By Felix Light
KORNIDZOR, Armenia (Reuters) – Vera Petrosyan, a 70-year-old retired teacher, said she and her family fled their home in Nagorno-Karabakh with just the clothes they were wearing and does not believe she will ever be able to return after Azerbaijani forces seized the region last week.
“I left everything behind. I don’t know what is in store for me. I have nothing. I don’t want anything,” she told Reuters on Tuesday at the large Soviet-era hotel on the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan that is now her home.
“We can live in tents, just let the children have their lives,” said Petrosyan, a widow with two daughters, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“I would not want anybody to see what I have seen,” she added, reflecting on the shootings, the hunger, turmoil and suffering she witnessed before escaping to Armenia.
Petrosyan is one of around 120,000 ethnic Armenians whose world has been turned upside down since Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive to take the contested mountainous region that Armenians had controlled for more than three decades since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The number of people crossing into Armenia from Karabakh had reached more than 20,000 as of Tuesday evening, according to Russia’s RIA news agency, and many more are expected to follow, despite Azerbaijan’s promises to protect the rights of the Karabakh Armenians if they choose to remain.
Petrosyan, a former history teacher, recounted how Azerbaijanis – like most Karabakh Armenians, she calls them Turks – started shooting in her village of Yegzaokh.
“The fighting continued for a day. We were so scared. We lived in a cave for two days,” she said, before being ferried away to the base of Russian peacekeepers where they stayed for another week before making the journey to Armenia.
In her haste to escape, Petrosyan said, she did not even pack any pictures of her son Artur, who died aged just 18 while fighting in what became known as the First Karabakh War of 1988-94 against Azerbaijan.
“His photo on my phone is all there is left. That’s all I have of my Artur,” she said.
Petrosyan dreams now only of returning to Karabakh, or Artsakh, as Armenians call it, but living under the rule of Azerbaijan – her people’s ancestral foes – is unthinkable.
“There’s no way of living there anymore. They have no mercy for anybody. Everybody is so afraid,” she said. “Even my two-year-old grand-granddaughter says: ‘Granny, I’m so scared of the Turks’.”
(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Alex Richardson)