In the war over the Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh, many soldiers are willing to give their lives. Even after serious injuries, numerous men are drawn back into the fight for freedom.
Tobias Eßer reports from Yerevan, Armenia
“I was hit by a salvo of machine guns,” says Mesrup. “I had to have four surgeries – and then learn to walk again.” The 39-year-old Armenian is a soldier. In 2020, he fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh war against Azerbaijan, which claims the Caucasus region.
Mesrop has recovered from his serious injuries at the “Zinvari Tun” (“Soldier’s Home”) rehabilitation center in the Armenian capital Yerevan. He also trained as a photographer there. He now works freelance and photographs soldiers, but also the landscapes of Armenia. When groups of foreign journalists visit the rehabilitation center, he also photographs them. “As soon as I press the shutter button on the camera, I forget my pain,” says Mesrop. “Even though I was badly injured, as soon as Armenia is attacked again, I will take up arms again.”
The peace in the Caucasus is fragile
It is not unlikely that Mesrop will soon have to take up arms again. Because the peace in the Caucasus is fragile. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is primarily about the province of Nagorno-Karabakh. Mostly ethnic Armenians live there. Nagorno-Karabakh is striving for independence.
However, Azerbaijan rejects the efforts and regards Nagorno-Karabakh as part of its national territory. The conflict culminated in a six-week war in 2020, as a result of which Azerbaijan not only conquered large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and expelled the Armenians living there, but also occupied parts of Armenian territory.
Concerns about a new war have been burgeoning in Armenia for a few weeks now – because the rhetoric of the Azerbaijani government has become sharper. On Tuesday, the autocratic ruling President of Azerbaijan, İlham Aliyev, described the entire Armenian state as “West Azerbaijan”. In addition, the Azerbaijani army shelled several Armenian villages in the border area with machine guns and artillery. While few were injured, the shelling has increased fears of a full-scale Azerbaijani attack.
“The war is always on my mind”
Mesrop also believes that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan could soon escalate again. “There will never be peace,” he says. “The Azeris want to wipe us out”. The conflict dragged on for many generations. Mesrop’s grandparents once had to flee through Turkey to escape the Armenian Genocide. His father was also a soldier and died in 1992 in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. “The war is omnipresent, it’s almost always in my head.”
When Mesrop wants to forget the war, he goes to the military cemetery in Yerevan. Here is the memorial to the unknown soldiers who fell in the 1992 and 2020 wars. “It’s the only place I can sit in peace and not be overwhelmed by thoughts of my time in the war,” says Mesrop.
When he is in the military cemetery, he always becomes very humble. “I’m proud that Armenia has such men. Their heroism moves and drives us. When we visit their memorial, we always know what they gave their lives for.”
The 39-year-old would also do anything to defend Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh – including his life. Although he was able to reorient himself professionally in the rehabilitation center and found his passion in photography: “I would give that up if there were a war. Because if we stop fighting, we Armenians will die.”