The one-day war of 19 September 2023 wreaked tragedy in Nagorno-Karabakh. It left hundreds killed and wounded, dozens missing, tens of thousands of lives, wrecked. By 1 October, more than a hundred thousand Armenians had left Nagorno-Karabakh to seek refuge in Armenia. Their flight to freedom, however, was scarcely less perilous than the wars they had endured, the chaotic exodus beset with tragedies and disasters. On 25 September, an explosion rocked a fuel depot near Stepanakert, as gas reappeared for the first time following the ten-month blockade. Some three hundred people were killed by the blast. Thousands of cars converged on the gas station to fill up before making their way to Armenia. The corridor between Stepanakert and Goris, the nearest Armenian town, was finally unblocked. Sixty four people died along the way. The journey time to Armenia, normally five or six hours, became two or three days. These are sad statistics, with real human lives behind them.
I would like to share the story of one of these lives. The fate of one woman. I will not name her: she is barely beginning to recover after her hellish ordeal, and public disclosure of the story could cause her a lot of pain.
This woman was one of many, forced to flee their ownhomes as entire families left for Armenia. The tragic blast at the fuel station brought terrible new suffering for her. One of the victims with dreadful burns was her son-in-law. When she saw his wounds, the woman realised he would not survive. The following day, he died.
Meanwhile, the woman’s own son was declared missing. Upon reaching Yerevan, she, along with hundreds of others from Nagorno-Karabakh, was forced to wait for the results of DNA analysis. Those days were long, and agonizing.
For almost two months, I followed her updates on Facebook. I felt so much pain reading them that I myself, I suspect, became traumatised as a result. In this, I was not alone. A colleague of mine wrote an article on this woman for a well-known international media source, and, once it was written, admitted: “Writing this text was very hard. Thank you for finding the will to tell me all about the hell you had to go through.”
So, my dear readers, I hope you can find the patience to follow me through this woman’s posts, to share her thoughts, her suffering, her hopes and pain. I did not write this in order to traumatise you. I did it so as to show the value of life, which women especially sense and know. A woman’s power to give life and love is infinite, her love of life and peace knows no bounds. Yet, in matters of war and peace, we turn a blind eye to women. We do not listen.
Nagorno-Karabakh: At the Gates of Hell
20 September (the day after the war and five days before the explosion)
“I was unbreakable, and yet you have broken me. I am dead inside. I’ll keep on going, for the children.”
25 September (the day of the explosion)
She shares the verses of a poetess:
“I’ve lost my way in life. The circle closes. So, lost, into the void I fall. Seems yesterday I smiled at the roses - Today, I know not, why I live at all. I do not have the strength to face acceptance, The path will not allow me to break free. A lifeless life is nothing but a penance. Yet still, I live. But I’m no longer me.” (unknown)
“My two wings. Dear God, you have always stood behind me. You have got me through times which seemed hopeless. Surely you will not leave me now? I beg you not to punish me this way. Take my life, but just bring them back.”
“My all! You know that I am nothing without you. You promised to support me, always. So be a man, keep your promise. I’m waiting for you, I love you infinitely.”
“My darling! You were not a son-in-law to me, you were my second son… Balas [my child], your wounds were so deep that you could not have survived. You turned into a swan and flew away from us. Watch over your children from there, I beg you. I swear I will do everything possible and impossible to make sure they grow up to be worthy of their father. May your soul rest in peace! I love you.”
In Armenia: The First Difficulties
“I am finally in Yerevan. Now I must go through yet another circle of hell, the main one: my son-in-law’s funeral, and the search for my son. I ask God for just one thing, to give me strength to get through all of this also, without losing my mind. The children need me. I cannot break down.”
“My dear, beloved ones. I know you are worried about me. I will get back on my feet for sure, but first I need to find my son and calm down. I don’t know how I would have got through this most difficult time of my life, without you and all your support. I get calls from people I have never met, they offer help, moral support, practical assistance. I feel so ashamed! But this is priceless. Peace and prosperity to your homes. I embrace you all.”
“My soul is being torn apart by this waiting. The silence screams with the not knowing…”
“How terrible, when you never managed to say those things, to give that hug, that kiss…”
“Please help us find a three-room flat for a decent price. I realise that some people are trying to get rich right now, but surely not from other people’s misery. Artsakh wasn’t just full of oligarchs.”
“I’m not hoping for a miracle anymore. I just need an answer. I can’t take much more.”
“Take care of your loved ones. No one knows what might happen, next minute…”
“The first round of identifications is underway. My heart is heaving with pain. I know what the answer will be, but the wait is killing me. We are so exhausted…”
“My dear friends. I thank you for your support with all my heart. I understand how hard it is for those who want to call or write, but can’t, out of fear of causing pain. I know how hard it is to find the right words in a situation where words are powerless. So I have this to say. My pain is my own. I will have to live with it for the rest of my days. But I don’t want my pain to spread to the people around me who love me. I will come back to life when this uncertainty is over… So if you feel the desire to write to me or call me, don’t try to suppress it, don’t be scared. I’m in a fit state to talk. Thank you for being part of my life.”
“My life, if there is no news tomorrow either, I will lose my mind. I’m waiting, my son. I will get used to anything, as long as there is some sort of answer.”
“All I want right now is for something of my son to be found. That way I will know that he is gone, and my life will resume, without him. And… I’ll be able to sit and talk by his grave.”
So, this is the end
“So, this is the end. I waited for an answer for 49 days, and today, they told me that they didn’t find anything of you, balas. I had already sensed this. I don’t need the identification – you will always live on in me, somewhere far, far away, like the most beautiful star in the sky. The only thing that consoles me is that you did not suffer or feel any pain – if that can be any consolation… Everyone was hoping for a miracle. Not I. From the very first minute that you couldn’t be reached, I knew that you were no longer with us. The way you were, you would always have found a way of letting us know you were ok, knowing how sick with worry we would be. You’d have found a way… Even in a dream… I’ll carry on, I promise you… P.S. Please, do not pity me. For me, he is alive, and will always be alive.”
One of this woman’s Facebook friends also shared her own experiences, in the end, drawing this conclusion: “I have allowed myself to live. After all that happened to us.”
This, perhaps, is how they all feel…
Photo Credits: Civilnet.am
This article is part of Indie Peace’s initiative on Collective Trauma, funded by the European Union. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of Indie Peace and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. Toponyms used reflect the toponyms used by the subject of the article.