Houses, livestock, crops: they had to give up everything.
In Stepanakert, the main city of Nagorno-Karabakh in dispute, the future is uncertain as Armenians exiled in the conflict with Azerbaijan have returned to their destroyed homes.
75,000 of the 150,000 inhabitants of the region after a new clash broke out in late September between former Soviet rivals over Karabakh, an Armenian outpost that collapsed from Bak’s rule in the 1990s. 90,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
Nearly 20,000 people have returned after the Moscow-mediated peace agreement signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 9 stopped hostilities.
However, many Armenians who lived in separatist-controlled territories for 30 years lost everything in a six-week battle.
In Stepanakert, there are several hotels available to displaced persons, with hundreds of people lining up each day to receive help distributed by the Red Cross.
Elmira Grigoryan, 70, received a small plastic bag containing pasta, sugar and cans. She struggles to hold back her tears as she leaves the line.
Grigorian once lived in a village east of Karabakh, between the Martuni and Agdam districts. The latter was handed over to Azerbaijan on 20 November.
Under the terms of the peace agreement, Bak was under separatist control and regained the territorial territory where the Armenians lived.
She said soldiers from Baku had “arrive soon” on the day of delivery and told them to leave.
“That’s why we gave up everything and left,” says Grigorian.
She added that they returned to collect their belongings with Armenian soldiers and Russian peacekeepers deployed in the area under the peace agreement.
“We went with the soldiers. We stayed there all day, but nothing.”
After collecting aid packages, Marine Sagsian, 55, returns to a discreet hotel room with three beds and no windows.
She is staying with her daughter-in-law, Anzhelika Astribabayan, who has a 3-year-old son and a newborn daughter who is only 6 months old.
The family once lived in Shusha, a historic town about 8 km (5 miles) from Stepanakert, captured by Azerbaijani troops at the turning point of the war.
When the battle broke out, they fled to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
“We’re back, but we couldn’t find a house to rent here. Authorities gave us this hotel,” says Sagsian, whose son works for the Kempeitai.
Shusha had a three-room apartment and a cow. “There is nothing left now.”
“It’s scary to be a refugee, especially when you have small children,” says 23-year-old Astri Babayan.
“Currently, I have 5,000 drums (about $ 10) in the next few days, but I don’t know what to do after that,” she adds.
Eric Manga Salian is angry.
A 35-year-old man with a scar on his face sometimes sleeps in a car at a friend’s house.
He is showing AFP journalists a video of him and another man capturing two Azerbaijani soldiers on his phone.
“I’m not a soldier, but I fought throughout the war to protect my land, our land,” he added, having to leave his home and his village.
“We feel abandoned,” says the red-eye man.
In Stepanakert’s small covered market, Nelson Aryan runs a butcher.
He was recently hired here and is staying with his son and daughter in an apartment owned by a wealthy resident of his village.
“The state helps us, but we have to find a job, not just depend on the state,” says Aryan. “If you have strong arms and legs, you have to work.”
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