Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: The fear of war is greater than the fear of COVID
By Aljosa Milenkovic

A man with shrapnel wounds on his thighs was brought to an emergency room in a hospital in Stepanakert, capital of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. He was already given proper first aid help, but the wound continued to bleed. Yet, he was lucky since it wasn't a life-threatening injury. 

He got away, but not all were so lucky. In the next room, a makeshift intensive care unit was set up, and people fight for their lives.

For over a month, clashes continue between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The death toll is estimated in thousands, and the scale of devastation is unprecedented. 

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll in both countries. It is the invisible killer that might take as many lives as the war. 

In the hospital basement, a pulmonology clinic was set up after the bombs destroyed its previous building. Pulmonologist Karen Minasyan is among the staff fighting the pandemic. 

"Everybody thinks that only soldiers are left here, but every day we treat more than 100 people with temperature, cough, and other COVID symptoms. We have enough tests and medications. But since everyone is in bomb shelters, the virus is spreading fast there," Karen told CGTN.

Outside the hospital, in Stepanakert streets, there are not that many people. The ones that are out are looking to get some necessities and quickly return to safety. The coronavirus is the last thing on their mind.

"COVID-19 took a back seat. The most important thing at this moment is to have peace and to have our boys come back home alive," Paylak Ovsepyan told CGTN.

Karine Agadzhanyan shares similar thoughts. She is a villager from Tsahkashat, a small village close to the capital.

"My son is at the frontline, and we are worried about him. The war is more important now than COVID-19 because many young boys are dying, and children are becoming orphans."

With the young fighting in the frontline, the older generations are taking care of the household. They chop firewood, prepare meals, and buy groceries. There is no food shortage in Stepanakert shops, but at the same time, there are not that many buyers. The shops are open only for a few hours a day because of fears that the bombing will resume and cause further devastation.

In these challenging times, Stepanakert's residents have only one wish: peace. 

(Cover image: Raya Mesropyan, 88 takes refuge in a bomb shelter in Stepanakert, November 3, 2020. /AP)