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Armenia: Limited access to education – the unseen consequence of conflict

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Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,

Text by ICRC

The ICRC has been present in communities located on both sides along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, helping the affected populations mitigate the consequences of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Our activities have addressed some of the primary concerns of people living in these areas, such as security, access to farmland and water, emergency health care as well as issues of economic, social and psychological well-being.

In 2019, we embarked on a process of enhancing meaningful and permanent access to education for children living in villages on both sides of the border. It is critical that children receive quality and competitive educational services despite the insecurity and volatility of their situation.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

Here’s Satenik, one of the kids who surrounds us as we arrive at Khndzorut, an Armenian village situated on the border with Azerbaijan. Her first question is if we speak English. Learning that we do, she looks at us with delight and then shares her dream of becoming an English interpreter and traveling to the United States.

But, her school has no English teacher.

Being cut off from the humdrum of a busy life, the tiny border village of Khndzorut does not have much to offer, and the school epitomizes that. While the school routine of around a hundred children may look anything but unconventional, its conditions are striking.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

The ramshackle building hasn’t been renovated in five decades, turning into a gloomy and cold place. This dullness is even more stark during winter, when there is no heating or hot water. Humidity is also a problem here – grass and roots inhabit the classrooms as much as the kids do, and moss paints the corridor walls a deep green.

We can smell the mould and hear the floor crack under our feet in the sports hall. With temperatures dipping very low during winter, it’s impossible to use the space for any physical education classes.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

The half-destroyed school buffet is no better. The gadgets don’t function properly and water freezes in the tap. A part of this space is used to serve food to younger students during summer. For the remainder of the year, the tiny place under the stairs turns into a dining area.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

The poor condition of Khndzorut school adds to the vulnerability of living along the border, which needless to say, has a tremendous impact on children.

In a large concert hall, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has walled in windows for heightened safety. It is a temporary refuge in case of shooting or shelling. The cracks in the walls intersect with posters about danger of landmines and how to stay safe. It’s been 27 years since the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted and the border schools in both Armenia and Azerbaijan feel the need to keep their children secure.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

When we speak to Satenik’s mother Varsik, we realize how vague the future looks in this border village.

If it continues this way and there is no English teacher next year too, I will send Satenik to Vayk, which is the closest town to us to take private classes. I will do everything to help my daughter fulfil her dream.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

Satenik’s grandfather, however, tempers her optimism. Having spent his entire life in the village, he says he cannot remember the last time there was a wedding in Khndzorut. “Thirty houses stand empty,” he says, adding, “The new generation is very promising, but we are cut off from everything. People move to towns with their kids in search of a better life. This is an ageing village close to destruction.”

Most men in Khndzorut earn their livelihood by doing contractual military service. Satenik’s father has also been a contractual serviceman for 13 years.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

War seems to lurk everywhere – one can sense it in each house and even at school. Alvard Mikayelyan, the librarian, says children are assigned to read biographies of people killed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 1990s.

One way or another, our children are prepared for war.

The locals have lived through periods of tumult and peace since the 1990s, which has had an impact on this remote village.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

“There is nothing interesting to do here,” says Anna, a 15-year-old student. “We cling to our phones all day long.”

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

There are no extracurricular activities, no clubs or playgrounds. An abandoned football field that blends into the landscape now serves as a grazing area for cows and horses.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

Idleness is visible aplenty in Khndzorut, and it becomes particularly salient as the lack of choices emerge. If you are a boy, you either become a shepherd or a contractual serviceman. Hrayr Ohanyan is a teacher of informatics and sometimes takes sheep to the mountains. If it coincides with his teaching days, Hrayr skips classes. During summer, children occasionally join their fathers in this routine.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

When Onik’s father is away on army duty, the 10-year-old dons the cap of the “man of the house”. When he grows up, Onik wants to become a doctor or a teacher of literature and as to whether he too will be a contractual serviceman, he exclaims, “Oh, no!” but then takes a pause and continues, “We will see…”.

