Opinion: ‘Slow’ war at the borders becoming unfortunate daily reality in Armenia

“All along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border the opponent, violating the ceasefire regime, kept Armenian villages under open fire.” It may be cynical to say, but this sentence has become so common in recent years. But now the news is more and more about casualties among civilians… Although, if we look at the fact that since the beginning of the year – within around 40 days, ceasefire regime violations by Azerbaijan claimed 13 Armenian lives, two civilians among them, this ‘news’ becomes common as well, considering the fact that before we had that many deaths within a whole year.

At hearing another victim’s name each of us starts searching in mind for relative-acquaintances and when we do not find anyone, we breathe with ease, then coming to senses we realize that among two and a half million or even less, there is no mine or yours. On a small piece of land, on a point that can barely be seen on the Planet there should not be mine or yours, as we are so few that the boundaries of ‘mine and yours’ always intersect.

We, or some others, have convinced ourselves/us that we live in a peaceful country… however that ‘peaceful’ is felt differently on every section of the 300-400 km road stretching from the capital toward north-south.

For instance, in the town of Sevan, 60 km from Yerevan, where I moved three months ago after my 25-year-long life in the capital, peaceful, as I see it, is when the wind is calm, salaries are not late, the exchange rate of the ruble (most labor migrants wire money back home from Russia in rubles) is high, shopkeepers watch less TV and serve the customers more, and the culmination of shop peace – when the shop-keeper greedily crosses out names from his book of debts. People know very little about border shootings here, they surely heard that there is a neighboring country that regularly shoots, but very few imagine how harsh those shootings appear to be, making the bravest and the most indifferent shiver out of helplessness.

This is the ‘peaceful’ in mostly all provinces and communities of Armenia, maybe a bit different, though, in Yerevan, where the luxurious buildings, magical lights cast shadow on the reality. Nevertheless, in 31 communities of Armenia, more specifically in 10 villages, this daily problems of ‘peaceful’ are added up by daily increasing shootings that have nothing to do with peaceful.

And right here, on the edge of the border between two countries the small piece of land in deep misery gives away the weakness of the two countries’ and specifically their governments’ strategy, the work done, human treatment and the borderline of ‘mine and yours’ in general.

The northern province of Tavush, that has the longest, 300-km border with neighboring but un-neighborly Azerbaijan and is in direct contact with this country (I mean the intensity of shootings), with its 24 border communities and roads winding there demonstrate the connivance of the government. The country that still two years ago promised 7 percent economic growth, but hardly provided half of it, could not provide border community residents with jobs during 20 years, to be able to earn their families’ daily food.

On the contrary, President Serzh Sargsyan, with promises, as part of his pre-elections campaign for his second term, visited border village of Movses and blamed the residents for being lazys saying that they had to do farming and animal breeding, not knowing, or maybe having forgotten that professions, so typical of farmer, here would mean suicide: the arable lands are right within the range of the opponent’s fire and people working in the field become easy targets, increasing the number of sniper victims.

All throughout 20 years no strategic structures were built for the villages living in constant danger of war.

Only during recent years, when an upcoming war can be ‘smelt’ even stronger, private companies, individuals are trying to implement some projects, but even they do not always end in success. And the worst part is that most of the money allocated for border projects either does not achieve its goals or simply does not reach there. Thus, even the border, where our country starts and ends, where they were supposed to provide all means for the residents to stay, has become a best place for money laundry.

So much could have been done during 20 years that was not and that weakened even more the border guard living by caprices of two country governments.

Only during the 2014 August escalation, when the whole country was focused on the border, and only the Armenian armed forces provided unreserved defense, after official visits and long discussions, despite opposition MP Nikol Pashinyan’s suggestion on a 50-percent compensation of utility payments for border community residents, the National Assembly in October approved the bill about tax privileges for 31 villages situated closest to the border, according to which only two types of taxes – employees’ income tax and social payments were left to be paid. Earlier there was also a decision to realize tax exemption for the land that is under fire, although this was not as effective, because these lands are not used because of shootings.

Recently many military experts predict a possibility of renewed hostilities and say that we must get ready for it, prepare the people psychologically. They say we must get ready for it during peace, and during 20 years after signing the ceasefire agreement, which we never actually enjoyed, but the situation was not as tense as it has been during the last two-four years and there was time to act. However, our national arrogance might have made us once again change the rules of the game and be sure that we will not see a wide-scale war anymore. And let there be no wars, but then what is it that is happening on our border now, if not war. Some experts call it situational warfare, others – snipers’ warfare, some others – a slow one, many others simply prefer calling it a war of nerves. Nevertheless, the fact is that as a result of all of this each day we lose people, and if sometimes we manage to avoid physical victims, it has become impossible to avoid catching psychological traumas and many other diseases. And it is shameful to realize that we lose people not only from the opponent’s bullets, but also because of our government’s work.

In her journalistic work Gohar Abrahamyan has frequently visited communities at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and written reports and feature stories from there.