on October 10, an operation to transfer dead bodies and exchange prisoners was postponed due to continued fighting. This was exacerbated by an information war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, about the realities of the frontline.
The current Armenian death toll for soldiers is over 600, and Azerbaijan has not declared its casualties.
For the families of frontline combatants, news is long-awaited and scarce. “My mother and my grandmother are waiting all day for news, I have to stay strong to keep comforting them,” said Movsisyan.
“We cannot call them, they call us. We don’t ask for information about their whereabouts. For now, no news is better than bad news,” said Shahverdyan.
Some expressed concerns that reports of military victories were prioritized, while losses were underreported. A dispatch published in investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, found that up to 300 military officers may have been gathered in a cultural center in Shushi, when it was shelled by Azerbaijani forces.
But overall, many people trust official government communications about the conflict. “I know that what is confidential now will be revealed eventually,” said Movsisian.
The revolutionary government
This decades-long territorial dispute has already plagued families, and Armenia’s economy, for generations. Shahverdyan’s uncle fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the 1990s, in which over 30,000 people were killed and a million displaced. “Now his son is on the frontline,” said Shahverdyan.
This new war plunges the country into further uncertainty.
It has shifted the priorities for Armenia’s revolutionary government, which came to power in 2018 promising economic reforms and to crack down on corruption. Now, it is focused on fighting a war on its borders, in the midst of a global pandemic.
Nonetheless, public support for Pashinyan’s premiership has remained high since the start of the conflict.
A new generation of Armenians, as patriotic as the last, appears ready to support their country by whatever means available. “I’m hopeful that there will be justice, and that the [international community] will base their decisions on the facts,” said Movsisian.
“A lot of people are ready to go to Artsakh and help rebuild,” said Shahverdyan, “They’re just waiting for a ceasefire.”