The photo at the top of this blog post was taken on 19 September 2019, just a few days over a year ago.
It was taken in Armenia, just outside a village called Sarigyugh. The official border with Azerbaijan is just on the other side of the hill. Well, I think it is. It seems to depend on which map you look at. The cease fire line does not always correspond with the internationally recognised border.
In that area lie several parts of Azerbaijan which have been occupied by Armenia since the 1990s, including the enclaves at Sofulu and Yukhari Askipara.
This is the Tavush area in the northeast of Armenia. It is quite a long way from Karabakh and Nagorno-Karabakh (those are the Azerbaijani names – Artsakh is what the Armenians call Nagorno-Karabakh) where the current conflict is taking place. However 19 people were killed in the Tavush area during border incidents in July 2020.
The photo was taken during a lunch stop on the 5 hour minibus journey between Tbilisi (Georgia) and Yerevan (Armenia).
It was a public bus service (marshrutkas, as they are called) and the service’s usual route (E117) would not go anywhere near this area. The driver chose to take it because of roadworks on the E117.
In September 2019 it was all quiet on the cease fire lines. Peace negotiations were about to take place, and according to the Armenian I discussed these things with, the mood was optimistic. Well the talks got nowhere, and now we see the outcome.
I would not dream of going so near such a sensitive area intentionally. The road the driver took actually passes through occupied Azerbaijan at least once. We saw a big Armenian military presence – including SAM missiles – at one point.
Apart from the actual risks involved, those areas are off limits to UK passport holders as far as the Foreign Office is concerned and going there would invalidate typical travel insurance.
I spent a lot of time researching how to travel between the two cities – I could have rented a car, taken the train or flown. For various reasons, the marshrutka seemed to be the best option.
Little did I know…
ⓒ iain taylor, 2020