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Shusha Armenians Recall Their Bittersweet Victory

Armenians in the oldest town in Nagorny Karabakh remember how a decade ago their forces captured it from the Azerbaijanis - and then burned it.
By Thomas de Waal

Each morning from his veranda Albert Khachaturian stares across at his former place of work with infinite sadness.


Built at the turn of the last century, the magnificent neo-classical three-storey college of Shusha lies in ruins ten years after Armenians captured the town from Azerbaijanis on May 8-9, 1992, in the pivotal battle of the war over Nagorny Karabakh.


"There are plans to restore it," Khachaturian said last month. "The first step is to put a roof on to stop the rain coming in."


For Khachaturian, who used to teach in the college, and other Armenians still living in Shusha (or Shushi as they call it) the bitter irony is that it was Armenians, not Azerbaijanis who burned their town. After a battle that lasted less than 24 hours, the Azerbaijanis abandoned their last stronghold in Karabakh almost intact. However, Armenians came in and set the town on fire. Ten years on, at least 80 per cent of Shusha is still in ruins.


After Armenian forces captured the town, hundreds of people swarmed into it, looting and burning. Mher Gabrielian, a Shusha Armenian, recalled how he and a group of friends managed to prevent the destruction of some of its cultural landmarks. They stood in front of one of the town's elegant mosques and stopped an armoured personnel carrier firing shells into its fa