Armenians in Russia return home to help Karabakh refugees

By Felix Light

KORNIDZOR, Armenia (Reuters) - When Azerbaijan overran the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, David Harapetyan drove 1,000 km (620 miles) from his home in the Russian city of Stavropol to this Armenian border village to help fleeing Karabakh Armenians.

The 36-year-old taxi driver on Wednesday was handing out food, water and cigarettes to refugees arriving in Armenia after spending 10 months under an Azerbaijani blockade that led to critical shortages in Karabakh.

"I came here from Stavropol when I saw what is happening here. I came to help my people however I can," said Harapetyan, who was born in this southern corner of Armenia but holds only Russian citizenship.

Russia is home to the world's largest Armenian diaspora. The United States and France also have large ethnic Armenian communities.

Armenia’s government said on Wednesday that more than 50,000 Karabakh refugees so far had crossed the border, out of a total estimated Karabakh Armenian population of 120,000.

The sudden influx has strained resources in Goris, the border town where Armenian authorities have booked out hotels for refugees with nowhere to go.

Harapetyan said he and a group of 10 Stavropol Armenians he had arrived with were helping new arrivals with accommodation.

"We arrived and even found houses where we can accommodate some people who have no home."

Among those helped by Harapetyan were 49 men, women and children who arrived crammed into Karen Martirosyan’s KAMAZ truck.

Martirosyan, 39, a soldier in Karabakh’s defeated army, had driven from the frontline village of Badara in his truck.


During the 77 km (48 mile) drive from Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh, which took two days due to heavy traffic, he picked up stragglers whose truck had broken down.

"Their KAMAZ broke down on the road late at night," said Martirosyan, whose own overloaded truck was also towing a car carrying five more people who had run out of fuel.

"They were out in the open. So I took them with me and came here - 43 (people) in the back, and five more in the cabin."

As volunteers at the border gave out food and water to the 20 or so children on board, an old woman shouted from the truck that she blamed Armenian and Karabakh leaders, past and present, for the loss of her homeland.

"All of Karabakh has been taken hostage by Azerbaijan! That's it! It's all our president's fault! He did all of it, he is the one responsible!"

(Writing by Gareth Jones, Editing by William Maclean)