Fear of a new war grows in Armenia


To train, Gohar put on a camouflage jacket. It’s Friday night in an old gym on the outskirts of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The 27-year-old has already done several rounds of push-ups and squats, and now she has to take a weapons class. “The situation in our country is so unstable that every Armenian must know how to shoot,” she says. She considers this step necessary “in case something goes wrong.”

Gohar thus refers to the fragile ceasefire that governs his country and Azerbaijan. The last war in autumn 2020 lasted 44 days, and 6,500 people died in it. Six times a week, Gohar attends the three-hour daily training offered by the “Voma” organization. Although she has a job as a dentist and is the mother of a one-year-old boy, the woman does not miss classes. “It’s important that we civilians be prepared,” she says.

Others present to see it the same way. The session is attended by 25 participants, more than half of them women. In one corner of the room, they practice mountaineering, and in another first aid. According to its own data, Voma has trained some 6,000 volunteers, with courses financed mainly by donations from Armenians living abroad. The demand to register has increased enormously since the last war, they say.

Two wars, tens of thousands dead

The conflict between the two former Soviet republics has been going on for decades. At the center of the dispute is the Nagorno-Karabagh region, inhabited by a majority of Armenians. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the independence of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic was proclaimed, but the international community never recognized it. Shortly after, in 1992, war broke out between the then-militarily superior Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The fighting lasted until 1994 and claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people on both sides. After winning, Armenia occupied those territories, which international law recognizes as belonging to Azerbaijan. In the second Karabakh war of 2020, Azerbaijan gained control of much of the region.

The war officially ended on November 10, 2020, with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement. But one visit to the Armenian town of Sotk, just 5 kilometers from the Azerbaijani border, is enough to see how fragile that agreement is. In September 2022 the village was shelled by Azerbaijani forces.

The mayor, Sevak Khachatryan, shows DW a house that was hit by a grenade. “Here lived a family of seven people,” he says. Remains of walls, broken windows, smashed dishes on the floor, a spoon and a frying pan are mute witnesses of what happened. “It’s almost miraculous that no one was hurt,” says Khachatryan, who reveals that “everyone in the house had fled to safety shortly before the attack.” In a neighboring house, however, a young woman was injured. “She had come from abroad to visit her mother.”