Gian Micalessin, writing in il Giornale – Translated from the Italian by Tom Winter

Martuni, Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) – In Martuni, devastated by bombs, the inhabitants live hidden in catacombs. “Europe won’t help, but Russia is slow.”

Martuni. It was first to be assaulted. The first to weep over the victims of the Azeri missiles. The first city of Nagorno Karabakh to be abandoned, as its inhabitants fled en masse toward Armenia. It is the city of lost men. Barely 400, perhaps fewer, are left of its 6,000. and it’s hard to find even the shadow of these few.

Martuni is a ghost town, asleep and silent. The City Hall, a sad, circular building in grey marble, floats in a sea of broken glass and debris. Its windows and portals are gon. In 20 days missiles and bombs have transformed all into a carpet of ruins. Everywhere around you cannot find a stone, piece of asphalt, or a tree that doesn’t bear the marks of shrapnel and explosions. Here and there, sticking out of yards and streets, are the threatening silhouettes of unexploded shells. And of the survivors, hardly a shadow. . . . Martuni’s ghosts peep slowly and cautiously out of a trap door. They climb up a ladder, stick out their heads, make a sign to wait. They are suspicious, afraid, bewildered. Prisoners of this miniature Stalingrad glare at anyone who can reveal their lair, put their shelters at risk, make their safety even more precarious. They keep you hanging there between the desert and the abyss for more than half an hour, then one jumps out. His name is Armen. He has the pallor of one who has not seen the light of the sun for days, and the hollow eyes of nights of sleeplessness.

I’m coming with you. I’ll show you what they have done to this city!” He pops us in a hurry, practically runs to the piazza. 20 paces later I get why the hurrying: The first mortar shell comes in, whistling 200 meters away. Another, and a third one come in a bit farther off. “This was my father’s house, says Armen, pointing at a mess of debris. “The missile hit it not quite 11 hours after the ‘cease-fire’. My dad, a 79 year old man, who never hurt anyone, was blown to bits in his bed.” Still running, Arman takes us back to the basement of the town hall. In the ruins of the city we do not meet a soul. “The women – he says – went to Armenia with the children. We men have received weapons and we alternate between the front and the shelters in town. Those who, like my wife, did not leave — to be close to those on the front line — live underground.”

Now we are back at the town hall. two stories under the glimmering and yellow light of bare lightbulbs, we make out the faces of women and the aged. They sit in silence on cots lined against a wall, midst water bottles, sacks of bread, baskets of potatoes, pomegranates, and tomatoes. A woman keeps crying, another with her face in her hands. Only Veniera, Armen’s wife, manages a smile.

“I don’t have kids — I could stay close to my husband and close to those who are fighting for their homeland. But I’m glad you came from Europe and Italy to tell about our despair”. I ask her if that’s enough. Veniera raises her eyes, smiles. “We are Christians like you, but from Europe we know we cannot expect much. If anyone will save us, it will be only Russia. This has always been the case in the past. I just wonder why it’s taking so long this time.”
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