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November 03, 2007


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Noel Maurer

I have to wonder how that will shake out. Do the Azeris really want another war? Do the Russians want the Azeris to fight another war?

But if I may, you did say in your last comments that you had some things to say about aid. But you never said what they were. So, if you really want to post daily, I wouldn't mind something on that.

It isn't like I don't have more to say either.


I don't really know about the Azeris, since I don't live there. My impression from a distance is that they don't really want a war, but OTOH they're still deeply pissed. And they do have a lot of money coming in.

Here's a thing: there are around half a million Azeri refugees in Azerbaijan. Only around 10% of these are from Karabakh proper. The other 90% are from territories of Azerbaijan proper, which the Armenians overran and occupied as "buffer zones". That's got to make it hard to accept the status quo forever.

Aid: in the next 27 days, I imagine I'll get to that at some point.

Doug M.


I wonder where the name Nagorno-Karabakh came from. It seems that both Armenians and Azerbajanis use indigenious words for the modifier. In Russian one says "Nagornyj Karabakh", with the "o" coming in only when the whole thing needs to become an adjective, as in "Nagorno-Karabakhskaja Respublika". Is it because that "-yj" ending makes so little sense in any transliteration?


Oh, I bet English speakers just didn't get to see the noun and back-engineered the name from the adjective in some official designation. Because one could write "Nagorny".

Noel Maurer

Re aid: in less than 27 days, I'd hope. It seems odd to me that you don't talk more about a subject that (a) you're an authority about, even if you don't seem to want to admit it; (b) is very important, considering; and (c) could start a very interesting dialog.

Joseph Eros

This almost makes me wish I'd gotten over my fear of being refused entry by the Azeris and visited Nagorno when I was in Armenia--but not quite.

I didn't talk politics with anyone in Azerbaijan, so I have no idea what they think of the issue.

Have the Iranians weighed in at all? It seems like they would have at least some interest in keeping their northern border quiet. But I guess they have a lot more influence over the Armenians than over the Azeris.

Doug (not Muir)

IIRC, the cease fire has left the Armenian side holding the ridge line and a bit more for pretty much all of the frontiers and relevant approaches to N-K. I'd have to dig up my old maps to be sure, but that will surely play a role in any Azeri calculations.

N-K plus occupied territory has yielded defensible borders, and that will be an issue. Shusha, for instance, looks to be an ideal place to put artillery to shell Stepanakert. Any attempt to consider the status quo ante is going to have to be comprehensive, as I don't think the Armenians are going to sit in their local capital the way the Bosniaks sat in Sarajevo.


You mentioned the new Karabakh hiking trail- the Janapar! I have no personal connections to it (though an aquaintance did help mark it while over there this summer) but I am captivated by the idea of publicizing it as much as I can, especially to foreigners. I think it's a novel idea and a nice way for outdoors-lovers to enjoy a different kind of vacation. Also based on your description the area is so beautiful there is no reason for it to remain a place only known to a handful of Armenians.
Rather melancholy, the part describing the Azeris who must miss their green homes. Of course in any discussion of the refugee situation the 400,000 Armenians made refugee from Baku and Sumgayit first before the war even started bears mentioning- though I'm sure (make that know) their hometowns aren't nearly as beautiful as Karabakh.
Then we have the tricky situation of the occupied buffer zones.. if Armenians were to adhere to the NKOA borders well it's so twisty-turny that it's completely indefensible. As a commenter mentioned with the territories Karabakh is a perfect fortress which analysts say even Azeri billions won't be able to break. The key to any solution is ridiculously complicated because Azerbaijan doesn't even agree to giving up Karabakh (though it essentially did long ago) let alone any other territories, but when you add together Baku's oil money and giving back most or all of that territory there is no enforcable peace because naturally if given an opening Azerbaijan will want to take it to get the whole thing. It would be such ashame for such a beautiful place to fall into war again- though the BTC pipeline being in place now complicates that even more because it's a clear target right near Karabakh. Azerbaijan cannot expect to make war on Armenia and not risk it- which while destroying any Armenian sympathy in the west I'm sure would look like a good act of desperation.

To Joseph Eros, I hear they often allow you to get your Karabakh stamp on a loose piece of paper and not in your passport itself. That would allow for you to continue to visit Azerbaijan because the Karabakh stamp is not in your passport.


