Empire of the Ring

Chapter 2
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Chapter 2: Gunshots Fired in Nagorno-Karabakh (2)

Fearing the escalation of war which might drag other nations around Caucasus, the international opinion pressured Azerbaijan to avoid war. Armenia was not in the position to declare war either because Russia was sparing any comments for supporting Armenia.

In the former battlefield, heavy firearms disappeared before anyone could find out, and only gunshots were fired now between the two sides.

Youngho was not sure how much influence he had in stopping the war but he took all the actions he could. While he was busy convincing the government officials and foreign investors, Fatima and the siblings stayed at the farm. Youngho had let them stay there as a refuge since he did not know when the war might break out and Armenia might fire a rocket to the city of Baku.

The siblings got excited when they saw Youngho visiting the farm after ten days. Youngho was embarrassed when receiving hugs and kisses from them, but he acted calmly.

“Oppa, have you been busy? You look awful.”

“I have been meeting officials and businessmen every day and had to eat foods I don’t like. Can you make me a ramen noodle soup? I should sooth my stomach with ramen.”

Youngho was surprised by his own remark to Fatima. He had asked Fatima to cook for him so comfortably. ‘Wow, I just said it like I say it to Yunsuh,’ he thought.

“Okay oppa. Just wait.”

Excited to be of help, Fatima went ahead to the kitchen with a smile on her face.

In a few minutes Youngho was almost gulping the hot ramen noodle soup in sweats. Looking at him, Zeynep and Szechenyi went ahead to try the soup. Thoughtful Fatima made lots of portion as if she knew that her siblings would want to try Youngho’s food.

Zeynep and Szechenyi liked eating kimchi even though they tried it only recently. It seemed that they fell for the charms of kimchi, that they always wanted it with every meal now. Youngho again felt the warmness of a family while eating together with the siblings.

‘Would it feel like this when I have children?’ he thought.

The sound of the siblings’ chatters and the smell of ramen and kimchi cleansed Youngho’s stressed mind which was full of worries.

After having the meal, Youngho played his recently bought guitar and sang a Korean song to the siblings. When he was teaching a popular song, Gerhardt entered the management of the building with a bottle of wine in his hand.

Gerhardt recently moved to the single house on the farm with his family from the living quarters of the management building, although the house was right next to the management building. Gerhardt was grateful for Youngho that he had built a nice two-story house for his family to live in.

“Boss, you’re here in a long time. Why don’t we have a drink?”

“Wow, I just thought about drinking. Come in.”

“This is the new wine from the biggest wine company in Baku. They had brought a box to us to ask us to sell our grapes to their winery.”

“Oh yeah? Don’t they have their own grape farm?”

“Yeah, they do. But their farm size is just about a quarter of our farm, so they always buy grapes from the farms nearby. Their price suggested is not too high.”

“Gerhardt, I have a plan to start a winery in few years.”

“Awesome idea, boss. I didn’t say it before, but all large-scale grape farms have their own winery.”

“Good. Alright, let’s taste the new wine. Fatima, you can drink with us too. You’re an adult now.”

“Alright, oppa.”

Fatima became 19 recently. She liked to be treated as an adult, so she brought three glasses happily.

***

Youngho was now crossing Georgia’s border to get to Armenia. Since his final destination was Stepanakert in the Southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was far away from the previous battle site, it was still safe to travel. Before going on the trip, Youngho had reported to the Main Police Department of Baku that he was going to look around his branch in Stepanakert, just in case. The director subtly asked Youngho to tell him how things are going around Stepanakert, and Youngho felt like he was a double spy. The director wanted to use him as much as he can.

At the checkpoint, an officer who went through Youngho’s bag held a raki bottle in his hand and smile. It meant that he wanted the bottle for himself. He gave him another, saying he had brought many anyways, the officer cleared the gate and let Youngho go.

When Youngho got on a bus, he saw a backpacker couple arguing with the officer, it seemed that the officer was not clearing their entrance to the land. Youngho showed another bottle to the officer to signal him to let go of the couple. Since Youngho’s status as a US diplomat was an entrance guarantee, the officer nodded to Youngho and stamped on the couple’s passports.

The entering process of Armenia was not very systematic, it was up to officers. Now it was not a good time to enter since they were at combats with Azerbaijan soldiers. The officers had authorities to reject anybody from entering the land if he found something suspicious, or if he did not like the people.

