“Oh my son!”: Kneeling at the grave of an Azerbaijani soldier killed in Nagorno Karabakh, a crying mother recites a prayer. In the distance echoes the sound of shells falling on the front line.
“He left his mother alone. He left his sisters too. May his blood not be spilled in vain”, continues the bereaved mother, cleaning the framed photo of the young man, who died at 29, and on whose grave floats the banner of Azerbaijan.
Aibeniz Khassanova’s son was killed in the early days of the fighting, which resumed on September 27 between Armenian separatist opponents and the Azerbaijani army. These hostilities are by far the deadliest since the 1994 ceasefire that ended fighting that claimed the lives of 30,000 people.
If no one knows how many soldiers Azerbaijan has lost in this renewed conflict, Baku does not publish a report, opposite it is at least 600 Armenian soldiers who perished.
AFP was, however, allowed by the Azerbaijani government to meet with the family of one of these fallen soldiers in the town of Quzanly, provided no details were disclosed about the cemetery or the circumstances of his death.
In this locality, mortar bursts and rocket fire destroyed a number of wooden houses, mostly inhabited by displaced persons from the conflict since the 1990s.
Elchane, the young cousin of the killed soldier, says the whole family tried to convince him to quit the army before the war resumed, which many in both countries considered inevitable.
In vain. “He wanted to be a soldier since he was a child,” he says.
“We were telling him to leave the army but he was saying + No, I want to stay, I want to be a soldier until our occupied lands are liberated,” the young man with the three-day beard recalls.
For Armenians, Christians, as for Azerbaijanis, Turkish-speaking Shiites, the fertile valleys and the mountains of Nagorno Karabakh are ancestral lands over which the adversary has no sovereignty.
The secessionist region is today mainly populated by Armenians, but remains recognized as Azerbaijani by the international community.
– Pride and sorrow-
For 30 years, all international efforts to find a peaceful solution have failed. And the humanitarian truce negotiated last week by Russia, the regional power arming the two camps, never saw the light of day.
After three weeks of clashes, Azerbaijan has certainly made some territorial gains and Armenia has judged the situation on the front “serious”; neither side seems to have taken a decisive advantage. And in both countries patriotic fervor is required. nagh
In the family of the killed soldier, it is pride mixed with grief. Taking deserted roads aboard an antique blue Lada, she goes to the grave daily about two weeks after the tragedy, despite the bombings and roadblocks by the military.
Garanfil, the aunt of the deceased, does not hide her pride for her nephew: “He was such a courageous young man”, she insists.
As the family prepares to leave the cemetery around which the artillery fire falls, she adds: “He died for his country”.
Elchane, the young cousin, is consumed with grief.
“I’m destroyed from the inside,” he whispers, crouching down by the grave, running his hand over the cool gravel, “He was such a brave guy. It’s very hard on us.”
“Every day we think about him,” he continues, “we try to cope”.
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