Joe, the visa for Karabakh is a nice, colorful, peel-the-back-off sticky thing, that you can either adhere to your passport (and you would want to do that because it's sort of cool) or you can ask the super nice lady at the Embassy here in Yerevan to simply fasten it with a paper clip, which she will do without batting an eyelash or taking extra money for it. You can then glue it into your scrapbook or something. We have the visas in our travel box. I should put up a picture of them one day.

Paul, yes, the refugees. It's a bit of a difference if you get to live somewhere where you can make a living of a sort, or if you are kept in camps on a sunbaked mud plain for ten years and longer, no? But let's not get asinine and play the game of who suffered more. Everybody suffered, period. There's a good Buddhist.

As to the trail, that's some cool trail. Among many other great sites goes past a 1,000 year-old plantain, and if we didn't have the kids, we'd love to try and hike it, at least partway. It needs some nice hostels along the way, though, to attract major tourist traffic. And an airport nearby. And a 4x4. And peace. Peace would help.

The main tragedy of Karabakh is - well. Go to Shushi. It must have been so beautiful. You can just tell. The setting is gorgeous (and shelling Stepanakert they did, oh yes). Me, having grown up in a Muslim country, I was very sad to see all the wonderful intricate Muslim art and architecture just shot to pieces, and whatever was not shot to pieces is now crumbling down. It's a ghost town with few inhabitants, there is nothing done to conserve what they have and to rebuild what they lost. The newest building is a modern, ugly, gleaming Armenian church which stands there to make a point, and that it does.

I'm not partial to either side. That alone could be regarded as a crime, since I live in Armenia. But Karabakh shows the futility of war, the stupidity of the idea of solving conflicts with guns, the arrogance of men in green silk rooms...

Karabakh takes your breath away with its beauty and it makes you mourn the idiocy of men.


Nagorno Karabagh should actually be referred to as Mountainous Karabagh in English, since "Nagorno" comes from the Russian to describe rugged terrain from what I understand. At a newspaper I worked for several years ago in Watertown which arguably contains the largest Armenian community on the US east coast we enforced that point in our style guide. I don't know why no one ever caught on to understand that "Nagorno" was not an English word and didn't have to be used to name the republic, but whatever.

That church in Shushi by the way has been there for a long time. During the war it was where the Azeris stored their military hardware--guns, shells, and so forth. I think it was also used as a stable at one point or simultaneously.


You're right - the church is not new but it has been restored - quite differently from almost everything else in Shushi. It gleams, the rest of Shushi is crumbling apart.

The spent shells, btw, are now used to decorate the playground next to the church. Very weird. Must post a picture of that playground.

Doug M.

The spent shells decorate a playground that is empty, and obviously has been for some time... it's full of weeds and the equipment is rusting.

It's symbolic, but probably not in the way that was intended.

Doug M.

Doug M.

"Of course in any discussion of the refugee situation the 400,000 Armenians made refugee from Baku and Sumgayit first before the war even started bears mentioning- though I'm sure (make that know) their hometowns aren't nearly as beautiful as Karabakh."

It bears mentioning, but there are differences.

One, as you note, they weren't leaving someplace as beautiful as Karabakh.

Two, most of the Armenian refugees have been able to find homes and jobs in either Armenia or the diaspora. Most of the Azeri refugees are still sitting in miserable refugee camps. True, this is largely the fault of the Azeri government, which doesn't want to integrate the refugees because that would be admitting defeat. Still: on the whole, they're in a much worse condition than the Armenians.

Three, the Armenian refugees were a small minority in Azerbaijan. They may be missed, but they didn't leave whole cities empty. The Azeris, however, were a quarter of the population of Karabakh -- and over 90% of the population of the "buffer zones". So, Karabakh feels somewhat empty, and the buffer zones /are/ empty... you have ruined cities like Fizuli and Aghadam, "the Hiroshima of the Caucasus", and villages that housed hundreds of people and are now piles of rubble, grass and goats.

Finally, note that the current buffer zones aren't entirely about strategic necessity. They're just where the front lines were when the cease fire was called. You can certainly make a case that the Lachin Corridor is strategically vital. But you'd have a harder time arguing the necessity of Aghadam (which sits on the far edge of Karabakh, and below it.)

Doug M.


