Returning Armenians prepare for battle with ropes and picket weapons

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© Reuters. Armenian military volunteers are trained in Yerevan

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By Maria Tsvetkova

YEREVAN (Reuters) – When a conflict broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh last month, Aghasi Asatryan was thousands of kilometers away in Germany and started a career as an IT specialist.

The 29-year-old Armenian national immediately applied for leave citing a family matter and flew back to Yerevan, his hometown.

On a hill above the Armenian capital, he began combat training in a camp established by veterans of a previous war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave controlled by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

“My plan is to prepare and go to the front,” said Asatryan. Suspended over his shoulder was a wooden copy of an AK-47 assault rifle, a training aid given to every volunteer in the camp.

More than 1,000 people died in one month of the clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan considers illegally occupied. [nL1N2HJ0WZ]

She refuses every step to keep the Armenians there under control, while Armenia regards the territory as part of its historical homeland and says that the people there need its protection.

Asatryan moved to Germany as a student seven years ago to avoid compulsory military service. He did not serve in the army or held a gun and said he could not tell his superiors that he would return home to fight.

“My German employers wouldn’t understand a man who wants to go to war,” he said. “But I know that we Armenians would not have survived so many centuries without understanding that every man should fight for his homeland.”

Asatryan is one of hundreds of volunteers from Argentina and the US who have attended VOMA Survival School in the past few weeks.

Its founder, Vova Vartanov, fought in Nagorno-Karabakh from 1991-94, killing around 30,000 people. He has returned to the front as the leader of a volunteer battalion.

Reuters reporters saw dozens of men and women in the camp divided into groups for instruction on how to use hand grenades and how to counter a gun attack. Some volunteers practiced climbing with ropes and the concrete wall of a dump.

Before the final fighting broke out on September 27th, the school was attracting 20 to 30 people at a time to prepare for another war. One of the instructors, Karapet Aghajanyan, said “hundreds” from the Armenian diaspora have now come.

The Armenian Defense Ministry announced this month that around 10,000 people volunteered to take up arms on the first day of the fight. [nL8N2GZ38H]

According to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, 55,000 volunteers were registered between July 12 and July 22 after fighting in another region. It is said that information on newer volunteers has been classified.

Knarik Karaminasyan, a 21-year-old English teacher from Yerevan, decided to join the volunteers as soon as she learned that women were welcome and could be sent to the front lines as medical workers or cooks.

“It was hard at first and I even had nightmares,” she said. Now she feels more comfortable.

“I feel better here than at home, just scrolling through Facebook (NASDAQ :), reading the news and panicking … Now I feel like I’m preparing for something important.”

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