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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Fragile peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
By Steven Eke
BBC regional analyst

I sit in a vineyard on the outskirts of Nagorno-Karabakh's main town, Stepanakert, the evening mist rolling down from the lush, surrounding hills.

Everything is peaceful, the only sounds being those of farm animals and the occasional passing car.

It is difficult to imagine this place at war, especially a conflict such as that fought by Armenia and Azerbaijan, which saw both sides commit appalling acts of cruelty against each other's civilian population.

Woman mourns killing in Nagorno-Karabakh
Ten years later, antipathy between Armenians and Azeris is still real
The two South Caucasus nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the unrecognised Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, saw ethnic cleansing long before it would again appear in the former Yugoslavia.

But while some of those who committed the worst atrocities there are now facing justice, Nagorno-Karabakh has not moved on. The wounds, Armenian and Azeri, are still raw. And who, really, in the West actually remembers the first signs of unrest here in 1988?

On one of the hills to my east, I can see the town of Shusha. From there, Azeri forces relentlessly shelled Stepanakert. The town's people could only have been sitting ducks.

I know that the antipathy between Armenians and Azeris is very real, and has existed for centuries. At every step, I hear anti-Azeri statements, usually mixed with anti-Turkish sentiments.

Venom

Most Armenians still seem unable to distinguish Azeris from Turks. Yet it seems strange to me that people who had lived together during the Soviet period could have secretly harboured such venom.

In Stepanakert, it is easy to think you are in Armenia proper. The Armenian national flag is everywhere - on lamp-posts, hanging above shop doors. The telephone codes are the same as Armenia's

On Wednesday, Nagorno-Karabakh is marking a decade of peace. Ten years have passed since the end of war, but peace is fragile.

Even now, ordinary civilians and soldiers alike die in mine accidents on the no man's land separating Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan. There is no peace settlement, and I cannot help but feel it would take the smallest of sparks to ignite the region once again.

The military situation means it is only possible to enter Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, along a highway leading directly from Yerevan.

There are no border controls with Armenia, and nothing to suggest you are entering Nagorno-Karabakh. Indeed, part of the highway leading to Stepanakert has been rebuilt, largely using money from the Armenian diaspora, most of which is in the United States.

I was aware as I drove to Stepanakert, surrounded by untouched forests, awe-inspiring mountains and fertile fields, that I was in what is legally Azerbaijan. For the self-styled Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has not been recognised by a single other country on earth. Even Armenia.

Sympathy

Yet in Stepanakert, it is easy to think you are in Armenia proper. The Armenian national flag is everywhere - on lamp-posts, hanging above shop doors. The telephone codes are the same as those in Armenia.

People in Nagorno-Karabakh speak about living in the disputed territory

The people speak Armenian - admittedly with an accent. They have restored the town, which is an attractive, green, relaxed place. There is tradition - with farm animals wandering the streets. There is also modernity - the ubiquitous mobile phone.

The people I spoke to made it abundantly clear: "We are Armenians".

"Either we live as part of Armenia, or in an independent state," said others.

"But we don't want to live in Azerbaijan, and we don't want the Azeris living among us".

The most positive assessment I found was that Armenians and Azeris could be "good neighbours". Nothing more.

What surprises me most is the local people's profound interest in the outside world. They want the world to remember their troubled republic. They believe that, whatever the territorial claims from oil-rich Azerbaijan, the international community will somehow be more sympathetic to their cause.




SEE ALSO:
Peace delegates visit parliament
17 Dec 03  |  Scotland
Scotland to host peace talks
12 Dec 03  |  Scotland
Georgian leaders hold key talks
10 Dec 03  |  Europe
Timeline: Armenia
13 Apr 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Azerbaijan
13 Dec 03  |  Country profiles


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