Armenia: with the war, the Covid epidemic resumes

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A small group of elderly people wait by the side of the road in Goris, a small town in southern Armenia, a gunshot from the border. They fled that very morning a small village near Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, to escape the bombing of the Azeri air force. They have been waiting for hours for transport to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. One of the crying old women, 85, says her twenty-year-old grandson was killed that morning. “We were forced to flee in haste, on foot. Without even being able to bury it, ”she sobs. Her neighbor, 70, recounts the horror: abandoned corpses risk being devoured by wild boars. A little further on, other exhausted refugees arrive from Shushi, in central Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani army is said to be only five kilometers from their village.

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None of the people seen on that day are wearing masks. “How do you want me to impose a mask or barrier gestures on these desperate people?” They don’t even listen to me, ”admits a helpless soldier. Especially since he himself does not wear one. “And my soldiers who may die tomorrow, do you think they care about the Covid? He asks. The refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh (over 60% of a population of 150,000 inhabitants) and the slums are not the only ones responsible for the spectacular increase in the epidemic. Armenia has so far been relatively unspoiled. But since the start of Azerbaijan’s military offensive, the number of coronavirus cases has exploded: 491 cases on 1is October, 649 October 10, 1,234 October 20, 2,474 cases October 23, the latest figure published.

1,272 Armenian soldiers fallen in action

“The biggest problem remains the burials. Hundreds of Armenians come to pay homage to the soldiers who fall at the front. How do you want to prevent them? »Emphasizes Nyree Derderian, from the NGO Armenian Relief Society, who came from the United States to support the war effort. It was indeed very difficult to clear a passage Wednesday to reach the military cemetery of Yerablur (the three hills) on the heights of Yerevan. Three new heroes of the conflict between Armenia and its neighbors Azerbaijan and Turkey were buried there with military honors.

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“It is the Ministry of Defense which condones the heroic behavior of certain soldiers. This military cemetery was created in 1988. Before the outbreak of this new war, it had 741 graves. For a month, new ones have been dug every day ”, specifies the Ministry of Defense. Officially, 1,272 Armenian soldiers have fallen in combat. The commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Force, Lieutenant-General Jalal Harutyunyan, was wounded this week, and replaced by another general. Those days would not be in danger.

Hundreds of people around the coffins

Families, but also hundreds of other anonymous, crowd around the coffins. The vast majority of this compact crowd do not wear masks. This is also the case for the two religious who officiate, as for most of the military. When the latter take the coffins, after the national anthem, only the men will follow them to the freshly dug graves. On the other hand, the women remain in place. Silent during the ceremony, they suddenly let their sorrow burst out. They are howls for very long minutes. How, too, to impose barrier gestures on them?

So what to do? In the streets of the capital, loudspeakers regularly call on passers-by to take precautions. But it must be recognized that many of them, serious and silent, hardly listen. On the sidewalks, a multitude of small stalls, often next to each other, offer funeral wreaths.

If the evolution is very worrying, the situation is, despite everything, not catastrophic. The authorities are not talking (yet?) Of re-containment. To date, Armenia (just under 3 million inhabitants) has only 82,700 cases of people with Covid-19 and has only 1,272 deaths.

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