Memories of Stepanakert: Karabakhi reporter compares to nights in the NKR capital

On March 2, opposition daily newspaper reporter Kristine Khanumyan opened her article with the following sentences: “On the first day of spring the authorities congratulated people with truncheons and electroshock devices. From now on for me, March 1 is the day of truncheons and electroshock devices. People will not forget that.”

The 24-year-old journalist, a native of Karabakh, says that the first shots reminded her of the night sky of Karabakh capital Stepanakert under shelling.

“For me all that is perhaps déjà vu. I had lived through those scenes, but I didn’t imagine that I could deserve such a fate in my native country years later -- that my country’s troops or police could shoot at me,” Kristine says.

The journalist was in the area near the Myasnikyan monument early in the morning. She confesses that if it wasn’t her professional duty as journalist she would still have been among protesters. She says that perhaps she was very naïve to think that no force would apply against people after the early morning events.

“I saw people coming in groups. People were gathering from different sides and the square seemed to be cracking from the crowd that had gathered there. A new force awoke in people, they were not broken after the pre-dawn crackdown,” the journalist says.

Khanumyan says that she remembers especially the reddened face of MP Anahit Bakhshyan in the mixed crowd. She had been roughed up. Kristine says that police blocked Grigor Lusavorich street with trolleybuses and buses, dividing it into two parts. (Though this information is contradicted by oppositionists themselves who say they placed the buses there to set up their own perimeter.)

She tells of how those who had gathered there were building up barricades. “In any case, I would have done the same. Why are they being accused of hooliganism? In that situation, the troops closing up on them and shots, it was nothing other than forcing people to take to self-defense. They made the barricades from stones and pieces of wood,” she says.

She describes the reaction that followed the first shots.

“Women’s cries, shouts, whistles… I could not come round for the first ten minutes. I did not fear, the crowd did not fear either. In the situation when shots were fired at them (a claim disputed by officials), people simply thought they needed to defend themselves and not flee,” she says.

Like others’ characterization of something from an action movie, Khanumyan says that people had not come to take revenge but to express their rights of objection.

“I was sure that the authorities would give an order, but I thought that they (enforcement) would not do that. Because I did not see that malice in the eyes of police and the military.”

She says that she was in shock seeing so many troops, and, as witnessed by others, saw a police car driving into a crowd and running over one woman and one man (a claim also denied by police). Then the driver of the same car burst out of the car and tried to run away, but the protesters caught him and beat him up. The sound of a car explosion was heard.

“There was a little bit of despair inside me and a bit of anger when I heard indecent words against Karabakhis from people. But not against those people who were saying that. All this is the consequence of the policy carried out by our authorities. I understood, I said I was a Karabakhi, they saw me among their ranks. And I know many Karabakhis who participated in the rallies if they came to town on business. I am not the only one,” she says.

The reporter quotes from memory the words of a high-ranking police officer addressed to her: “Go to a safer place.”

“I simply said to him that I spent my childhood in the basements of Stepanakert under shelling, no one was telling me to go to a safe place. And now I am told to go, it is dangerous there, here in my country,” she says, adding: “The sky was bright with fired shots.”