“We advise against all travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and the military occupied area surrounding it. This area is the subject of a continuing dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia and although a cease-fire has been in place since 1994 there are regular exchanges of gunfire across the Line of Contact. Some areas may be heavily land mined” “The dispute over Nagorno Karabakh remains unresolved. The British Embassy cannot provide advice or consular assistance to visitors to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Although a ceasefire has been in place since May 1994, the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian forces are closed. There are no peacekeeping forces separating the two sides”.
This is the advice from the British Foreign Office relating to visiting Nagorno-Karabakh, who adopt a very low risk approach to providing travel advice. Little wonder that those British travellers who have heard of Artsakh, and have considered venturing into the region will be unnecessarily anxious about the prospect of danger.
I have spoken to a number of the Armenian community within the UK, few of whom have spent time in Artsakh. Some have mixed views about its position in the “Greater Armenia”, but most surprising to me was the occasional misconception about conditions and the status of the war, and whether or not it was a safe place to visit. Fear of the unknown always plays tricks on the mind, and can encourage one to create mental pictures based on prejudices, and false perceptions. It is almost impossible for these personal images to be modified unless one sees for oneself, or perhaps to rely on others to provide reassurance, and assist in seeing places for what they are, rather than a dark and dangerous “nightmare”.
3 years ago I had never been to Artsakh, and was just making my first trip to Yerevan. The prospect of arranging to visit Shushi and Stepanakert for the following year was exciting and the sense of anticipation and adventure was always on my mind. Since then I have visited 6 times, and have recently returned from a 3 week trip and have enjoyed being deeply involved in many activities from interviewing people still grieving from the loss of war heroes, through to the joys and tribulations of daily family life.
For those people reading this from Artsakh whether it be in small city life of Stepanakert , or in a far flung village in the outer districts of the country, will be very aware of the relative peace that exists throughout the land; this would come as a surprise to outsiders. The threat to personal safety is many times more real in the UK than anything I have witnessed, experienced or heard about in Artsakh. The fear of being attacked in the dark streets of most cities in the UK is a constant source of anxiety for people, and they would not consider that the relative placidity that one sees in Stepanakert or Shushi is really possible and will always be alert to a perceived menace.
For many years in the UK during the 1970’s and 1980’s the mainland was subjected to a sporadic bombing campaign by the Irish Republican Army, and more recently we have a silent threat of the suicide bombers of extremist Muslims which manifested itself on July 7th 2005 which killed 52 civilians and injured over 700. Despite this, people continue to travel in London from all over the world but there is a theoretical possibility that the next attack may be tomorrow. But London is a familiar place and it is not a dark, nightmare city in the minds of possible tourists; there are too many pleasant images of this vibrant and bright city for people to be overly concerned.
It would be easy to portray London, photographically, as a dark foreboding landscape with an intimidating and violent atmosphere providing constant distress and one which would deter people from visiting. Conversely Artsakh needs to be viewed as a peaceful place which now has all of the infrastructure of independent statehood, survives largely on an ecologically sound, healthy, agriculturally based economy, containing some profound and spectacular scenery, and populated by people who have an inherent sense of community and religious faith.
No place in the world is perfect, but every place should have the opportunity to be viewed for its positive points, and not condemned for areas of difficulties much as we should not do with individuals. My personal objective through my writing and photography on http://www.Artsakh.Org.UK is to present my perspective on the life and people of Artsakh in a way which I hope will give the casual reader a realistic and unbiased window into this enigmatic country.
Categories: Life and People Artsakh