“When I turn 18, I will have to do my military service,” says another young boy, Hovik Khachatryan. “After that, I am not sure what life holds for me.”

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

For the little girls in this village, there are just two paths to choose from – either a teacher or a homemaker after getting married.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

Back at the school, we meet Satenik’s classmate Manvel from the seventh grade. He rushes to get on a Soviet-era bus to travel a couple of kilometres to the neighbouring Nor Aznaberd. There was a time when Azerbaijanis lived in that village. Things changed with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, making the villagers swap their homes with Armenians who left their abodes on the other side of the border.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

As there is no school in Nor Aznaberd, Manvel, his two brothers and other children travel to Khndzorut every day to study. The bus is old, has no heating and often breaks down.

Manvel is full of dreams and tries to study well. His parents think about leaving the village one day in search for a better future for the kids. His father Vagharhak Antonyan is also a contractual military man and spends two weeks in service and other two weeks with the family. These shifts define almost everything in their life, including the waiting and joy upon the father’s return home.

We are afraid to send our children to school. They wake up very early and have to cross the road exposed to military positions, which is risky.

As a 12-year-old, Manvel stares at the realities of his existence every day, and his mother says, “I know he is disappointed.”

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

Holding similar views are Arakel Hayrapetyan and his brother Zohrak, who live in a house on the edge of the village together with ten other family members. For them, their life choices were made early in life and the pattern seems to be repeating for their five little sons. Both work in the military and do alternate shifts so that one of them can be home. Accordingly, some of the kids cheer up while the others become sad every two weeks.

We enter a spacious room covered with rags all around. The entire family is gathered around the wood stove, closer to light and warmth.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

Beyond all this feeling of isolation and restriction, love also blooms in the air of Khndzorut. While the daily struggles of the grown-ups might bring dismay, the dreams of their children radiate optimism. In the middle of both these extremes lies the reality. And the reality is that life in this border village is dictated by conflict-related risks and consequences, thus putting basic facilities like education on the backburner.

Armenia, education, border zone, border village, Karabakh conflict, border with Azerbaijan, school, schoolchildren, International Committee of the Red Cross, situation monitoring, Khndzorut,
Photo: Areg Balayan, ICRC

The post Armenia: Limited access to education – the unseen consequence of conflict appeared first on English Jamnews.

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‘Our Animals Are Dying’: Water Goes Bad In Azerbaijani Village

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Residents in the village of Banka in Azerbaijan say they lack basic water supplies for themselves and their animals after water in the Kura River dropped and became contaminated with salt water from the nearby Caspian Sea. Experts believe farming, a major hydroelectric plant upstream, and climate change could be to blame.Read Original Article here by RFERL

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Citizens of Baku to remain stuck at home? No info on future as last day of strict quarantine approaches

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As of August 3, citizens of Baku and 14 other cities and regions in Azerbaijan have spent six weeks living under a strict quarantine regime due to the coronavirus.

Since June 21, people have been allowed to go outside for three hours a day after receiving SMS permission from the authorities, and all stores are closed, excluding grocery stores and pharmacies.

Public transport is not running on Saturdays or Sundays.

The authorities’ most recent decision states that the quarantine will end at 6 am on August 5. However, no statement has been released about lifting the quarantine, and there is a growing fear that it may be extended.

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Within the past three weeks, there were several times when the quarantine was scheduled to be lifted, but was instead extended. But the authorities had issued a statement informing citizens ahead of time.

Azerbaijan continues to celebrate Eid al-Adha, and August 4 is the first working day after the holiday.

MP of the Milli Mejlis Musa Guliyev reported some positive news:

“The roads between cities and regions will reopen, the metro will start running again, and people will be able to leave the house without SMS permission. But at the same time, we musts not forget that the epidemic is still going on and we must adhere to safety measures.”

However, people on social networks have more to say about the pessimistic forecast of the chief infectious disease specialist Jalal Isaev.

