Nagorny Karabakh: 10 Years and Counting

Nagorny Karabakh: 10 Years and Counting

The Moscow Times
Tuesday, May 18, 2004. Page 11.

SAATLI, Azerbaijan — Tergul Husseinova used to live in a little wooden
house with geraniums in the window boxes and chickens scratching in
the yard. She had two cows and 35 sheep, and her family of five lived
a simple, happy life, she told me.

But all that changed 10 years ago. Armenian troops stormed the
village where she lived, and she was forced to leave. She piled
all her belongings onto a horse and cart and headed east to Saatli,
where she still lives today in a hut made of mud and straw.

Last week saw the 10th anniversary of the cease-fire that was signed
between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It marked the end of a bitter war
over the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh, and the start of
talks to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

But no one has been celebrating. The war may have ended, but tension
between the once-friendly neighbors is worse than ever. Earlier this
year, an Azeri officer on a NATO training exercise in Hungary hacked
to death an Armenian officer with an ax. He said the Armenian had
been taunting him about Karabakh.

Neither side benefits from the current situation. Armenia is all but
cut off from the rest of the world. Two of its borders are closed —
with Azerbaijan, to the east, and Turkey, Azerbaijan’s long-time ally,
to the west. The economy is in dire straits, and over the last 10
years more than 1 million people have left the country in search of
a better life abroad.

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has been saddled with the biggest refugee
population per capita of any country in the world. Some of the Azeris
who were forced out of Karabakh and the six surrounding districts now
under Armenian control are living with relatives. Others have moved
to Russia.

But the majority, like Tergul and her family, still live in makeshift
accommodation — railway carriages, half-finished buildings with no
heat or light, or corrugated iron shacks. The government has built
a few more permanent houses for the refugees. But relocating all of
them would mean accepting that Azerbaijan lost the war and will never
see the return of its lands — something no one here would allow.

On the anniversary last week, the Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev,
traveled to a military base just a few kilometers from the Armenian
border and warned that his army was ready to go back to war. But few
have taken him seriously.

Tergul says she just wants to go back home before she dies. But peace
talks are going nowhere and, in all likelihood, she and thousands of
others like her will never see their homes again.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.