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Articles > Tourism and Travel > My short visit to Artsakh (Republic of Karabakh)

Ara

 

The History of Artsakh Region

At different ages of its long history Artsakh was named by different names. It was called (Artsakh) which is used so far by the Armenian population of the region. The name (Artsakh) comprises of two syllables in Armenian language: -Ar- from Ara the Sun-god of the ancient Armenians and -tsakh- which means forest or vineyard. Therefore Artsakh means the forest or the vineyard of Ara-god.

In Arab Armenian Byzantine and Persian sources between the 10-13 centuries (AD) the region was also called (Khatchen) which is emerged from the Armenian word (Khatch) which means Cross. Since the era of king of Armenia Sardur II (765-735 BC) Artsakh was an inseparable part of Armenia.

The region was subject to the Seljuk Turks and Tatars invasions during the 10-13 centuries (AD) that led to the withdrawal of the Armenians to the mountainous strongholds and areas whereas the invaders settled in the flat areas. In the 14th century (AD) the name of the region was changed by the invaders to (Gharabagh) or (Karabagh) which means Black Vineyards to obliterate its Armenian identity.

According to the Gulisdan treaty (1813) which ended the Persian-Russian war Artsakh's Armenian principalities were transferred to Russia. In 1918 after the independence of Azerbaijan a name put for the first time on the map as a state the region became disputable with Armenia. The people of Azerbaijan were called Tatars or the Turks of the Caucas till 1930.

Under pressure exerted by J. Stalin the region was annexed to Azerbaijan and offered autonomy. On July 7 1923 the Autonomous Region of Mountainous Gharabagh was declared despite the objections of the Armenians. The capital of the region was named Stepanakert after the Armenian Communist leader Stepan Shahumian.

Because of the oppression policy pursued by Azerbaijan the percentage of the Armenian population in the region was decreased from 94.4% in 1921 to 76.9% in 1989. On Sept. 2 1991 the independence of Mountainous Artsakh-Gharabagh (NK) Republic from Azerbaijan was declared and a referendum was conducted in the Republic in the presence of observers from the former USSR and the world. 82% of the population voted for the independence from Azerbaijan.

The population of the region fought an armed struggle against the Azerbaijani forces which attacked the region which was ended with the victory of Artsakh-Gharabagh's self-defence army and signing a ceasefire between the two sides in 1994.

The ceasefire continues with some violations from the Azerbaijani side who threatens to restore to armed force to impose control over the region and grant so-called wide autonomy to the Republic. Negotiations between Armenian and Azerbaijani sides continue under the patronage of the Minsk Group of the Security and Co-operation Organization in Europe to reach a final solution to the issue. The NK Republic has a population of about 150 thousand and a total area of 5000 square kilometres.

My visit to Artsakh-Gharabagh (NK) Republic

During my visit to Armenia from April 7 to May 5 2006 I received an invitation from an Artsakhi journalist named Anahit to visit Stepanakert. I knew Anahit by the Internet. She works voluntarily in one of the news web sites in the Republic beside working for one of the newspapers in Armenia. On her request I sent her from Baghdad two articles written in Armenian about the life of Iraqi Armenians to be published in the web site she works. After publishing these articles some Armenian web sites in Armenia Georgia and Iran republished them in their web sites.

After receiving Anahit's invitation I decided to travel to Stepanakert on the twentieth day of my trip to Armenia (April 7-May 5 2006). I took a minibus from Yerevan's Central Garage located in Admiral Isakov Street. The weather was cold and rainy and in the middle of the way from Yerevan to Stepanakert 362 km in length the snow fell which I was seeing for the first time in my life!! Some of the passengers of the bus were so astonished to know this and I was obliged to explain to them that snow never falls in Baghdad where I was born!!

The way that took about six hours and half was mountainous and rocky especially the part that extends from the city of Goris in Sunik region southern of Armenia to Stepanakert. This part was paved under the patronage of the Armenian General Fund and the contributions of Diaspora Armenians. A great opportunity was offered to me across the way to get acquainted with Armenia's magic nature and see its mountains and valleys.

In the bus a man aged 35 or 36 was sitting beside me. He was an inhabitant of the region. When I talked to him I noticed a trace of a deep wound along his forehead and I asked him: Is this the trace of a wound you're afflicted with in Artsakh's war? He replied: Yes I was severely wounded when fighting in Martakert north of NKR.

One of the passengers of the bus was an old man who said he had a son martyred in Artsakh liberation war. His family also gave a martyr to the homeland in Sardarabad battle in May 1918. The Ottoman troops then had invaded Eastern Armenia to complete the genocide scheme of the Armenians carried out in Western Armenia and other parts of the Empire. Armenians however won the battle of Sardarapat and set the foundation of the First Armenian Republic (1918-1920).

On the way to Stepanakert a tank was placed on a high place. This was the first Armenian tank which entered the city of Shushi during its liberation and hit by the enemy. All the crew of the tank was martyred except one fighter.

I arrived in Stepanakert in the evening and Anahit was waiting for my arrival in the city's Central Garage. During the two days I stayed in the city I was hosted by Anahit's family. The house of the family lies in a rural district with attracting nature; high mountains and a river called (Karkar) which passes near the house.

The region is also called (the Pearl of the Caucas) and (the Switzerland of Armenia) for its captivating nature fertile land and the presence of plentiful water. The weather of the city changes in this time of the year as is the case in Yerevan several times a day from sunny to cloudy and rainy.

