“If Armenians win, we will go back to our homes, our gardens”: 5-year old Arsen about the war
The war is over. Thousands of Armenians of Artsakh have lost their homes, their villages, cities – but are still keeping the hopes of return alive. Artsakhtsi children have replaced all their dreams with one: they all want to return home.
The Antonyan family settled in Armenia with the hope of return, too. I am meeting this family through the Armenian Apostolic Church. This family is one of the many beneficiaries of the “Artsakh Outreach” program supported by the Church and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II.
“Kashatagh region, Kovsakan city” –Artak Antonyan begins his introduction with reference to their former place of residence. This family settled in Artsakh 23 years ago under the government-run resettlement program. They stayed there after the military service, built their own house and brought up five children.
Yet their peaceful and happy life ended on September 27, all of a sudden. The war was unleashed.
“Due to having many children I was not drafted by law, but I signed up as a volunteer. They rejected me twice, but the third time I insisted and they took me too. Many men like me volunteered, many among my neighbors, friends from Yerevan came too and on September 29 we departed to the frontline”, Artak starts his story.
Few days later the group of volunteers received the order to retreat and they walk back around 40 kilometers. Then again they regrouped and installed outposts on the hill. Artak became the commander of the unit. However, the ceasefire of November 9 killed their hopes of return.
But Artak is sure that the “war is not over if Armenians did not win”, and they will return one day. Remembering the hard days of war, Artak rests assured “it was God’s will that we could survive”.
The family of Artak’s wife Hermine moved to Artsakh through the government-run resettlement program too, and there they met for the first time. “We met there, got married there and all our children were born there, in Artsakh”, Hermine says. Their twin daughters are only 10-month old, son Argishti is 10, Arsen is five, and the elder daughter Argine is 16. She is now studying history with a tutor, wants to become a political scientist”. The teacher, Mr Aslanyan, Hermine wants me to mention, is tutoring their daughter free of charge, as his contribution to this refugee family from Artsakh.
This family first settled in Kapan, which is in southern region of Syunik in Armenia, neighboring Kashatagh. Hermine says living in Kapan they could not stop looking back to their home through the mountains, and they had to move farther from there.
Antonyans are now renting a place in Marmarashen, a village in the Ararat Province of Armenia. Like for so many refugee families, paying the rent and utilities is very challenging, in winter months around 300USD altogether.
Hermine says the first humanitarian aid they received in Armenia was through the “Artsakh Outreach” program of the Mother See. They learnt about this program on the internet. “Then I went to the Church, applied there and in less than a week they called back and invited for further process”, she says. They have no job yet, relying in full on various one-time humanitarian aid projects, but started thinking about continuing their small family business they used to have in Kovsakan.
Artak is a craftsman, working on cross-stones, or khachkars. He used to work in Russia as a restorer in large projects in Russian Orthodox Churches with other architects and masters. “Seven years and eight churches”, Artak Antonyan explains short and clear.
Their son Argishti wants to become a craftsman too. When asked about his biggest dream he also cuts it short: “I want to go back home”.
Then he starts crying. His parents are also emotional. Hermine explains that a few days before their other son, Arsen, was crying too. After asking him many times why he was crying he finally gave up: he was longing for his old kindergarten and friends. “If I were older, I would have been a soldier and would let no one enter my kindergarten, I would protect it”, he said to his mom through tears.
Artak Antonyan explains that in the videos periodically published in social networks by the Azeris the little kid saw his kindergarten. “It was turned into their police headquarters, when Arsen saw it, he burst out crying”.
The little kid tells me he knows what war is.
– Men are fighting. If Armenians win, we will go back to our homes, to our lands and our gardens.
Arsen wants to become a soldier. He likes military songs. When he sings, his parents start crying. Hermine hugs the 10-month old twins, and it seems hugs also the hopes of return.
Prepared by Zaruhi Dilanyan
February 25, 2021