He said that the authorities may extend the strict quarantine for several more weeks in order to bring the number of new cases a day down into the double digits.

Over the past 24 hours, 286 new cases have been reported in Azerbaijan, bringing the total since the beginning of the epidemic to 32,443 cases. Eight more people have died, bringing the total in Azerbaijan to 462. 27,113 people have recovered.

Baku, Tbilisi Avenue. Photo JAMnews

The post Citizens of Baku to remain stuck at home? No info on future as last day of strict quarantine approaches appeared first on English Jamnews.

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Azerbaijani Ombudsman denies death of political prisoner. New reports of torture in prisons. Updated

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12.00 / August 2

It remains unclear whether Azerbaijani political prisoner Fuad Qahramanli, a board member of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, is alive or has died in prison.

On the evening of August 1, information about his possible death from torture appeared on social media [more in the report below]. Then, former prosecutor Rufat Safarov denied this message on his Facebook page.

“The head of the department for the prevention of torture of the Azerbaijani Ombudsman’s Office, Rashid Rumzadeh, said that Fuad Qahramanli is alive,” Safarov wrote with reference to lawyer Bahruz Bayramov.

The lawyer was promised that on Monday, August 3, they would try to arrange a meeting with Qahramanli.

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Rufat Safarov, in the same post, critically noted that the ombudsman’s staff should have visited the prisoner after the alarming messages on social media and provided reliable information to his family and friends.

Instead, they postponed the issue for several days.

With the hope that Fuad Qahramanli is still alive, opposition blogger Bakhtiyar Hajiyev also writes:

I appealed to the Ombudsman about the state of Qahramanli. About half an hour later, I was informed that he was alive and that he was currently in the Kurdakhan detention center. It is reported that his condition and conditions of detention are good.

The issue is now under the personal control of Ombudswoman Sabina Aliyeva. I look forward to a solution to the issue of organizing meetings between prisoners and their families and lawyers.

There is very little information on the state of political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s prisons as a whole.

Blogger Nihad Huseyn wrote on his Twitter that opposition activist Seymur Akhmedov was able to send a letter from prison to his loved ones, in which he reported being tortured daily and beaten.

Akhmedov, like Qahramanli, was detained among 45 opposition activists for participating in a rally in Baku in support of the army on the night of July 15.

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Seymur Akhmedov writes that … a man in civilian clothes beat him for hours in the building of the Narimanov district police station,” blogger Nihad Huseyn said.

19.00 / August 1

Political prisoner Fuad Qahramanli may have died from torture in a Baku prison on August 1, local social media write. There is no official confirmation or evidence yet.

Fuad Qahramanli is one of more than 45 members of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan who were detained after the July 15 rally in Baku in support of the army.

“Ilham Aliyev [President of Azerbaijan], if something happens to the people you have arrested, you are responsible for it,” his ex-wife Zumrud Yagmur wrote on her Facebook page.

While no official confirmation has been given, a number of messages to effect have been published, amongst others by well-known investigative journalist Khadija Ismail:

Various sources say that PFPA executive director Fuad Qahramanli was tortured. There is also information that he is dead. Lawyer Bahruz Bayramov was not allowed to see him from the moment of his arrest.

“Two other party members, Baba Suleiman and Seymur Akhmadov, were also severely tortured and threatened with rape. Baba reportedly agreed to sign false statements against party chairman Ali Karimli after being tortured.

“We try to check the reports. Lawyers are not allowed to see their clients, and there is no effective mechanism against torture in Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijani bloggers have recently begun to conduct a daily report in two areas: statistics on coronavirus and the number of oppositionists detained by the authorities.

The 45 opposition activists who were recently arrested were initially charged with illegal protests during the rally in support of the army on the night of July 15.

However, the charges then escalated, and some of the detainees are now charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the government’.

The post Azerbaijani Ombudsman denies death of political prisoner. New reports of torture in prisons. Updated appeared first on English Jamnews.

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