Places That Don't Exist Episode 4: Nagorno Karabakh

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Places That Don't Exist Episode 4: Nagorno Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but a mountainous area of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabkh (NK) triggered war. Historically it was mainly Armenian Christian, and when it wanted its own independence, Armenian troops helped the Karabkh army push Azeris out. Azerbaijan is still officially at war over NK, and Simon’s journey starts in Azerbaijan on the frontline overlooking NK; he sprints across open ground to avoid sniper fire.

Thousands of people fled during the war. Simon finds Azeri children and the elderly still living in rusty train carriages in a siding. Everywhere Simon goes there are reminders of the war. Everyone mentions it, including the country’s top pop star – a crack-shot with an AK-47.

Simon heads to NK, but the border with Azerbaijan is closed. A massive detour takes him across the border into Georgia, over stunning snowy mountains into Armenia, then south over icy mountain passes into NK. Inside the breakaway state he finds bombed-out villages and abandoned buildings, and Christians who view Muslims with suspicion and fear. In a village locals walk through a minefield in front of him.

Despite mines and war, Simon’s guide tells him NK would have the world’s highest longevity rate if recognized as a state. A graveyard contains endless people aged more than 100, and there is a suggestion of a live 120-year-old. Simon travels to the NK frontline trenches with Azerbaijan. Very few people go from one side to the other; Simon reflects on the stalemate, and the unlikely prospect of peace.

The programme finishes at a wedding where the electricity has died. Luckily, bride and groom emerge into the light to a rapturous reception.