A story of the Karabakh village of Shurnukh — a place divided by the war

22.06.2022


The second Karabakh war of 2020 divided the village of Shurnukh in the Syunik region in southern Armenia into two parts.


As a result of the adjustment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, part of Shurnukh came under the control of Azerbaijan, and 13 families living in this lowland part of the village were forced to leave their homes.


Many now call Shurnukh "The Divided Village".


After the Azerbaijani military was brought there, Shurnukh found itself in isolation, and now even those who have relatives there are afraid to visit. Shurnukh residents are adapting to a new life and are not planning on leaving.

The closer we get to the village of Karmrakar on the Tatev-Kapan road in the Syunik region, the fewer cars we see. At the Karmrakar checkpoint, an Armenian soldier checks our passports and asks where we are going.


Then the deserted road to Shurnukh begins. For several kilometers, neither people nor cars are visible - only occasional Azerbaijani positions and flags.

The closer we get to the village of Karmrakar on the Tatev-Kapan road in the Syunik region, the fewer cars we see. At the Karmrakar checkpoint, an Armenian soldier checks our passports and asks where we are going.


Then the deserted road to Shurnukh begins. For several kilometers, neither people nor cars are visible - only occasional Azerbaijani positions and flags.

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How Shurnukh was divided
After the end of the second Karabakh war, which lasted 44 days in the fall of 2020, claimed lives of thousands of people on both sides and left hundreds of people disabled, a new situation has arisen on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

After the 2020 war, when these areas returned under Azerbaijani control, the Azerbaijani military, with the participation of Russian peacekeepers, established the border, using, according to official Baku, the GPRS system and maps from the period before the first Karabakh war. 12 houses ended up on the Azerbaijani side. In Armenia, however, authorities cite errors in both maps and GPRS readings and believe that the village should have remained in Armenia.

On December 27, 2020, Hakob Arshakyan, head of the Shurnukh administration, was informed that the residents had only 10 days to leave the lower part of the village. According to him, they collected what they could from their houses, then locked the doors behind them and left.


Now Shurnukh is divided in two parts. Armenian soldiers stand to the left side of the road, Azerbaijani soldiers to the right, and Russian peacekeepers between them. There are no civilians in the Azerbaijani-controlled part of Shurnukh, only the military.

Luckily, so far there have been no incidents. Everyone, young and old, knows the border beyond which it is impossible to go.

After the partition, the village, as it were, became separated from other settlements of Armenia. Previously, it took 40 minutes to get there from Goris, but now, using an alternative dirt road, the journey takes about two hours.

Residents of Shurnukh sometimes complain, they say, let's leave. But so far no one has left, except for four families who have lost their homes in the lower part of the village. Others remained in Shurnukh, living in temporary houses or empty houses of their fellow villagers. The state is building new houses, including for the head of Shurnukh administration. For more than a year, the building of the village council has been both his home and a place of work.
Shurnukh Administration Head Hakob Arshakyan
“I often get up, look at my house, sometimes I see how the Turks come in and out (in Armenia, Azerbaijanis are called “Turks” in everyday speech – author). It is very hard".

After the separation of Shurnukh, he managed to visit his former house once.

“The border guards said that we have to give water to the Azerbaijanis for two days until our guys solve the problem. A Turk came and said: "Give me some water, please." I acted tough, but I knew I would give him water anyway.
I asked if I could come down to our house. I had two puppies, they ran off there, we had to go get them. And we went down together. The house was the same as before. Before leaving, my brother wrote on our wall that we would be back. “The Turkish military asked: “Did you write a curse?” I said: “He wrote that we will be back”. To which he answered: “No".

The head of Shurnukh's administration keeps this painting in his office. It was drawn by Western Armenian children for the servicemen who participated in the second Karabakh war

During the escalation of the Karabakh conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged refugees: almost all Armenians left Azerbaijan and almost all Azerbaijanis left Armenia, the Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas that came under Armenian control moved to Baku or other cities and towns in Azerbaijan. Most of these people left, fearing for their safety, many were expelled. As a result, more than 500,000 refugees from Baku and other cities ended up in Armenia, and in Azerbaijan, according to various estimates, from 750,000 to a million (according to the official version) refugees and internally displaced persons.
Anahit Alekyan moved to Shurnukh after the 1988 Spitak earthquake when she lost her house and hoped to build a new life in Shurnukh. She settled in one of the houses left by the Azerbaijanis, rebuilt it and laid out a large garden. Now Anahit can only see her house, which in an instant became the territory of Azerbaijan, through binoculars.
“I had a garden, the best in the village: raspberries, nuts, plums, garlic, I planted whatever came to my mind. Now sometimes I go down closer to the house, I look at it. One day I saw them eat the strawberries I planted. I could hardly restrain myself, I ran upstairs in tears.

On leaving, the 72-year-old woman took out everything she could from the house: a bread oven, a bed, a TV set, flowers. Now she temporarily lives in an empty house of a fellow villager. The conditions there are bad, the house is damp and cold. But she is not going to leave Shurnukh.
Raising cattle in the divided Shurnukh

The house of the Movsisyan family is the only one in the lower part of the village left on the Armenian side. But after the division, the family lost part of their barn.

Like many inhabitants of Shurnukh, they also sold their animals, leaving only two calves. The villagers say that it is very difficult to control animals: they always try to cross the border. And then you are no longer own them.



“We just built a barn, a big, spacious barn. We had 37 cattle and 100 sheep. As soon as the sheep were bought, the war began. My relatives live in Yeghegnadzor, we took the sheep to them. We sold cattle to the Yezidis cheaply.

Many sheep died during the journey, but we are still paying back the money on the loan we took out to buy them”, says Narine Khurshudyan.

She and her husband have been living in a temporary house for more than a year. She works in the village administration, and her husband is engaged in cattle breeding.

“I did not believe that the Turks would really reach our village and take our houses. I didn't want to take my things out of the house until the last moment”.

At first, all family members were afraid and distrustful. But now they have already adapted to a new life. Only the sons who live in Kapan and Goris are not allowed to come to the village often, they say the roads are too long and dangerous.
Guests rarely come to Shurnukh

In winter, due to heavy rainfall, the alternative dirt road becomes impassable and the villages that became the frontier after the war are even more isolated.

Often there are problems with food and basic necessities. The authorities deliver free bread to the residents of Shurnukh every day.
However, despite bad weather and danger, two schoolteachers come to Shurnukh every day from Goris in a military Ural.

“We didn't stop teaching. It was scary at first, but we came anyway. I said: I’m going back to Goris, I’m resting, I can sleep [calmly], but what about the children?”, says Nona Mirakyan, history and geography teacher.

After the war, Nona had the opportunity to go to work in Goris, but she refused.

“I was with them during a peaceful life, how can I leave them during this difficult time? Especially when I know that hardly anyone will come here to teach them”, she says.
Nona finishes lessons at around two. But she waits another two hours until other teachers from Goris finish their work in the neighboring villages of Vorotan and Bardzravan, so that the military Ural will take everyone back to the city.

She says that sometimes at home there are conversations about work, household members persuade her to leave the Shurnukh school. “But when I say: what about the children, everyone falls silent”.





















Nona says that she tries to give the children hope that everything will be fine. And they show her the trench they dug near the school. They probably think that in this way they can help Shurnukh.

Author
Lusine Gharibyan

Photo
Vaghinak Ghazaryan

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