As of today, I’m no longer in Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR). Good thing too, because it looks like things there just took a turn for the worse.
A sharp escalation in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has left 15 soldiers dead and prompted Russia to issue an urgent call for calm.
It doesn’t mention where exactly the incidents took place. Knowing the rough ‘front-line’ though, it must have been at least 30 to 60 minutes by car from any of the locations I visited. Local authorities considered the itinerary I had submitted to them safe and thus I wasn’t overly concerned while I was in the region. I did however make sure to stick to the officially sanctioned areas. There’s a ghost town that’s considered unsafe and off limits due to proximity to the front-line and remaining UXOs. I met a few travelers who went there to experience the eeriness of the abandoned city, but for me that was a bit too far out of my comfort zone.
Part of my preparations for the region was to check for any recent developments using news.google.com (a very useful tool for traveling in volatile locations). There were reports of smaller incidents that eventually led to the escalation reported above. However, the scale didn’t seem to be too threatening, so I opted to continue with my plans.
Something else I came across while looking into related news items was the arrest of Levon Hairapetyan by the FSB in Moscow last month. The Armenian lumber tycoon grew up in Nagorno Kabarakh, moved out, made a fortune and then returned to invest significantly into the region. Whether his arrest was politically motivated, a possible escalation of the conflict or even a change in Russia’s policy for the region is beyond my expertise though.
Long story short: It’s not the safest place on the planet, but incidents are limited to the front-line which I avoided throughout my stay. I’ve now left the disputed territories, am back in Armenia proper and plan to head to Tabriz, Iran next. After that it’s probably going to be Teheran where I heard I’ll also be able to replace my camera at a competitive price.