Murder and displacement shape the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan to this day. The conflict which is a geopolitical test of power between Russia, Turkey, and Iran intensifies.
The cry for help sounded desperate: "The Azerbaijani army is five kilometers away from Shushi. We know what that means. Whoever controls Shushi controls Nagorno-Karabakh." Mr. Arayik Arutyunyan, president of the unrecognized "Republic of Artsakh" and thus the head of the fiercely contested Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh, lit a candle in front of his pleading message to all Armenians in the cathedral, asking God for help: the Armenians are threatened with bloody defeat in the recent war in the South Caucasus.
While cotton and hay can still be harvested down on the plain on the Azerbaijani side of the "Line of Control" despite the Armenian rockets hitting the border towns, the Armenians apparently have little doubt: those armed with drones and other modern war equipment Azerbaijani army is on the rise.
Should Baku troops really take the city of Shusha - the Armenians call it Shushi - the conflict should be as good as decided. The fighting is still going on. The city, located at an altitude of around 1500 meters, is easy to defend. Both sides accuse themselves of using phosphorus grenades, cluster munitions, and foreign mercenaries in this war, of violating the Geneva Convention of executing prisoners. On Friday, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed in Geneva that their war would only be conducted under international law. But they will probably not adhere to that, any more than to the three-time ceasefire that they agreed - and immediately broke - with international aid in the past week.
Time is of the essence for Baku. The harsh Caucasian winter will soon begin. The Azerbaijani troops are threatened with getting stuck in the snow outside the mountain town of Shusha. Besides, the Azerbaijanis have to cut off the most important supply channel for Nagorno-Karabakh. The "Lachin Corridor" is the shortest connection between the Armenian satellite state Nagorno-Karabakh, which is isolated on Azerbaijani soil, and Armenia proper: The corridor is the only supply
At least 5,000 dead on both sides, few thousands wounded including civilians is a result of 42 days of that war. Few hundreds of volunteers from Armenia are defending Artsakh which at least 2,000 members of terrorist groups from Syria are helping Azerbaijan army to attack. But the conflict is escalating volunteers from neighbouring Christian Abkhazia met with Artsakh President moments before departure on the front-line.
The Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense publishes daily success reports and lists the enemy tanks and drones shot down. On Sunday it was said again: "At the moment, the Azerbaijani army is continuing to liberate the occupied territories from Armenian hands." But the war zone is closed to foreign media. Reporters are only allowed into the cities that are a little further away from the front, but are being shot at by the Armenians with rockets.
The battles take place behind a kind of smoke screen. The authoritarian regime of President Ilham Aliyev does not respect the feedom of information. Messages are censored or manipulated through social media. The opposition Internet sites or independent foreign media are only accessible via VPN, the network is throttled and data traffic is hindered.
The information from the official Armenian side or the Artsakh leadership appears to be more reliable with some international journalists able to verify it.
Nagorno-Karabakh is worth this blood toll to the government in Baku: the occupation of the mountain range and the seven surrounding Azerbaijani districts in the lowlands almost 30 years ago is viewed as a disgrace by large parts of the population. In 1994 the Armenians displaced between 600,000 and 700,000 people from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas in the plains. The war is supported by large parts of the population, and no public criticism can be heard.
A military victory would also be a defeat for Armenia, which openly supports the troops of Nagorno-Karabakh: a large part of the troops in the mountain area come from Armenia. The war is taking place in the breakaway mountain area, but it is actually a war between the neighboring states of Azerbaijan and Armenia. And it is a geopolitical showdown between the powers that be dominating the southern Caucasus region: Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has just loudly asked his official ally Moscow for help. Vladimir Putin needs to help as soon as possible, he stated. But Russia is waiting: it is carefully balancing its interests in the South Caucasus. Moscow is an ally of impoverished Armenia and has a military base there. But the Kremlin also has good relations with the rich oil state Azerbaijan. Putin will not jeopardize this relationship anytime soon for an Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Kremlin knows that Turkey would not stand idly by if Baku falls. As an emerging regional power, Ankara is looking for greater influence in the Caucasus. Turkey has been arming its ally Azerbaijan for years. The third neighbour, Iran, will also know how to protect its interests. Moscow must act cautiously.
To get back the occupied territories in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku must therefore seek a quick decision. One does not have to fight to victory, it is said in government circles in Baku. Shusha will be taken and then either negotiating with the Armenians from a position of overwhelming strength or bringing them down for good.
Shusha is symbolic: the Azerbaijanis call the city "our Jerusalem". In the 18th century it was the capital of a Muslim Karabakh Khanate, later, under Russian rule, the city attracted Azerbaijani intellectuals, musicians and poets. The Christian Armenians read history differently: Shuschi had been one of two centres of Armenian life in the South Caucasus since the Middle Ages, the churches there - especially the cathedral - were of great religious importance. The history of the city is accordingly bloody. Even before the Soviet takeover of power in the Caucasus, the Armenians were massacred and driven out in 1920. Around 70 years later, when the USSR had collapsed, the Armenians recaptured the city and drove out the Azerbaijanis.
Therefore it is not ordinary war but almost the religious war of Islamic world against Christian Armenia, some observers suggested.
The war at the gate of Europe, as Armenia was called by the European Jewish travellers, could continue if Shusha were conquered. Mr. Hikmat Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to the Azerbaijani president, declares Baku does not want any new ethnic conflicts. After the victory, the rights of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh will be protected. A look at history makes this seem unrealistic, if it is meant seriously.