Russian poet Osip Mandelstam suffered a creative drought for five years. He was stuck, and only a trip to the then Soviet republic of Armenia, in 1930, managed to unlock his writing. In Journey to Armenia, Mandelstam talks about the landscapes, the people and the long and dense history of this country, and finds in the most sacred mountain for Armenians, Mount Ararat, the symbol that best expressed their pain after centuries of wars and loss of territories. Ararat can be seen from many parts of the country, but after the conflict with Turkey that followed the First World War and the genocide of the Armenians by the decadent Ottoman Empire, this mountain was within the Turkish border. Almost a century later, this time on the country's eastern border, Armenians see neighboring Azerbaijan impose itself on a territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, that many consider their own. This week, a new offensive has killed hundreds and the enclave's Armenian fighters have surrendered. In the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, and in other cities of the country, hundreds of people protest against the passivity of the Government and fear a new ethnic cleansing, but resignation prevails in the absence of international support and fatigue from a conflict that has lasted more than 30 years.
Gor, a 37-year-old father who runs a transport business and takes care of his horses near the city of Sevan, changes his gesture when asked about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: "Of course we are worried, we have many friends there." Gor served as an Armenian soldier in the armed clashes that for a few days in July 2020 pitted Armenia and Azerbaijan against each other over disputed territory. Despite being part of the Azeri country, Nagorno-Karabakh has a majority Armenian population and came under the influence of this country after it won the 1991-1994 war.
Gor, on his horse farm in Sevan. Josep Catà Figuls
Now, the self-proclaimed republic of Artsakh – the name with which the Armenians of the enclave baptized the State in the early nineties, but which has not been recognized by almost any country, not even by Armenia, although it always maintained tutelage and contact through the Lachin corridor – has been left without allies: not even the Government of Nikol Pashinyan, fearful of a new defeat; nor Russia, far from Yerevan; nor the EU, which needs Azerbaijan as a new source of hydrocarbons after sanctions on Russia for the war in Ukraine. "I was in 2020, we are their allies, but now they won't let us go. The Armenian forces have withdrawn and the government of the Republic of Artsakh has surrendered," Gor says sadly through Google Translate. Its proximity to the disputed territory is very large: with 120,000 inhabitants, it extends behind the mountains that remain on the other shore of Lake Sevan, the lake that can be seen from his home.
In Gyumri, the city in the north of the country that boasts its cultural and artistic dynamism, the thirty-year-old Levon is in charge of a ceramics and art workshop. A sign in his studio indicates that all profits from the sales will go to humanitarian aid for the self-styled republic of Artsakh. "It's a very long conflict, it goes beyond the last 30 years, and I don't think it will end now," he says. In addition to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, both countries have several territories inside and outside their borders that are disputed. Levon insists on the human drama that Azerbaijan's blockade of the Lachin corridor has meant in recent times.
After the bombings last Tuesday, which left hundreds dead, and in the face of the passivity of the Armenian Government, hundreds of people have demonstrated every day in Yerevan and other parts of the country. In the capital there have been clashes and more than 80 people have been arrested. Thursday, Armenian independence day, was one of the days with the most mobilizations.
Young people collect food this Saturday in the center of Yerevan to help Nagorno-Karabakh.Josep Catà Figuls
In many of the maps and magnets sold in souvenir shops, the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh are represented as their own, and in cafes, restaurants and even in the mobile application to order a taxi there are messages of support, but despite everything, in the Armenian capital life goes on. Full of tourists, mostly Russians, in the Republic Square there is only a police van and a dozen soldiers who protect the doors of the Government Palace, whose windows are broken after the latest protests. There is no more presence of the conflict, except for a few young people who, in a nearby street, collect clothes, food and medicine to send to Nagorno-Karabakh. The police ask for their documentation, roll up the flag of the Republic of Artsakh that they had on display – something that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago, when it could be seen everywhere, and which reveals how the Armenian government seeks to accommodate Azerbaijan's demands – and supervise their activity, but let them continue.
"They just want to control what we do," say Gohar, Anzhelika and Marina, three girls aged 16 and 17 who, like the rest of the interviewees, preferred not to give their last name. They consider that "absolutely all Armenians have the people of Artsakh in their heads", although they admit that not everyone mobilizes: "The elderly people are tired after two wars; Returning to these feelings makes them sad, and that's why they don't manifest themselves. Now everything is in our hands," say the young women. Gohar says the current situation is "reminiscent of 1915" — when the Armenian genocide began — and expresses fear of a repeat in the enclave now controlled by Azerbaijan. He also criticizes Pashinyan's government: "It says that everything will be fine for the Armenians who live there, but it is simply a lie." Anzhelika also laments the lack of international support: "It seems that if it doesn't happen in Ukraine, nothing happens. And people are dying."
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