Geopolitics

On The Front Line Of The Forgotten War Of Nagorno-Karabakh

The breakaway country’s fight for independence has lasted 25 years in the rubble of the Soviet empire. There is, inevitably perhaps, a growing religious rhetoric to the battle.

In a car near the border with Azerbaijan, 30km from the capital Stepanakert
Roberto Travan

STEPANAKERTâ€" Marut is wearing faded camouflage, with a bayonet clamped to his belt and a degree in his pocket. He tells us how his grandfather fought the Germans in 1945, how an uncle of his took on the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1980s and how his father fought against Azerbaijan in the 1992 war for independence.

Two years ago, Marut joined the fight himself, serving on the frontline against Azerbaijan just like his father once did.

Marut’s story is hardly unique in these parts. “Here, everyone has fought to defend our land and our mountains,” he explains, holding a Kalashnikov so battered it seems to have taken part in all the wars he just described. Theirs is a fight clearly against the odds, as the international community considers the would-be breakaway republic of Nagorno-Karabakh to be part of Azerbaijan.

Marut and his men â€" young conscripts barely pushing 20 with gaunt faces, shaved heads and sunburned skin â€" stay in the shade of the sandbags, hiding both from the snipers and the suffocating heat. They battle various enemies: the insects, the homesickness, the time passing so slowly, any way they can. Some close their eyes and pray in an improvised chapel by the nettings, covered in dust, creased holy pictures and spent tealights.

Armenian forces in Karabakh in 1994 â€" Photo: Armdesant

But the main enemy, the Azeri military, is just meters away from the barbed wire, beyond the minefields at the end of the no-man’s land. “A couple of weeks ago they killed one of our men,” says Marut, pointing to the centimeters-wide opening in the wire through which the fatal shot passed.

For every season

The front, several hundreds of kilometers long, follows the entire frontier with Azerbaijan, from Iran up to Armenia. It is furrowed with trenches that are sweltering in the summer, humid quagmires in autumn and frigid, windswept shelters from enemy mortars in the winter. It is a quiet war of attrition, a conflict forgotten for 25 years â€" and perhaps many more to come. Up here in the mountains, peace seems such a distant prospect it doesn't really get talked about.

Azerbaijan wants its province back while Nagorno-Karabakh wants its freedom, and this fragile standoff (at times no shots are fired for months, then raging combat suddenly resumes) continues to cost millions of dollars in armaments and a toll in human lives, including at least ten killed this summer.

Seventy years before its collapse at the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union transferred this Christian Armenian-majority province to the the Muslim region of Azerbaijan. In 1991, an independence referendum sparked two years of warfare that left 30,000 people dead, thousands injured, almost a million refugees and countless internally displaced. Dozens of villages were razed, with crumbling bridges, mosques and churches reduced to rubble.

The Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi â€" Photo: Serouj

Many on both sides of the conflict say that the war was fought above all along ethnic lines. But others point to the increasingly religious nature of the conflict. “We are the last stronghold to defend Christian Europe from the assault of Islam,” says an official, holding a rosary in his hands. “Russia understands this, you in the West don’t …”

While Russia maintains a military garrison in Armenia, this doesn’t stop Moscow from selling weapons to Azerbaijan at dizzying prices. Caught in the middle is this tiny land’s obstinate struggle for independence that has so far gone unrecognized by every state in the world â€" not even by “mother” Armenia.

“We are our mountains,” reads a monument at the doors of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. These mountains are rough, beautiful and forgotten, where young men like Marut continue to face down the enemy and die for the sake of an elusive independence.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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