While the world remains unsure of what will happen in the region, the people of Karapagh do not concern themselves with such matters for they have already decided their destiny–freedom, independence, democracy.
“We’ve united… This is not Karapagh, this is Armenia. Let the rest of the world not recognize us, we don’t care, we are one,” said Gala Aroustanian, the owner of the Museum of Fallen Freedom Fighters of Artsakh.
With the help of other mothers in the area, she established this museum after the death of her son toward the end of the war in 1994. For Gala and for many others in the self-declared independent country, it is impossible to give up lands that have the stains of their people’s blood.
The pride of the people can be felt everywhere you go. They remain as strong and as beautiful as their mountains. The people seldom throw trash on the floor, and you can catch young men holding on to their cigarette butts until the nearest waste disposal. Often you will find smiles on the faces of the people walking down the street, and they enjoy giving you a cheery hello. Their hospitality is beyond belief. Throughout our three day stay in the region, we were offered food and drinks many times by strangers who expect nothing in return.
When I would ask about the possibility of President Serzh Sarkisian signing away the 7 liberated territories, I would always receive a bit of dismissal. “The government is government, the people are the ones who fought and freed our lands and ourselves… we will not give them away,” said Arayig, a freedom fighter who I bumped into on the streets of Shoushi. “Politics is a dirty game, but when it comes down to someone hurting our children, we are the ones who will respond.”
With an unquestionable resolve in her voice, Gala similarly said: “Let the President meet with whoever he wants, but he cannot make any decisions without the people of Armenia; without the mothers, soldiers, sons and daughters of this land. We have already solved our problem.”
Be it a statue, a symbol, or a grave, nearly every corner of this mountainous republic serves as a testament to the soldiers who fell while fighting for freedom.
Interestingly, young men who were only infants during the war, carried the same sense of pride and strength we saw in the elders and veterans. When asked if they would give up land for peace, 23 year old Masis Haroutounian responded, “peace isn’t something that can be sold.” A young Zorig Ghazarian from Shoushi spoke of the splendor of Sushi and the impossibility of it ever being occupied by Azeris. “Shoushi is the spiritual home of Karapagh, there’s no way the people will give it away. It is simply impossible.”
The OSCE Minsk Group, which has been mediating the conflict since the early 90s, continues its attempts to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karapagh conflict. However, what they have been saying lately is not in touch with the reality on the ground.
According to every individual I spoke to on the streets, if the US, Russian and French co-chairs of the Minsk Group succeed in pressuring Sarkisian to sign away land to Azerbaijan, it will only instigate another war.
With this in mind, the ARF Bureau made the same warning only two days ago. The possibility of war begs the question of the people’s readiness to fight.
For Masis the responsibility to defend one’s homeland is crystal clear and sacred. “Absolutely; I will fight. A lot of people might say that they will not fight, but if war breaks out, then they most certainly will.”
Zorig, meanwhile, told us of a story of a small group of youth he once met who cynically called us to just “give up the lands and get it over with.” According to Zorig over 90 percent of Karbakh’s population is unwilling to “give away what is ours.”
“Our people are a proud people, a happy people, a peaceful people, but a people who can no longer be submitted to foreign rule and oppression,” he states.