"The newest building is a modern, ugly, gleaming Armenian church which stands there to make a point, and that it does."

Claudia, actually that church is from the 19th century and was not suddenly built there for no reason but to stand there. It was used as an ammunition dump during the war when Shushi was being used to shell Stepanakert and was naturally the first thing restored. I think, taking on the Buddhist nature you referenced, that whether it's defiling a church as an ammo dump, destroying a mosque (though I have heard reports that the mosque of Shushi has been restored- not going to say anything for certain because I haven't seen that myself but I do know it as well as Aghdam's were not destroyed), or Azerbaijan's new policy of destroying every Armenian thing they can get their hands on in Nakhichevan (amazing Julfa cemetery is gone and nobody cares, not even Amb. Anna Derse of the State Dept who just visited. She was met with protests because a Harvard currently has an exhibit about this destruction and apparently Azeris don't like to be reminded that Armenians ever lived in Nakhichevan, which they most certainly did.)

My sympathies are with the innocent people on both sides who had to leave there homes for no reason. Who is treating what better on the lands they occupy today is irrelevant when compared to the massive human suffering (but I think it goes without saying that on the whole Azeri artifacts of Karabakh fare better than Armenian artifacts in Azerbaijan- what we see has happened to Julfa and the way Nakhichevan is today- 0% Armenian when it was 40% at the start of the USSR- was a major factor in what Armenians feared would happen to Karabakh and made the standoff all the more sharp before the war.

Sorry but I was just a little hurt by the way you non-chalantly brushed off the Shushi church as some new monstrosity (never seen it in person, but it looks very impressive in pictures, not ugly) when it's no older than the Shushi mosque and if Shushi had remained in Azeri hands after the ceasefire I have to wonder if it'd even be standing today based on their apparent state policy. Just make sure you check on the facts (that it was not built after the war) before making statements like that.

"True, this is largely the fault of the Azeri government, which doesn't want to integrate the refugees because that would be admitting defeat. Still: on the whole, they're in a much worse condition than the Armenians."

This is hardly a convincing arguement against the Armenians. Baku is swimming in oil wealth but it won't lift a finger to help them. I think some sort of happy medium could be found to at least help them a little bit (instead of those billion dollar a year military budgets Aliyev keeps wratcheting up!!) without permanently settling them. Armenia and its diaspora did what it could to help it's hundreds of thousands of refugees, and while many still have hardships today it is commendable they were helped. That Azerbaijan doesn't help it's own people is truly it's own fault and we should not completely fault Armenia for the truly rampant suffering both sides experienced at each others' hands. Also while as you mentioned I understand the point of having to leave a beautiful land- I don't think in the long run the visual appeal of the neighborhoods they left really makes a convincing arguement for why Azeris suffer more. Let's be Buddhist again, a refugee is a refugee and unfortunately there were hundreds of thousands on both sides. It didn't have to be this way- Baku and Sumgayit pogroms and Operation Ring resulted in hundreds of thousands of them on the Armenian side first. I have never heard similar tales of pogroms against Azeris in Armenia who then were made to leave in response. Once the war began all bets were off and sadly it resulted in the unfortunate situation we see today.

And I think that absolutely everyone agrees that Aghdam is going back to Azerbaijan, that's why it continues to be a ghost town. Missile could certainly reach Stepanakert from Aghdam, it's not far at all, but that part of the border at least is undisputedly going to remain Azeri if this peace deal can ever get signed. And definitely know that I'm the first one who wants to see that happen.


"apparently Azeris don't like to be reminded that Armenians ever lived in Nakhichevan, which they most certainly did"

I have to note that Armenians don't love to reminded that Azeris lived in Armenia, either.

Yerevan had thousands of Azeris, and at least three mosques besides the big one downtown. All gone now -- you can't even see where they were

The one downtown survives because it was originally built by the Persians, and the Iranian government rather pointedly and formally took notice of this. So it wasn't destroyed, but it's not being used as a mosque either... last time I looked, it was a "cultural center".

Doug M.

Doug M.

Um, that lost comment was me, not Claudia.

"I have never heard similar tales of pogroms against Azeris in Armenia who then were made to leave in response."

Actually, there were attacks in 1988-89 against Azeris in the south, around Meghri, and in some of the towns along the Araxes, west of Yerevan.

