Karabakh: Stepanakert ghost town disfigured by bombs

It took barely two days for Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Nagorny Karabakh republic, perched in the Caucasian mountains, to be disfigured by Azerbaijani bombing and emptied much of its population.

Tuesday, after a night and a rainy morning without explosions, Stepanakert was reminiscent of a ghost town. Its few remaining inhabitants, mostly elderly people, carefully ventured out of the shelters to see the damage or to get supplies.

72 hours ago and despite the resumption of Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities on September 27, life was going almost normally for the 55,000 people living in the window of the Armenian Republic of “Artsakh” proclaimed in 1991 and closely linked. to neighboring Armenia against Azerbaijan.

Despite the fighting on the front about thirty kilometers away, the population still moved almost normally on the colorful arteries of this clean city with a little provincial charm, known for the pride of its inhabitants, its fresh air, its pomegranate apples, its local vodka and “jangyl”, a delicious herb bread.

Then, on Friday, the rockets and bombs fell. A shower of projectiles, often very difficult to identify. The city now bears the scars, with in some places collapsed buildings, blown up shops and ravaged facades.

In at least two places rockets or missiles, apparently not having exploded, are stuck in the ground to the hilt.

“500 kilos! “

On the avenue of freedom fighters, the main thoroughfare in Stepanakert, many of the storefronts have been blown up. A cubic and soulless building, typical of the Communist era, but above all a neighbor of the local Defense Ministry, was particularly affected, as evidenced by the gaping windows and the vehicles gutted in the parking lot.

On a hill in the Sasountsi Davit neighborhood, the asphalt road and a two-story house were pulverized, leaving a ten-meter-wide crater and watermelon-sized asphalt fragments strewn over the rest of the road.

Its occupants, a fifty-something and his old father, are miraculous: “we were having tea, we barely had time to go down to the cellar”, the son, Vazguer Badassian, is still astonished. to identify the machine – of “at least 500 kilos” – which caused such a tornado.

Below is the “Artsvaberd”, the famous local furniture and sofa store, which was ransacked, possibly by the same explosion.

All the windows around have obviously been shattered. Broken glass on the floor shatters underfoot, curtains flutter in the wind from shattered windows.

An old man walks cautiously among the debris, including a few shards of sharp shrapnel steel. “I still cry when I see this destruction,” said 83-year-old Jamal Tadevossian, almost in tears.

“Here, we know the bombings”, adds the old man, bravado, “we live on these Armenian grounds for centuries, these Moslem Turks will never make us leave”, he launches.

Her sister-in-law’s apartment was two floors above the furniture store, but “luckily she was safe with us, in the basement of our building.”

Parakeets and bikes

In the cellar in question, around the corner, three old men bundled up in blankets are sitting in the half-light around a wooden table, religiously contemplating a candle, amid dusty bicycles and a pile of cardboard boxes. The older one is silent, his cap pulled over his eyes and his crutch to the side.

A plate of sweets, a jar of apricot jam and a thermos for tea are placed on a perfectly arranged flower platter. Food is prepared and reheated in a kitchen set up around a simple wood stove in a mechanical workshop on the ground floor.

Taking advantage of the lull, we go up to the family apartment, three floors higher, to get a warm piece of clothing or a little food from the refrigerator. A good soul has taken down the cage of the two parakeets, who are watching, with a questioning air, the comings and goings in the shelter.

In this morning without bombardments, a few cars, still driven by men in civilian clothes or in military uniforms, crisscross the streets often at high speed, ignoring the signs.

End of respite early in the afternoon, the warning sirens sound again and everyone returns to their shelter.

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