On our expedition along the frontline between the NKR and Azerbaijan, passing by the ghost villages kept in ruins, what struck me was the lethargic state of those houses virtually razed to the ground and the surreal stillness surrounding them. A stillness which was twice interrupted: the first time by the radio searching in vain for any type of music until it managed to detect a station broadcasting in English: Abu Dhabi FM. The second time, not far from the frontline, an oasis of coloured roofs announced their presence through the deafening sounds of some strident music. Amidst that wilderness, we came across a sort of complex which is rented out for private parties: an L-shaped house, two covered terraces, several motel-like rooms and a swimming pool. At noon, a pack of teenagers in evening dress had just gotten the party started. They were celebrating a girl’s birthday; the birthday girl herself told us in English that wasn’t a restaurant, but we were welcome to join them. A middle-aged guy was filming the whole thing as if it were a wedding.
I felt the same wave of surprise wash over me when I met Lusine Musayelyan. Her exuberant optimism and fearlessness seem almost surrealist in the context of the situation in the region. Lusine is a journalist from Stepanakert, the only one to collaborate with the independent press of the NKR: IWPR, Radio Free Europe and Caucasian Knot. She is 25 and her childhood was marked by the terror of war. Her father was actively engaged in the conflict and was killed in action. At the beginning of the ‘90s, Lusine lived and went to school in bunkers, under Azeri bombardment, for almost two years. Her sister was born in a hospital set up in a bunker. Lusine said she has had enough of the ongoing hate between Armenians and Azerbaijani; she also regretted not being allowed to visit Azerbaijan. Actually, no Armenian is allowed to. She has journalist friends in Azerbaijan whom she meets at various seminars in neutral countries such as Georgia or Ukraine.
Lusine believes the press in the NKR is nonexistent as it’s under complete government control. Nobody criticizes the local government and the manner in which public money is spent constitutes a military secret. She is very upset with the company which holds a monopoly over the only telephone and Internet network (Karabakh Telekom). An arranged contract allows the company (owned by an Armenian-Lebanese) to set very high prices and a lousy Internet connection. Lusine often has to work from the computers of a government centre for bloggers where the access is free, though you might have the surprise to find out you’re being tapped by the NKR National Security Service.
The Armenian Diaspora regularly visits the region; a visit to Karabakh is similar to a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca. However, very few decide to stay. In Shushi, ten kilometres from Stepanakert, we met an Armenian couple: he is a French Armenian from Marseille and she is a Romanian from Oradea. Armen de Shoushi met Cristina on the Internet. Seven months ago he convinced her to move to the NKR where Armen has been living since 2004. The housing issue was solved a long time ago. When he settled here, the mayor told him to choose an apartment in one of the many, almost crumbling, buildings. He chose two apartments which he joined together, renovated and put up in international travel guides as accommodation (bed & breakfast). He has the right to use the apartments for life, but he cannot sell them. The evening we went over to their house Cristina was eagerly waiting for her parents’ answer to the news she had sent them via e-mail: she and Armen are getting married.