BAKU, Azerbaijan – Last October, Yusif Budakov, a young sniper fighting in the Azerbaijani army in the battle for Nagorno-Karabakh, was killed two weeks after his 23rd birthday. The man was murdered on his 70th birthday, as one of the thousands of victims of the conflict with Armenia.
His family still mourns him and covers their house with pictures of his childhood and the first days of the war. There is little chance of reconciliation with Armenia now, the fight is over, said his mother, Latafa Budakov.
It’s impossible, she says. They came to our country and our children died because of them.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at loggerheads for years over their claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for nearly three decades.
Last fall, Azerbaijani troops recaptured much of the country. A ceasefire negotiated by Russia in November was to end the dispute over the Bergex enclave.
Truck burned on the side of the road in the Kelbajar region of Azerbaijan.
But the scale of losses on both sides and deep-seated enmity make it difficult to move forward and rebuild the devastated province, leaving it not only in the hands of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
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There has been much tragedy on both sides. The wounds are very deep, said Natig Jafarli, an Azerbaijani opposition politician.
According to the country’s defense ministry, during the six weeks of fighting that began on the 27th. September, killed about 2,855 Azerbaijani soldiers. More than 100 people are still missing. Armenian authorities speak of more than 3,000 soldiers killed, and the total number of civilian casualties is about 150, according to official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.
There have been many tragedies on both sides. The wounds are very deep, said Natig Jafarli, an Azerbaijani opposition politician who heads a research organization that he said works to bring Azeris and Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh together to promote some reconciliation.
Both sides accuse each other of fomenting the conflict last fall. Although both are former Soviet republics, they are separated by culture, religion and allegiance to the great powers of the region. Azerbaijan has ties with Turkey, and Armenia has strong ties with Russia, which has military bases there.
The dispute over who should control Nagorno-Karabakh at the Delaware level could also reignite if the two sides fail to build bridges between them.
Many Armenians have already called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for conceding to the ceasefire, condemning it as an act of surrender. Representatives of the Armenian diaspora in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are warning Azerbaijan of the need to provide equal rights and protection for Armenians who choose to return to Azerbaijani-controlled areas.
Azerbaijani authorities accuse Armenian forces of using banned cluster bombs against some Azerbaijani towns such as Barda during the autumn conflict, confirms a recent report by Amnesty International.
Azerbaijani flags adorn the center of Baku, some with the slogan Karabakh is ours.
A photo of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hangs in a car in Baku.
Both sides also accused each other of continuing to mistreat prisoners of war. They both dispute each other’s claims.
President Ilham Aliyev’s top political adviser has acknowledged that finding common ground will be difficult, but both sides have already agreed to work together to revive Nagorno-Karabakh’s devastated economy and strengthen trade and rail links, a key element of a peace deal. The deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia are expected to arrive in Moscow on Saturday for talks.
In any military operation, it is sometimes much easier to win war than peace, Hajiyev said.
Hikmet Hajiyev, senior political advisor to the President of Azerbaijan, stated that it is difficult to find common ground between the two parties.
Political scientist Ali Hajizadeh said in Baku that without reconciliation between Azerbaijanis and ordinary Armenians, a lasting peace will not be possible. It’s an achievable goal, but it’s not possible at this time, he said.
Azerbaijan seems to be gaining the upper hand in the peace process. Financed in part by its oil wealth, its military capacity exceeds that of Armenia. Restoring the territories Armenia lost in the collapse of the Soviet Union has long been a goal of its leaders, and the enthusiasm for territorial gains in Nagorno-Karabakh is clear.
There have been celebrations throughout Azerbaijan since the signing of the ceasefire and local media are still bragging about this triumph. In the immigration and baggage halls of Baku International Airport, signs hang on the walls and above the passport control booths, welcoming arriving passengers with explanations: Karabakh is ours. Karabakh is Azerbaijan.
For the past 30 years, Azerbaijan’s social life, economic life and foreign policy have been devoted to a single issue – Nagorno-Karabakh, said Ahmad Alili, director of the Caucasus Policy Analysis Center, an independent think tank in Baku.
MartelarenlaanBaku, cemetery and memorial for the dead of the Soviet army.
On Martyrs’ Avenue, the grave of a soldier killed during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992.
Those who have lost loved ones in the conflict, however, want their sacrifice not to be overlooked as both countries begin to work toward a lasting peace, he warns.
The only thing left for the parents or wife of a fallen soldier is that the name of their son or husband is not forgotten, Mr Alili said.
In a recent phone conversation with her son, Ms. Budakova told him to be careful. He told him that the day before their phone conversation, some 20 Azerbaijani soldiers had been killed in Fizuli, a region that Azerbaijan had rebuilt. Mr. Budakov went there to help secure the area before the bodies were removed.
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When the artillery fire came, he was caught in the crossfire. The bullet severed an artery in his leg and he bled to death, his mother was told.
She and her sister mourn their loss in the living room, which also serves as a refuge for Mr. Budakov. Posters with his picture hang on the outside doors and gates, as they do for other families who lost children in the war. The interior walls are covered with collages of photos from his childhood and the time he joined the army. His picture adorns a wall clock hanging next to one of his early army uniforms.
Ms Budagova said she was not afraid to go to the front and added that she believed the war would be worthwhile if Azerbaijan regained the land it had lost.
But if my son were still here, it would be much better, she said.
Mrs Budagova and her sister live in a one-room apartment in Baku, which they have decorated with pictures of their son.
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frequently asked questions
Who will win the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
When the dust had settled, Azerbaijan emerged victorious, while Armenia suffered a crushing defeat. However, two other powers have benefited from the conflict and efforts to resolve it: Turkey and Russia.
Is Nagorno-Karabakh a part of Armenia or Azerbaijan?
Nagorny Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan, but its population is predominantly Armenian. In the 1980s, as tensions rose between the Soviet Union’s republics, Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become part of Armenia, leading to a war that ended with a cease-fire in 1994.
How did Armenia win the war?
But it won the war in the early 1990s largely thanks to two factors: Internal unrest in Azerbaijan and Russia’s support for Yerevan. These factors contributed to Armenia’s takeover of Nagorny Karabakh, as well as of a much larger area adjacent to the enclave, where nearly 750,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to flee.