Nagorno-Karabakh: Fleeing conflict, facing the unknown

By Jessica Timings, IFRC.

The IFRC is working alongside both Armenian Red Cross Society and Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society, in coordination with International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners, to support people affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

On the outskirts of a small town, a kindergarten that usually resonates with the joyful sound of children is eerily silent. Just three children play quietly in the dusty yard out front. Washing hangs above a rainbow-coloured fence, the fading artwork of small children decorates on the walls inside.

This kindergarten had been closed because of COVID-19, but in the last few weeks its doors have opened to a new group of people in urgent need.

At its peak, around 80 people – mostly women, children and the elderly – were living, sleeping and eating here. The people arrived in waves from areas affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which escalated significantly on 27 September 2020.

One family of eight, a mother, her five daughters and two grandchildren, have been staying in a shared room for the past few days. They left their home almost as soon as the conflict escalated, recalling the walls of their home shaking from shelling close by.

“Our children were afraid,” describes the mother. “One of the boys could not speak for two days. That is when we knew it was not safe.”

The kindergarten has basic washing and cooking utilities, shared by all who stay here. It is unclear how long people will need to stay, and resources generously provided by community members are running low. Food and other essential items are provided by Armenian Red Cross Society, local authorities and other agencies.

Armenian Red Cross Society volunteers also provide psychosocial support to children staying in shelters, and to the wounded in hospitals and their loved ones.

“The humanitarian needs of affected people are diverse, from social and health to psychological issues”, Armenian Red Cross Society Secretary General Anna Yeghiazaryan says. “The Armenian Red Cross Society, which operates throughout Armenia as a neutral, independent organization, is committed to doing everything it can to respond to these needs.”

“As winter arrives, the needs of these people will multiply. We are working to ensure continued access to basic services and necessities, including heated accommodation, electricity, water, and support to host families.”

Though the ceasefire announcement has meant that some have returned to their homes, more are afraid to go back. The family of eight is among those who feel they cannot yet return, but do not know where they can go from here.

Many children are unable to attend school, though some have been able to attend schools near their temporary places of shelter.

“I am in my last year of school, I want to finish. I am planning to continue my education at university next year, but I don’t know whether I will be able to get back to school,” shares one of the young women staying at the kindergarten.

“We want people to know we are here, we exist, we are not forgotten.”

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