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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 01:08 GMT 02:08 UK
Hatred blights Nagorno-Karabakh
By Matthew Collin
BBC News, Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh map
Nagorno-Karabakh remains a bone of contention
There are still signs of Muslim influence in Shusha, a rural town in Nagorno-Karabakh which was devastated by the war between Azeri and Armenian forces in the 1990s.

An old Turkish bath-house stands derelict, and the damaged minaret of a mosque once used by Azeris who used to live in Shusha pokes out over a gutted office building.

The ethnic Armenians who now control Nagorno-Karabakh are renovating another of Shusha's mosques as part of the reconstruction effort.

But no Azeris are likely to come back here to pray.

"No Muslims live here now, of course," says Father Andreas at Shusha's imposing Christian church, which has also been rebuilt. "The mosques are just historical monuments."

'Evil dogs'

More than a decade after the ceasefire, a lot of hatred remains.

Bako Sahakian poster
Bako Sahakian is the leading presidential contender

Valery Baghdassarian, who sells fruit and vegetables in Shusha's town centre, says the Azeris will never be able to return.

"You can't live together with an evil dog. There was bloodshed here and you can't give away land which was bought with blood. Shusha was never Azeri and never will be."

Nagorno-Karabakh is a tiny mountainous enclave within Azerbaijan. Violence broke out here just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, when ethnic Armenians demanded independence.

Some 30,000 people died and more than a million Azeris and Armenians fled their homes.

A ceasefire was agreed in 1994 after the Armenians effectively won the war for the territory, but years of negotiations have not delivered a peace deal.

Unrecognised polls

Azerbaijan insists Nagorno-Karabakh must never be allowed to break away. But Armenia says it should have the right to choose its own destiny.

Nagorno-Karabakh referendum 2006
Ethnic Armenians overwhelmingly backed independence in 2006

The politicians campaigning in Thursday's presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh say the polls are another step towards being recognised as an independent state.

"The main thing is that here we have a society that wants to live in a democratic way, and we understand that we're doing it first of all for us, not to show to anybody that we are so democratic," says the separatist deputy foreign minister, Masis Mailian.

"But on the other hand it's not bad to show to the international community that our population chose a democratic way of development."

However, the polls have been condemned by Azerbaijan, which says they violate international law and will be ignored by the rest of the world.

Poverty and hatred

"The separatist regime in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan represents nothing but an illegal structure established by Armenia on the basis of ethnic cleansing of the Azeri population," said a statement from Azerbaijan's foreign ministry.

Nagorno-Karabakh war
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bitter war over Nagorno-Karabakh

Despite financial support from the Armenian government and the huge Armenian diaspora, Nagorno-Karabakh remains a poor, largely agricultural region, struggling economically in international isolation.

"Karabakh was already a backward region in Soviet times," says Artur Gabrielian, the director of a vodka and wine factory in the town of Askeran.

"After the war, it is much more difficult to expand the economy. Again it's because of the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which prevents economic development."

While the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh continues, the poverty and the hatred are likely to continue too.

Regions and territories: Nagorno-Karabakh
17 Jul 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Azerbaijan
06 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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