Nagorno-Karabakh: Peaceful Life “Inside the War”

By Leonid Nersisyan. 

In the night on April 2, 2016, Nagorno-Karabakh faced an unprecedented level of large-scale armed clashes since the date of signing an open-ended ceasefire agreement in 1994. The war lasted four days in April this year with no territorial losses or gains, but with hundreds of casualties as the only result.

 

Our special correspondent has visited the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and reviewed the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.


Artillery Strike to Put an End to This War

On the line of conflict between the Azerbaijani armed forces and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defence Army, the first point to visit was the headquarters of one of the regiments that ensured the border defense in the direction to the city of Agdam. The unit commander told us about one of the key events during this 4-day war which had occurred in the area his unit was responsible for. The Azerbaijani army has gathered multiple troops for a tank breakthrough in this direction. A flat terrain of this border area contributed to such a maneuver. However, Armenian reconnaissance units using UAVs managed to spot relocations and concentration of the enemy troops. A massive artillery strike was delivered to stop troops ready for the offensive operation. According to the regiment’s commanding officer, nearly 200 attackers were killed, plus three tanks destroyed. That day has become the end of this war – both sides signed a truce agreement in Moscow.

Gunfire as Part of Everyday Life

After our interview with the unit commander, we went to the frontline of Armenian troops deployed in the same direction to the city of Agdam. In this area, all the military personnel maintained the full alert status – strong fortifications made of stone and cement and reinforced with tires and other rubber materials, permanent emplacements, periscopes to observe enemy lines (the distance to the enemy was about 200–250 m). There were some restrictions to take pictures for security reasons. After the 4-day war, fortifications and reconnaissance systems were evidently reinforced and improved – the defense post was fitted with a forward-looking IR panoramic camera with high zoom options, while local soldiers received night-vision sights and IR sights. Empty cans and dogs used as early warning and anti-diversion measures were removed to secondary positions in terms of strategic relevance.

In the frontline area, the duty personnel basically operate in shifts rotated every two weeks, involving either regular troops (after one-year training) or contract soldiers. In Nagorno-Karabakh, for a considerable part of men, military service has become a routine full-time job, and one of the highest-paying jobs. When observing no man’s land through special vision ports (otherwise, there is a high risk to be killed by an enemy sniper), we saw a burnt Azerbaijani infantry combat vehicle and an engineer vehicle destroyed in April.

In the border area located 200 m from the enemy fortifications, we felt something in the air like a strange, nearly mystic sensation of long-time usual anticipation. The tragic events in the past and the doubtful future of this region changed people living in Nagorno-Karabakh and forced them to be aware of the current situation. Local people are not scared despite regular gunfire, even under the effective ceasefire agreement. To protect your own land and your own house – that is the simple truth that gives birth to fearlessness and incredible zest for life… just “inside the war.”