Fourteen-year old Tigran Gharakhanyan walks to school in a crouch, flattening himself up against buildings on his village’s main road. He has good reason. His village, Chinari, is barely a kilometer away from Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, directly in the line of fire of the Azerbaijani armed forces.
“We learn from childhood how to walk safely in the village,” says Gharakhanyan. “Of course, we’ve gotten used to gunfire, but we never know what will happen.”
More than 23 years after the ceasefire that ended full-fledged fighting between the two countries over Nagorno Karabakh, war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is still part of daily life for villages along their border.
Sometimes, it’s just a single shot; at others, steady shelling.
The risks affect all, but adult villagers worry particularly about how this life impacts their children. Though defensive walls shield schools and basements safe room students from attacks, ultimately, locals say, nowhere is safe.
Chinari, a low-lying village of about 1,000 people in northeastern Armenia’s Tavush province, is one of the most dangerous settlements. All of its buildings and roads, as well as its school and kindergarten, are within range of the Azerbaijani military, which controls the surrounding hills.
If gunfire breaks out in the morning, Gharakhanyan, like his classmates, stays home. “We all go into the house’s safest room, with thick walls and no windows, and wait until [the gunfire] ends,” he explains.
“Safest” is a relative term, however. Azerbaijani artillery hit Gharakhanyan’s house twice, once completely destroying the second floor, he says. The family has since rebuilt it, but the house’s roof and walls still bear traces of bullets.