On the border with Azerbaijan, Armenian shepherds keep watch

In an undershirt, Ludwig zigzags between the broom. To go down to his sheet metal fort, you have to bend down, avoid being spotted. The Azerbaijani soldiers are only a few hundred meters away, on the other side of a ravine.

Since the resumption of artillery fire in the area two weeks ago, this vigorous 60-year-old shepherd has spent his nights watching the “enemy” through binoculars. Alina, the wife of this veteran of the three previous wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan, rooms him all day long: by dint of anguish, Ludwig’s wrinkles have become crevices. Alina, meanwhile, wards off stress by cracking nuts, and too bad if they’re still green.

In Kornidzor, a pocket handkerchief of a thousand inhabitants glued to Azerbaijan, the elders have known peace, but they no longer talk about it. The three previous conflicts with Baku took place in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on the other side of the mountains. But since the fall of 2020 and the last war lost by Armenia, the border has flowed back to the foot of this village. «And the appetite of the Turks (name given to Azerbaijanis, Editor’s note) is never satisfied», bodes Ludwig over coffee after his night’s watch.

“The army is understaffed”

At the start of the Azerbaijani campaign in Armenian territory on September 12, women and children fled to Yerevan, the capital, a four-hour drive northwest. The ceasefire, after three days of fighting, seems to be holding. However, Kornidzor’s men are not letting their guard down. Equipped with weapons and pieces of uniform recovered from the attics, this militia takes turns every day at the outpost of Ludwig.

For two years, the town hall has been transformed into barracks for the soldiers of the Armenian army. A pot-bellied farmer liaises there between the officers and the fifteen militiamen from Kornidzor. «The army is understaffed and cannot fight alone,” he justifies. He lost 30% of his land with the new border.

He spits on the ground when he talks about “gens d’Erevan”, generals and politicians, held here responsible for the debacle of 2020. The last war took away four young conscripts from the village. Their tombs face the mountains. Residents lay plastic flowers and Armenian flags there every week.

Since its victory, Baku has demanded the creation of a corridor linking Azerbaijan to its enclave of Nakhitchevan, to the west. Interrupted by the fighting in early September, the commission in charge of delineating the border should resume its work in November – if the ceasefire holds until then.

More bad news for the people of Kornidzor: fields north of the village will have to be razed to pour the asphalt for the future road. And no one wants “to meet Turks” on the outskirts of the village.

If sheep could talk

Or rather meet again. For “the enemy” once lived in Kornidzor. The Soviet Union was still standing and the borders existed only on the maps pinned to the cork walls of the administrations. Ludwig was young, but as far back as he can remember they had lunch together, lived side by side. “The Turks were tending our sheep, an underpaid job, but nobody complained about it. » His scars tell another story, that of an impossible return to the past.

If his sheep – around 300 head – could talk, they wouldn’t say it any better. Two years ago, half of their pastures moved across the border. On September 13, in the midst of combat, Ludwig’s son had his herd stolen by Azerbaijani soldiers. Ludwig posted requests for financial compensation to the authorities in Yerevan. Without answer. Peace does not always make people happy. In Kornidzor, she seems to have been buried with the four kids who fell in 2020.

——-

Nearly 300 dead in three days

On the night of September 12 to 13, the Azerbaijani army launched a military operation against Armenia, after which several localities close to the border were bombarded.

The clashes left nearly 300 dead, before a ceasefire was established on September 14. But the situation remains tense: three Armenians were still killed on September 28 in new border clashes, the Armenian authorities said.

This is the heaviest fighting since the 2020 Fall War, during which approximately 6,500 people lost their lives, including more than 3,825 Armenian soldiers.

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