After arriving in Stepanakert I didn't lose the time and began wandering in its streets despite the rainy weather. I visited the squares and the monuments including the monument of

Gharabagh war martyrs and the martyrs' cemetery near the victory monument of WWII. One of the notable features of the city is the (monument of Grandfather and Grandmother) which symbolizes the long-lived Armenians and rises from the ground without a base.

The city of Shushi which lies on high mountains could be seen from the house I was hosted in. Pointing to one of the near mountains Anahit told me the Azerbaijani soldiers once got off these mountains and kidnapped Armenian young women but the Armenian inhabitants chased the soldiers and rescued the women from them.

On May 9 1992 the Artsakhi soldiers liberated Shushi which has strategic importance in a successful military operation. The aim of this was to stop the continuing bombardment of the capital Stepanakert by the Azerbaijani soldiers in Shushi which had lasted for several months and resulted in the stop of transport means and lack of food and water. 29 martyrs from the Artsakhi Self-defence Army fell in this battle.

Anahit told me about two martyrs of her relatives in Artsakh war with another whom she regarded as a brother. She was severely distressed remembering him and told me he was severely wounded in one of the battles and stayed in a hospital prior his death. Anahit also told me that she always remembers him and imagines that he is present and talking to her.

I met Anahit's youngest brother Avo 33 who had joined Artsakh-Gharabagh liberation movement when he was young in 1989 and then became a prominent fighter and a field commander. I noted during escorting him that he wins the respect of the people and the police in the street. I took some memorial pictures with him and Anahit.

I also visited the headquarters of the web site where Anahit works. I met the site editor Naira a widow of a martyr in Artsakh war and the editorial staff who knew me from the two articles I previously published in the web site.

Oskanian's meeting with University Students

Anahit told me that she had prepared a concentrated program for me which included attending the meeting of Armenia's FM Vartan Oskanian with students of Artsakh-Gharabagh University and giving a live interview to the state TV in NKR.

First I attended the meeting which took place in a big hall filled with audience. Oskanian talked on the prospects of resolving Kharabagh issue and said:

The wheel of the history couldn't be driven back as Azerbaijan wants after Artsakh had won its freedom and independence because of the precious sacrifices offered by the Armenians of NKR among whom the seventy martyrs of the Artsakh-Gharabagh University. Oskanian added that none of the officials in Armenia and NKR could accept the return of the Azerbaijani control over the region. He noted it is not possible to talk about the unity and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan as Gharabagh had never been part of Azerbaijan. This statement got applause from the audience.

Oskanian pointed to Turkey's policy of denying the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and Azerbaijan's association in this policy with the policy of Cultural Genocide against the Armenian monuments in Nakhichevan region. Oskanian also stressed that it is not allowed to leave our people once again before the plight of extermination. Armenia's FM stated that the red lines which none of the officials in Armenia and NKR can surpass in Artsakh issue are: Ensuring the self-determination right and the security of the people of NKR and its connection with Armenia.

At the end of the meeting Oskanian responded to the questions from the audience. I noted the students were asking questions in fluent Armenian while the lecturers were asking questions either in Russian or weak Armenian. I was told that this was because of the policy of repression and persecution followed by Azerbaijan in the region in the past. It prevented the education in Armenian and allowed it only in Russian or Azeri. Thus the Armenians of Artsakh were choosing Russian as language of education.

This was changed after NKR declared its independence in 1991 and the new generation is getting education in the native language which has become the official language in NKR.

In the State TV

After the meeting in Artsakh-Gharabagh University I went to the state TV station in Stepanakert which broadcasts programs for two hours daily. I had been the guest of a live program called (Barev) which means welcome in Armenian. The announcer introduced me to the viewers and asked to talk about the life of Iraqi Armenians today in general and the young in particular and my activities in defending the Armenian Cause. She also asked about my impressions of the first trip to Armenia and NKR and my own conception of the prospects of the solution of Artsakh issue and recognizing the Armenian Genocide by Turkey. The program lasted for 48 minutes and included reportages on the life and crafts in the NKR as well as folk songs. I also responded to many questions the program had received from the callers. The time of the program was not enough to respond to all callers.

After the end of the program the operator told me that many callers asked about my personal life and the city in Western Armenia from which I am descended. I had responded to the latter question in the program.

It's not possible to describe the joyful feelings I had for my appearance from Artsakh's TV in a live interview for the first time in my life. I didn’t imagine one day that I would have the opportunity to talk to the people of Artsakh - Gharabagh the struggle of whom I followed day by day through newspapers and media. I was impressed by the tenacity and the spirit of sacrifice they owned to gain their freedom and independence.

Anahit her parents and relatives had congratulated me on the interview. Anahit said in joke: My friend you're now known to the people of Gharabagh. The next day when I took the bus back to Yerevan the driver who recognized me said: Yesterday I saw you on the TV and I got special treatment from him comparing with other passengers!

I have much enjoyed this visit and the generosity and nobility of the inhabitants of Stepanakest in general and Anahit's family in particular.

It is necessary for every visitor to Artsakh - Gharabagh to taste its special herbal bread called (Jengal) which is similar to pasty. I noted the strict adherence of the people of NKR to their just cause their independence and recognition by the international community and reconstructing their republic despite its difficult economic circumstances.

I hope to be able one day to take part in reconstruction projects in NKR. During my stay in Yerevan an Armenian construction company which erects roads in Armenia and schools in NKR had offered me the job of construction engineer. This is my specialty as I had built two 24-class secondary schools in Baghdad in 1989-1990.

Ara Ashjan

Baghdad -  Iraq

Source: http://www.karabakhopen.com/src/index.php?lang=en&id=3&nid=1845


Added: Monday, January 15, 2007
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