Fri, 07 Aug 2020

Armenians react to fighting with fear, martial spirit

Eurasianet
16 Jul 2020, 00:49 GMT+10

The outbreak of fighting with Azerbaijan has frightened Armenian residents of the border region that has been the scene of fighting, but has inspired patriotism and boosterism among many other Armenians.

The new fighting has been concentrated in the Armenian province of Tavush and across the border in Azerbaijan's Tovuz province; it is the worst violence this area has seen since the 1990s. Residents have been forced to take shelter as fire from Azerbaijan, including from armed drones, has targeted several villages there.

"We barely managed to get to the basement" when one attack began, said one woman in Berd, who spoke to Eurasianet on condition of anonymity.

"There always have been minor shootings but not to the point that our house was shaking," she said. "This morning [July 14] we noticed that they might be using some other artillery since the sounds were very loud. We got the kids out of here immediately and sent them to Yerevan." Later in the day, as the firing continued, the rest of the family fled as well.

"We went through this as children, so at least we know from experience how to react and what can happen," said another resident of Berd, Hamlet Melkumyan, in an interview with news website infocom.am. "But for children born later, this is their first experience, and for some of them it's unimaginable."

In Yerevan and the rest of Armenia, meanwhile, more of a warrior mood has taken hold, with social media users eagerly sharing videos of attacks on Azerbaijani positions released by the Ministry of Defense. To the first such video, purportedly showing the destruction of an Azerbaijani outpost by Armenian artillery fire, comments included "We are proud," "Strong army," and "Enjoy!" To one commenter who said "At the 1:01 mark there is a person flying through the air, war is awful," another replied: "Don't call them a person, they are trying to bring death to our towns."

The MoD has taken a dual approach to communications. One official spokesperson, Sushan Stepanyan, has been issuing more reliable information in Armenia, English, Russian, and sometimes other languages. Meanwhile another representative, the former official spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisyan now working in an ambiguous, semi-official capacity, has been making statements, usually only in Armenian and more aimed at rallying domestic public opinion.

The jingoism that has arisen, however, also has gotten pushback.

One journalist, Artur Khachatryan of Armenian Public Television, wrote on his Facebook page: "I believe I'll be criticized for this, but I don't understand the culture of delight over opponents' deaths."

Anna Hakobyan, a journalist and the wife of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, has been organizing a Women for Peace Campaign, and during this latest outbreak of fighting has been trying to calm passions.

"As an Ambassador of the WOMEN FOR PEACE CAMPAIGN I call upon Azerbaijani women and mothers to exhort the military-political leadership of their country to stop the hostilities, not to endanger the lives of the children of the Azerbaijani and Armenian people," she posted on Facebook on July 13. "A war should always be avoided. There is always an alternative."

Comments on her call were split; one wrote: "We commend you for spreading kindness." But another replied: "It is imperative to mention that Azerbaijani armed forced attacked Armenian Armed Forces located at the border of the Republic of Armenia. The 'fight' as you call it was initiated by Azerbaijan. CONDEMN the aggressor."

Another journalist, Artak Hambardzumyan of RFE/RL, also criticized warmongering social media posts in his own Facebook post. "Guidelines for when belligerent calls can be made: 1. If you are in the military or in any way connected to the ongoing hostilities 2. You are the resident of a war zone. In all other cases, especially from the cafes on Cascade [a trendy part of Yerevan] or the Glendale [California] Coffee Shop, it's just a joke."

The calls for calm, however, got their own pushback.

"The fake pacifism in social media, posts titled 'to my Azerbaijani friends' that some fools are writing, don't do it," the anchor of the evening news on opposition TV station Armnews said on July 13. "It's nauseating."

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