Four years have passed since massive artillery bombardments broke the silence of the night just in the heart of South Caucasus, signaling the start of an unprecedented escalation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — the first of its kind since a ceasefire was implemented in 1994.
What was later dubbed the April War or Four Day War started after Armenia’s military provocations, namely shelling of the Azerbaijani villages and civilian settlements located close to the so-called line of contact in the early April 2016. It has become an unexpected reminder of the full-scale war, which broke out shortly after both countries became independent following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and lasted until a ceasefire in 1994. But the ceasefire turned out to be very fragile.
From April 1 through April 4, 2016, clashes escalated and resulted in the deaths of hundreds and put the South Caucasus region on edge once again. Hostilities continued until April 5, when both sides announced a ceasefire.
As a result of the Four Day War, Azerbaijan retook two strategic hills, a village, and a total of about 2,000 hectares (approximately 5,000 acres) of land which were occupied by Armenia during the war.
Junior Warrant Officer Zaur Khanjanov, 32, was among those taking part in the “Leletepe” mission, which was aimed at the recapture of the strategic hill of the same name. He and his fellow comrades were awarded by the government for completing the mission successfully.
"But the highest honor for us were applause and sincere gratitude from the residents of Jojug Marjanly, who, after 24 years, could finally return to their dear land,’’ Khanjanov said in an interview with Armiya.Az.
Jojug Marjanly village fell under the occupation of Armenia in 1993, and the village was liberated by Azerbaijani soldiers in 1994 during a military operation known as Horadiz. However, the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the village was a nearly impossible mission due to the Armenian military’s deployment atop hills surrounding the village.
After the liberation of Leletepe hill and the subsequent establishment of a military outpost there, President Ilham Aliyev ordered to reconstruct and revive local projects to help the community get back on its feet. As part of a two-phase revival campaign, the government rebuilt the village’s infrastructure as well as residential houses, a school, hospital, and a kindergarten. Over 100 IDP families returned to their native lands.
The conflict, however, remains unresolved and is the most vital policy issue for Azerbaijanis.
The full-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that had spanned Azerbaijan’s southwestern region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts, also belonging to Azerbaijan, claimed the lives of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis. In addition, Armenia’s armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory and displaced million ethnic Azerbaijanis, while nearly 4,000 went missing.
The war had forced Osman Nasirov, an Azerbaijani refugee to leave Zangilan, Azerbaijan’s southwestern district bordering Iran and Armenia. Zangilan, which was home to nearly 35,000 people, was occupied by Armenia on October 29, 1993.
‘‘We managed to bring locals to Iran across the Araz River and then back, to the territory of Azerbaijan, on our own,’’ Osman remembers.
Now, he and his 91-years-old mother reside in a special village set for refugees and their families near Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city.
‘‘We are living, but it cannot be named life — we just spend days,’’ he says, adding that he is living memories of his dear land.
Today, more than a million Azerbaijanis live as refugees and internally displaced persons in refugee settlements and camps scattered throughout the country. And many, like Osman, have been living their memories for almost three decades.
Officials in Yerevan still ignore international requirements — including four resolutions adopted in 1993 by the United Nation’s Security Council, which address territorial encroachments by Armenia into Azerbaijani lands and call for Armenia to withdraw its troops from them.
Meanwhile, the people residing nearby the line of contact live under the constant threat of war.
Elmar Mammadyarov, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, believes that there can be a serious conflict at any given time and this conflict can turn into a major war.
‘‘The April events became the most obvious evidence that the current status quo — based on the occupation of the Azerbaijani lands that went hand in hand with brutal ethnic cleansing — is fraught with enormous risks and can lead to an armed escalation of the existing conflict,’’ he said in an interview with Kommersant.