At Front Lines of Armenia-Azerbaijan Fighting, Death and Fear Reign


Azerbaijan has not been disclosing its military death toll. But the government said Saturday that 14 civilians were killed in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, in an overnight missile attack by Armenia.

Officials say that more than half the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have fled their homes, though the martial law currently in effect bars men of military age from leaving the territory. Those who stayed behind include women who want to be close to their husbands, sons and fathers sent to the front lines. The coronavirus is far down the list of people’s worries, even though international aid organizations warn that cramped bomb shelters are spreading infection.

Alyona Shakhramanyan, 33, and her neighbors from the fifth floor of an apartment building in Shusha, the hilltop town, moved three weeks ago into a section of their dirt-floor basement. They fashioned a door out of a sheet of corrugated plastic and taped cardboard over the openings in the concrete walls. One of the women is sick — a cold, they say, that she caught because of the drafty air.

Ms. Shakhramanyan’s brother, who, like her husband, is at the front, has not been answering his phone. When she went outside to do laundry the previous day, she was frightened by the buzz of a drone. Rocket artillery hit the nearby Holy Savior Cathedral twice earlier this month, and the paving stones outside it were still stained with the blood of a Russian journalist critically injured in the second strike.

“No one helps us here,” Ms. Shakhramanyan said. “We are on our own.”

At the military cemetery in Stepanakert, the resting place of fighters who died in the 1990s, the authorities removed a retaining wall and dug into a hillside to make way for the new casualties. Amid the artificial-flower wreaths and simple grave sites on the freshly graded, rocky dirt, a man whose brother was gone spread his arms in grief.

“These are fresh — our guys,” he cried, his voice trailing off. “What is there to say?”


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