An unprepossessing hangar, grey and tatty with cardboard-covered windows, houses a bakery whose bread is a boon for residents and soldiers alike caught up in the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert.
It’s ten o’clock on a fresh and drizzly Wednesday morning in the Armenian separatists’ regional capital. Relative calm has reigned for three days now compared with the bombardments which had become almost the norm since the conflict with Azerbaijan started on September 27.
The bakery has just opened and immediately a flotilla of cars draws up, disgorging men who barrel across the small square and nip inside, some bagging two or three loaves, others scooping up boxes containing dozens.
In the blink of an eye they are gone, leaving the dozen bakehouse employees bustling around at full tilt to ensure fresh wares are ready for the next round of customers.
They knead away, preparing dozens of slabs of dough which are whipped away and placed in two huge electric ovens.
Clad in a red apron over a blue waistcoat, baker’s cap perched on her head, Lena Ghevondyan, 55, says she has been putting in “12 hours a day" at the bakery.
“I couldn’t care less about the tiredness. I feel better here. I could have left, but I chose to stay," she explains as she places doughy mounds in their moulds.
Her son, barely turned 20, has been up at the front line since September 26, the day before hostilities began.
“If my son is there how could I leave here? I don’t ask for anything else — my house can be destroyed but I want my son near me," says Ghevondyan, her brow perspiring from the heat of the ovens.
The bakery sells just one item — bread, and one variety at that: white loaves weighing roughly 700 grammes.
It’s also free."From the first day of the war we decided to give it to residents for free and to work for the army too," says bakery owner Armen Saghyan, 31 and clad in army fatigues.
“Danger is everywhere"
“We don’t have financial problems. We get calls from institutions wanting to help us but we don’t need it. If it is the case we shall turn to them," says Saghyan.
A handful of Stepanakert bakeries are still making bread for those few people who have not fled a city which counted some 60,000 residents before the war erupted.
Square-jawed and with the build of a rugby player, Armen Abroyan, 41, works as a driver and deliveryman for the bakery.
“We deliver every day whatever time people ask us to, at least six to eight times a day," says Abroyan.
Oblivious to danger, he drives his white delivery van to military bases right out by the front line. He has also been as far as the town of Martakert in the north east of the province and as far as Martuni in the east, both on the fringes of the fighting and both having suffered several rounds of bombardment.
“Is there a place in Karabakh which isn’t dangerous? Even the city (of Stepanakert) isn’t safe, being out by the front line! Danger is everywhere but we try to deliver wherever we can," Abroyan says.
As the latest batch of loaves are distributed Nelson Caspeyran, 59, is just one customer expressing surprise that they are being handed out free.
“I recently heard about it. People told me it’s free here. I used to buy it somewhere else before," he confesses as he marches off with two loaves tucked under his arm.