We are in Vanadzor again. Together with Hripsime Mirzoyan, the head of Gugarats Diocese Social affairs department, we drive to the St. Grigor Narekatsi Church to get the packages prepared for the beneficiaries of Artsakh Outreach project to visit another refugee family.
Hripsime says regular visits to the families of war combatants, as well as refugee families, have become part of daily service by the clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Quite often, the priests put together the food and other packages and take with them to the families. Today we are breaching that tradition since the Sunday service in the Church is still ongoing.
“I don’t know, don’t want to think even for a second that we won’t return back”.
In the so-called Yerevanian roadway district we meet Mrs. Margarit. With eleven members of her family they have moved here from Ishkhanadzor (Kashatagh region of Artsakh, now under occupation). This large family consists of her two sons with their families, herself and her husband. They left all their possessions behind – large house, the garden – everything. Mrs. Margarit stayed there till October 9. Her husband and sons partook in the war, and came after it ended.
“My elder son is an army officer, and younger one was the deputy mayor of village and stayed there till December” – Margarit tells me and, after every sentence inserts a word of her conviction that they will return to their home in Ishkhanadzor, no matter what. “We are very hopeful, and it’s the hope that gives us strength to live here. We left everything we had there, everything we earned in 22 years of our life. Not a single second I can think that there is possibility of no return”, she says.
This family settled in Ishkhanadzor many years ago with the government-funded relocation and settlement program. They moved there from Vanadzor. Margarit used to be a school teacher. She tells me that over years they got very attached to their new home and would never think of leaving there.
Margarit and others, like many other uprooted families from Artsakh, carefully watch the videos posted by Azeri forces in social networks and tirelessly look for footages of their home. She says houses are not being shown in the footages to create impression for outsiders that those lands have been uninhabited. “Only once we saw our persimmon gardens, and that’s it”, she says.
Her husband Armen is more emotional in these conversations. He has volunteered to take arms and protect their native lands. The children – Armen, Arpi and Davit – all came to the table to say what we are talking about. Only Lyusi – the youngest in the family – is asleep. She was born after the war, two months ago.
“Armen, Arpi and Davit were born in Artsakh. My younger daughter Sose too. She is in school now. Doctor Buniatyan was the chief doctor in Berdzor at the time and he was demanding, nicely though, that all kids must bear Armenian names. He participated in the first war”, Margarit recalls.
Five-year old Armen tells us he has already missed Artsakh and their village, his friends. He knows why they left Artsakh: “The Turks wanted to take over Artsakh. We switched off lights at home, ate a dinner and then hoped on cars and left”.
Then grandma Margarit explains what we just heard: “He is telling you that we used to switch off the lights in the evenings, because of the drones flying over in the air”. She tells us that little Armen was scared and could not sleep for a few days. “When we heard that Shushi fell, little Armen called me to his room and asked – Margarit, that Shushi fell doesn’t mean we lost Karabakh too, right? I told him no, my boy, we did not lose Karabakh” – Margarit tells me emotionally.
Margarit says that they sent children away to Armenia on September 29, but she stayed with her sons and husband. Like many other families, they thought the hostilities would end soon, like the April war in 2016. Little they knew. Eventually, like many, they had to flee Artsakh and found temporary shelter at a friend’s house. Soon they will have to leave here too.
At this point, after leaving the food packages, we are preparing to leave. Margarit tells me that Hripsime has welcomed them like dears from day one when they went to the Church to get the humanitarian aid provided by the Artsakh Outreach project.
“I will take my friends and we will go fight together”
Ruzanna’s family is from Ishkhanadzor, too. She settled in Vanadzor’s Taron district with her husband and two children. They are renting this place for around $70 a month, and twice that sum for the utilities. Together with Hripsime we brought the holiday gifts to the two children in this family.
This family settled in Ishkhanadzor in 2018. Before they lived in Syunik and then in other places in Artsakh. “My husband built our house in Ishkhanadzor and we moved in. We worked and built everything we needed. Now we are jobless, my husband has a disability and therefore he was drafted for non-firing efforts. He worked in the rear. He did not leave it till the day before the village had to be transferred to Azerbaijan”, Ruzanna tells us.
This family makes the ends meet thanks to various charity and government support programs. “Frankly, I am saving some of the help we receive. Maybe even worse days will come”, Ruzanna thinks out loud.
“Who do you want to become?” – I am asking their 5-year old son Ashot. He gets surprised of my trivial question and quickly answers: “First I will become a soldier. Then a doctor”.
This little soldier tells us his recollections of the war: “I was sleeping. My mom heard two blows, and woke me up. Then my aunt’s city, Stepanakert, was attacked. Then my aunt had to go to bomb shelter, and we came to my grandma’s place”.
Ruzanna clarifies that her sister’s husband joined the war on day one, got wounded, then her sister joined them in a week. Her sister’s family now could return to their home in Stepanakert, while they have no hope to return to Ishkhanadzor in the future: “We invested so much to make that place a home, created a garden for the children to play, built a house, and then in five minutes… all lost”.
Their younger son Shahen brightens up Ruzanna’s face. But Ashot wants to return home, to Ishkhanadzor. He is not afraid of “the Turks”: “I will take my friends and we will go fight together”, – he informs me.
Time to leave. Hripsime tells that the next food supplies will be available in a few days and they will deliver those boxes home. Ruzanna is shy: “We already appreciate your help so much” – she drops.
Prepared by Zaruhi Dilanyan
February 14, 2021