Food, flags and prayers: Armenians show support for Karabakh
October 5, 2020 08:54 PM
On a street in Armenia's capital Yerevan, volunteers are carefully packaging food and blankets into boxes -- aid for refugees who fled Nagorno-Karabakh after clashes broke out just over a week ago.
As fighting has intensified in the mountainous region disputed for decades by Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan, so the Armenian flag and the near identical one of the breakaway region have adorned balconies, walls and shop windows in Yerevan.
The Karabakh flag uses the three colours of the Armenian one -- red, blue and orange -- with an additional white zig-zag pattern. Small workshops are busy sewing more flags across the city.
Armenian people and organisations have devised a host of different ways to show their support for Karabakh.
Among them is the Amur Tikunk initiative that provides both refugees and soldiers with food, water, clothing and blankets.
It also helps residents fleeing the fighting to reach Yerevan and finds accommodation for those who have lost their homes in the attacks.
"At first we started collecting all sorts of things to send to the front. Later refugees started coming in. Many families, children, sometimes without their parents," the project's coordinator Stepan Avakyan tells AFP, standing amid boxes of all sizes in front of a small children's park.
On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the shelling from both sides on inhabited areas.
For a week, since the second day of fighting, up to 200 volunteers in Yerevan have been taking turns to work day and night.
"Every day more refugees arrive. We need to provide strong backup so those at the front do not have to worry about their families who have fled," says Avakyan, 34.
Billboards have replaced their usual advertisements with messages in support of the Armenian military, one of them showing a soldier firing artillery in a cloud of dust.
On Saturday evening, a "national prayer" gathered large crowds in churches across Armenia and in countries with large Armenian communities. The service led by Patriarch Karekin II was broadcast live by TV channels.
The next morning, dozens of worshippers, some in tears, gathered at the church of Saint Sarkis in the centre of the capital. They prayed and placed lit candles in front of religious icons.
"Today I came with a special purpose because the situation in the country is very critical and I came to ask God for peace, for our country and our soldiers," said one of the worshippers, Aytsemik Melikyan, 70.
"We come more often these days, we pray for our children, for peace in the country," Levik Avagyan said in front of the church. "Azerbaijani soldiers also have mothers and loved ones, let this war end as soon as possible".
Nagorno-Karabakh, mostly populated by Christian Armenians, broke away from majority Muslim Azerbaijan after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s a war broke out that killed some 30,000 people.
The new fighting that started on September 27 is the worst since a ceasefire was reached in 1994 and there are concerns it could grow into an all-out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In Armenia, a social media campaign has been launched to call on the international community to recognise the independence of Karabakh, in the hope that it will make Azerbaijan pull back.
No country, not even Armenia, has recognised the territory's independence.
On Sunday, dozens of people held a silent protest in Yerevan, calling for recognition of the region as independent.
"We are standing in silence because Armenian people really feel like they're being silenced," one of the protest's organisers, Marianna Hovhannisyan, told AFP.