They were small beans compared to what happened in Azerbaijan... beatings, threats, and vandalism, but little or no outright killing. Whether to call them "pogroms" is a question of definition. Still, they were nasty enough to cause an exodus of thousands of Azeris, and exaggerated stories about those events helped ignite the Sumgait pogrom.

And then of course the Khojaly massacre, though that was in Karabakh not Armenia.

Aghadam going back to Azerbaijan: maybe. I don't get the feeling that the two (or three) sides are very close to agreement right now. I'd love to be wrong about that.

Doug M.


From what I hear the Persian community does use it- I am not sure because when I was there it was open but only construction was going on. Meanwhile all the proper mosque "equiptment" so to speak, the platform from which the speaking is done, the marker pointing to Mecca, is all intact- so I would find it strange if is never used to be in usable condition like that. That'd like Akhtamar having it's cross, tabernacle, altarpieces, icons, etc. but still being termed "museum" by the state. There is a reason why it's a museum, and that's because it's devoid of the things which made it a church.
Meanwhile the Yerevan mosque is a complex with other buildings around it and it definitely has more than enough room for such a cultural center within it.

Furthermore, I don't know how much of the mosque destruction in Yerevan over the years was Armenians trying to hide the fact they ever lived there (which of course some did until the war)... but you are forgetting an important component to this puzzle.
I am not some Armenian apologist- but you have to remember that NUMEROUS Armenian churches were destroyed by the Soviet authorities over the early Soviet decades. There was a beautiful one in Aznavour Square where the cinema now is. What a loss, but the Soviet authorities ordered it so. The only reason Catholike on Abovian was saved was due to finding an older chapel inside the church being dismembered which finally convinced Moscow to allow it to stay- but not before they famously built a building completely around it and completely hiding the fact it was even there. One would have to wonder, being that they were religious buildings as well, how many of those mosques were closed down by the Soviets and not Armenians. If they couldn't get their OWN buildings open, why would one expect any better for the institutions of the minority? That said I'd be more than glad to find out the true histories behind their mosques and when they were destroyed and by whom.
Yerevan barely has any churches and it's the capital of a Christian nation! Karabakh has two major mosques intact though of course not in use, and I know there's at least a third in Shushi called the green mosque. Funny how the Soviet authorities were able to do more damage to the cultural history and institutions of Armenia peacefully than a war did to Karabakh's!


"Aghadam going back to Azerbaijan: maybe. I don't get the feeling that the two (or three) sides are very close to agreement right now. I'd love to be wrong about that."

Despite what Matt By. has been saying I don't think they are close at all. I don't think either regime, Kocharian or Aliyev, has the ability to survive the compromises which need to be made for a reasonable peace. That said, I have only ever heard that Aghdam will go back when this peace occurs. Then again who knows what the final situation will be like if this drags out forever because the longer the status quo continues the harder it is to go back to the past.

Doug M.

Mosques in Yerevan: I'm talking about mosques that survived the Soviet period. They were still standing in the 1980s. I don't know if they were active or not, but in any event they were demolished in the early 1990s, post-independence.

The mosque downtown: I have the impression that there's an area where the Persian community goes to pray. However, there is no muezzin, no call to prayer, and no formal services. Perhaps the Christian equivalent would be a chapel.

The Green Mosque in Shushi is a ruin. It is still standing, and there is some beautiful tilework on the outer facades, but the inside has been gutted and vandalized, and I suspect the building is no longer structurally sound.

If you go up to Claudia's "Shusha" post? The photograph of the ruined interior is a photo of a mosque. I think the Green Mosque is the one in the background in the photo after that.

Doug M.


Oh then I'd be very interested to know where they were located and what happened to them.
Unfortunately Yerevan authorities don't have a good track record with preserving their past, period. It's not necessarily fair to have their actions be representative of the average Armenian's view. After all, if that was the case it'd mean that Armenians don't want to remember that the residents of Kond ever lived there, or the many wonderful 18th, 19th, and early 20th century buildings ever existed in Armenia either. Almost all of it's Armenian past has been swept away in the name of Lord knows what, progress? That former mosques found themselves a part of this clean sweep is not surprising and while it probably didn't help that they had been mosques, that's not necessarily the reason they can't be found today because the vast majority of old Armenian Yerevan can't be found today either. It's a sad state of affairs for such an old city.

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