KALBAJAR, Azerbaijan (AP) – In a bitter farewell to his home for 21 years, Garo Dadevusyan crossed his metal roof and prepared to set fire to the stone house. Dense smoke was poured from houses that had already been burned by its neighbors before leaving this ethnic Armenian village to be taken under Azerbaijani control.
The village is set to be handed over to Azerbaijan on Sunday as part of territorial concessions in an agreement to end six weeks of intense fighting with Armenian forces. The movement caught 600 people in fear and anger so deeply that they destroyed the homes they once loved.
The settlement – called Karvachar in Armenian – is legally part of Azerbaijan, but has been under Armenian national control since the end of a 1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. This war left not only Nagorno-Karabakh itself, but essentially the surrounding area in the hands of the Armenians.
After years of sporadic clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces, full-scale fighting began in late September this year. Azerbaijan has made relentless military progress, culminating in the seizure of the city of Susa, a city of strategic importance, and with strong emotional significance as a long-standing center of Azerbaijani culture.
Two days after Azerbaijan announced that it had taken Susa, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a Russian-mediated ceasefire under Armenian occupation outside the official Nagorno-Karabakh border.
Azeri Muslims and Christian Armenians once lived together in these areas, but unfortunately. Although the truce ends the fighting, it exacerbates ethnic hostility.
“In the end, we will blow it up or set it on fire, so as not to leave anything to the Muslims,” Dadevisian said of his home.
He spoke while resting to save everything he could from the house, including the metal roof panels, and stack it in an old flat-panel truck.
The final destination of the truck was unclear.
“We are homeless now, we do not know where to go and where to live. I do not know where to live. “It’s very difficult,” said Dentvusian’s wife, Lucien, who burst into tears as the couple took one last look inside the house.
Dadevusyan’s frustration extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Armenia and Russia maintain close relations and Russia has a significant military base in Armenia, so many Armenians hoped for support from Moscow. Instead, Russia has facilitated ceasefires and territorial concessions and is sending nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to enforce them.
“Why has Putin abandoned us?” Dadvusian said.
On Saturday, columns of cars and trucks with kilometers (miles) transported residents who left and blocked the road to Armenia.
Several locals gathered at Dadivank, a 9th-century monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as priests removed sacred objects to remove them. Many of the visitors took pictures of themselves in the area in the mountains near Karvachar, suggesting they did not expect to see it again.
Hundreds of thousands of Azeris have been displaced by the war that ended in 1994. It is unclear when some citizens could try to settle in Karvachar – now known as Azeri Kalbajar – or elsewhere.
Any returns could be difficult. The settlers will face the burnt, empty shells of houses – or worse. Agdam, which is due to be overthrown next week, was once a city of about 40,000, but is now an empty extension of buildings destroyed in the First World War or later destroyed by looters snatching building materials.
For the Dadevusyans, their sudden relocation is overwhelming beyond words.
“When you spent 21 years here and now you have to leave it …”, said Garo Dadevusyan, stopping, as the smoke from the nearby burned houses was drowned in the air. He soon knew that his home would be one of them.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.