Under-fire Azerbaijanis greet ceasefire with calls for war

Terter (Azerbaijan) (AFP) –


Sakhib Khashimov was in no mood to talk about peace as he picked through the wreckage of his shelled-out apartment on the Azerbaijani side of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Ethnic Armenian separatists had shelled the frontline town of Terter -- home to around 1,000 families displaced by decades of fighting -- for days before Saturday's ceasefire was announced.

Khashimov and dozens of others used the lull to return and pack up what remained of their belongings before finding yet another place to call home.

The last thing the 40-year-old wanted was for this war to end just as Azerbaijani forces claim to be making meaningful gains.

"This operation is our best chance," Khashimov told AFP about an hour after the pause in two weeks of fighting came into force.

"If they don't give us back our land during the ceasefire -- with a clear timeline for when they do, like our president says -- then continuing this operation is our best chance. We will not have another."

- Disbelief -

The latest escalation in the bitter dispute between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis over a prized patch of the Caucasus mountains is known to have killed more than 450 people.

Locals said it claimed the lives of just two brothers in Terter.

But the skeletal remains of the town's rows of five-floor buildings built for those displaced by the dispute show signs of real warfare that required people to shelter for days in basements.

Most houses stood with gaping holes instead of apartment windows or had balconies sheared off by artillery and rocket grenade fire.

Khatire Zhalilova said she was watching the latest news from the safety of a more distant village when she saw a journalist report from the ravaged remains of her very own home.

"I told myself, this could not be our house. But, unfortunately, it is," she said while walking around in disbelief in her destroyed kitchen.

Piles of wooden debris and concrete rubble intermixed with toys and slippers are strewn across the simple apartment's floor.

"I think the operation should go on. We want our land back."

- 'Give our land back' -

Others simply looked shocked.

The first thing Parvane Khatamova did after climbing past the debris around the front door of her apartment was rush to her potted plants on the windowsill.

She silently picked out the sharp pieces of glass and carefully watered them.

"I came and saw that all the flowers were destroyed and I felt I needed to help them," the mother-of-three said.

"I don't want them to die, that is why I am watering them," she quietly repeated.

"Maybe we will come back here again. Or maybe we will one day go back to our homeland," she said in reference to the hills of Nagorno-Karabakh looming on the horizon.

Terter is mostly inhabited by people who have ancestral roots in the disputed region but have spent most of their lives fleeing the fighting from one town to another.

"What can you do? God has written our peoples' destiny this way," Nazhiba Sadzhigova said with a sigh as she inspected the remains of her building.

"This is the way our story was written," she said

"This is the second time I have become a refugee. But still I say: Long live our army. I trust our army. Long live our soldiers."

Local farmer Elnur agreed.

"If they agree to give our land back, I agree to a ceasefire. And if they do not, I don't. We want our land back," he said.