Under-fire Azerbaijanis greet ceasefire with calls for war
Sakhib Khashimov was in no mood to talk about peace as he searched the rubble of his shattered apartment on the Azerbaijani side of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ethnic Armenian separatists had bombarded the frontline town of Terter - home to around 1,000 families displaced through decades of fighting - for days before the ceasefire was announced on Saturday.
Khashimov and dozens of others used the break to return and wrap up the remains of their belongings before finding another place to call home.
The last thing the 40-year-old wanted was for this war to end, just as the Azerbaijani armed forces claim to be making significant gains.
"This operation is our best chance," Khashimov told AFP about an hour after the break in two weeks of the fight.
"If they don't give our country back to us during the ceasefire - with a clear timetable as to when they will, as our president says - then continuing this operation is our best chance. We won't have another."
- disbelief -
It is known that the recent escalation of the bitter dispute between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijani over a valuable piece of the Caucasus has killed more than 450 people.
Locals said it only killed two brothers in Terter.
But the skeletal remains of the city's rows of five-story buildings built for those displaced by the dispute show signs of real warfare that took people for days to shelter in basements.
Most houses had gaping holes in place of apartment windows or balconies that were sheared off by artillery and rocket shell fire.
Khatire Zhalilova said she saw the latest news from the safety of a more distant village when she saw a journalist report about the devastated remains of her own home.
"I said to myself it couldn't be our house. But unfortunately it is," she said while walking around in disbelief in her ruined kitchen.
On the floor of the simple apartment there are piles of wood and concrete rubble mixed with toys and slippers.
"I think the operation should continue. We want our country back."
- 'Give our land back' -
Others just looked shocked.
The first thing Parvane Khatamova did after climbing past the rubble around the front door of her apartment was to rush to her potted plants on the windowsill.
Silently she took out the sharp pieces of glass and carefully poured them.
"I came and saw that all the flowers were destroyed and I felt that I had to help them," said the mother of three.
"I don't want them to die, so I water them," she repeated softly.
"Maybe we will come back here. Or maybe one day we will return to our homeland," she said, referring to the hills of Nagorno-Karabakh looming on the horizon.
Terter is mainly inhabited by people who have roots in the disputed region but who have spent most of their lives fleeing from one city to another before fighting.
"What can you do? God wrote the fate of our peoples like this," said Nazhiba Sadzhigova with a sigh as she inspected the remains of her building.
"This is how our history was written," she said
"This is the second time that I have become a refugee. But I still say: Long live our army. I trust our army. Long live our soldiers."
The local farmer Elnur agreed.
"If you agree to give our country back, I'll agree to a ceasefire. And if you don't, I won't. We want our country back," he said.
zak / mm / har
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