From laughter to gunfire: A night in Movses village

Tires line the road leading from Movses to Aygepar along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. This road has become increasingly dangerous for civilians to travel on because of the high possibility of being shot at by Azerbaijani military positions.

Spring has finally begun to blossom in Armenia, yet uncertainty remains high if there will be another war with Azerbaijan. Villages in Armenia’s provinces Gegharkunik, Syunik and Tavush have been caught in the crossfire that has been increasing along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border for the past week. Today, an Armenian shepherd near Nerkin Khndzoresk village in Syunik wandered into Azerbaijani territory while looking for his flock. An Azeri soldier was injured in a shootout that followed between Armenian and Azerbaijani border guards, the Armenian National Security Service (NSS) reported. The NSS said that the shepherd is in Armenia, and “the Azerbaijani side has returned the lost herd.”

Children play with balloons outside their home in Movses during an engagement party on April 6, 2024.

On April 5, a group of us drove to Movses in the Tavush Province. Along the increasingly winding path, our car sped towards the village, a place I’d only heard whispers about, until it materialized before me amidst the mountainous landscape. After passing Ijevan, my excitement grew. Throughout the entire journey, I remained glued to the map, observing our progression towards the Azerbaijani border. In response to what I now realize were unnecessary jokes (“Can you imagine if we get there and an escalation starts?”) my companions assured me with unwavering confidence that Movses has been comparatively tranquil recently.

Azerbaijani village of Alibeyli in the distance, located about one mile away from Movses.
View from a family house in Movses village looking towards the border with Azerbaijan.

Movses is a sleepy and picturesque village located in the northeast of Armenia. The village is situated just under a mile from the border with Azerbaijan near the villages of Alibeyli and Ağdam in the Tovuz District. Azerbaijan has been calling on Armenia to cede control of four border villages in Tavush that have been controlled by Armenia since the 1990s, as efforts to reach a normalization deal, including border delimitation, stall. While Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has signaled that he is prepared to do so, residents of villages in Tavush have voiced their concerns that such concessions would jeopardize their safety and communication with the rest of the country.

Resident of Movses heading in the direction of Aygepar on April 6, 2024.

As night fell, we gathered around the warmth of a crackling wood oven, exchanging stories and laughter. Like a scene from a cheesy horror movie, we made silly jokes such as, what if the war started now? About an hour later, we jumped up from a strong thunderclap, as the sky lit up. While we argued about fireworks, we noticed that all the lights in the village went out. Locals usually turn off the lights during shootings so as not to draw unnecessary attention. After a little while longer, we all decided to try and get some rest, with no idea what would be in store. 

Edge of Movses cemetery with the Azerbaijani village Alibeyli in the distance.
Edge of Movses looking towards the border with Azerbaijan.

Throughout the whole night, we experienced shootings from Azerbaijani military positions. Each hour, at approximately the same time, gunfire from various calibers persisted for roughly five to 15 seconds. The shooting was extremely close. It seemed like the bullets were flying over our house. I attempted to record some of the audio with my phone from bed as evidence of what locals experience during shootings on their villages. I was not able to sleep and rested my eyes with my phone on my chest until the early light started to peek through the window. The shootings came to an end around 6 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, at which point I was finally able to get a few hours of rest.

Grave of a soldier who died in the 2020 Artsakh War and family plot that sustained damages from Azerbaijani military positions on the night of April 5-6.
Grave in the Movses cemetery that sustained direct shooting from nearby Azerbaijani military positions on the night of April 5-6.

Along with Movses, Sotk, Verin Shorzha and Kut in the Gegharkunik province, Aravus in the Syunik province and Chinari in the Tavush province also came under Azerbaijani fire that night.

Calm morning with heavy fog on April 7, 2024.
Movses village on April 7, 2024.

The morning broke with a heavy shroud of fog, wiping away the bright and jovial atmosphere of the day before, which was replaced with the somber aftermath of the shooting. While visiting the nearby cemetery, a village local showed us a grave that had been shot during the night. Another grave of a soldier who died in the 2020 Artsakh War also sustained damage. Homes of the residents were damaged, including the window of a home belonging to a family that was recently displaced from Karmir Shuka in Artsakh following Azerbaijan’s military assault on Artsakh in September 2023. According to locals, this marked the first instance of such a shooting in Movses since the escalation in Tavush in July 2020.

Window shot out during the shootings that occurred on the night of April 5-6. The family that lives in this home was displaced from Artsakh in September 2023.

Shooting along the border has continued in the days since. Armenia’s Defense Ministry has reported that Azerbaijani military posts have continued to fire on Khoznavar and Aravus in Syunik and Sotk in Gegharkunik.

Sign exiting Movses village.
Anthony Pizzoferrato
Anthony Pizzoferrato is an Italian American freelance photojournalist, documentarian and filmmaker based in Yerevan, Armenia. His work places emphasis on reporting and documenting conflicts, political events, complex social issues, human rights and cultural history within post-Soviet states and the Middle East while creating understanding, intimacy and empathy. His work on the war in Ukraine and protests in Yerevan has been published in Getty Reportage.


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