The young backpacker couple was saved by Youngho’s nosy nosiness.

“Mr. Lee thanks for your help at the checkpoint.”

“It’s nothing. I travel around here often because of my business. I just wanted to help because I know how travellers feel like.”

“Now if I tell people a bottle got me cleared at the checkpoint, all travelers would bring alcohol here.”

“Haha. I gave him the bottle because I knew him. It’s not a bribe. The officer would have held you for hours before letting you go.”

“I doubt that. I think he let us go because of your position.”

“Well, if my position was established because of the alcohol, I agree.”

The names of the couple were Arsen and Batzen from Germany. They were 26 years old. They were doctorate students of Goethe University in Frankfurt. Their destination was same with Youngho, Nagorno-Karabakh, so they decide to travel together.

The only transportation to get to Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, was a small bus taking off from Yerevan. The small bus drove on twisty mountain roads, so travellers had to trust their lives on the driver. Even though Armenia was a small country sizing about only 20% of Korean peninsula, it took six hours to get to Stepanakert since the country was mountainous. Driving on the cliffs made Youngho’s hair stood on end.

The German couple had made a reservation for lodging, but Youngho shook his head when he heard where they were staying. The place was a shabby one to Youngho’s knowledge, so he introduced a Europe Hotel in Stepanakert. The hotel was a good one for travellers who plan to stay long in the region. The couple thanked Youngho and told him to contact them when he gets a chance to come to Germany. They even asked for Youngho’s business card, little did Youngho know that from this short encounter, Youngho would receive lots of help from the couple and stay as good friends for a long time in the future.

***

“Hey you big businessman Mr. Lee, you look great. We are trying to enroll as warriors in the northern border.”

“Don’t say that. Do you think bullets are going to naturally fly away from you?”

Park Jongil greeted Youngho in his joking way. All other friends also welcomed Youngho but their eyes were fixed on the bottles he brought.

“Ya’ll didn’t wait for me, did you? You waited for the drinks!”

“What are you talking about? Why would we wait for you? We have beautiful girls all around here.”

It seemed that Cho Chulhwan also made a girlfriend here, he sounded serious about the girl when he said he already met her parents. He was introduced to a sister of one of his militant trainees, and started dating her. Youngho was worried that he would hurt the girl’s heart if he suddenly decides to go to Korea.

“Chulhwan, if you’re not serious about her, you’d better stop before it gets out of your hand.”

“Youngho, you think you’re the only adult here. Don’t worry I’m pretty serious about her. I’m thinking about getting married and living here forever.”

“Phew, I don’t know what I have gotten you into.”

The gang was excited to see Youngho back in Stepanakert, that they started opening the bottles that he brought. While drinking, Youngho told about the two nations’ status in detail to the gang. After letting them know that Armenia wanted to have war, he made sure to tell not to get involved with the war recklessly. The gang listened seriously and agreed to what Youngho said.

Edward was sitting in the Stepanakert office, looking exhausted. The current situation seemed to work toward Edward’s disadvantage.

“Lee, this is our people’s issue and I’m confused. The battle started by soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh. They’re trying to get Russia involved in this to have war. I’m just worried that pro-Russian side in Armenia would start a war against Azerbaijan”

Russia would not act without any cause. However, since the matter was deeply related to their army residing in Armenia, nobody could guess how they would react.

“Ed, thankfully Azerbaijan’s public opinion is against escalation of war. The foreign investors made sure of it in the government.”

“Lee, you’ve done such a great job in the time like this. The European chapter thinks highly of your efforts. They’ll support more information expense soon. Please keep up what you’re doing with the foreign investors. We must stop the war spreading.”

Youngho was glad to hear that he’d receive more payment soon. It seemed that he was finally being treated as a regular agent.

He asked Edward blatantly if there was any information he could deliver to Baku’s Main Police Department. Knowing Youngho’s situation, that he acted as an information source in Baku although as a disguise, Edward told him to mention about pro-Russian officials. As some of them were visiting Stepanakert at the moment, it would be nice to share that to the director. Edward also emphasized that the pro-Russian officials were pressuring the Armenian army into war, not the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Trying to stop the war spreading, Edward and Youngho busily struggled to stop the war spreading.

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