Karabakh Diary: About a Human in Inhuman Conditions of War
Karabakh Diary is a collection comprising articles, reports, interviews, sketches and essays written during the Nagorno-Karabakh war by Ashot Beglaryan: its direct participant. As an eyewitness of these events Ashot Beglaryan brings up existential questions concerning humanity in inhuman conditions, love and friendship, striving for peace during the war.
The book is written in the form of a diary, the materials are distributed as per dates. Below we will present a few stories from the book, but for now…a few words from the author:
In hot August summer of 1992 our small self-defense detachment was disentangling, breaking from the enemy. I was walking with three bullet wounds, my left hand with two fractures, was heavily swollen, stiffened in an unnatural way: bent at the elbow, with an open palm facing upward. Trying not to drop the assault rifle, with the forearm of the healthy hand I tried to put my broken wrist in my uniform open in the chest part, so that it was not in my face and did not impede me to walk.
“Not all is lost yet...” — I was convincing myself, my inner “I”.
Guys dressed up the wounds on the way. The bandages instantly swelled from the blood, to the sour smell of which I could in no way get used to.
Growing up I understood that death is inevitable for everyone, but I was somehow sure of my own immortality. I thought that death would leave me out in a magic way. Recalling it now, after almost twenty years, I smiled inadvertently.
(...) I could not, I did not dare to imagine it, I did not believe that after literally several minutes I could become as still and senseless as the nearby stump eradicated by the bomb. I did not want to believe that some of the fellow soldiers, with who I had recently shared food, sleep and leisure, died… And it strengthened me.
However, despite all the efforts the bleeding could not be stopped. I distinctly surrendered and almost stood the thought of death. But then I asked God to let me live to tell people what I experienced and felt being on the verge of life and death, tell about war, about humans in unnatural, ridiculous, inhumane realities of war. Tell and confess... And God heard me!
Death is Cunning and Snaky
Every morning at nine o’clock (the hostile party believes that it is at this time that the streets of the town are livelier: people need to go to work, school, etc.) the shelling of Stepanakert began (...).
With the onset of shelling there is no panic among the population: the day-to-day realities of war has taught people the rules of quick and competent self-defense. (...) Every person is individual and in this extreme situation everyone also behaves individually. Sure enough, the age and gender factor are also of great importance and make their amendments. Surprisingly enough the elderly people are the first ones to run out of the apartments and conscientiously go down the steep staircase to the basement. One must guess either they want to live the most or life experience has taught them to be cautious and prudent. Following them are the women with children, girls and teenagers.
Children suffer the most from the shelling and first and foremost on a moral level. Their fragile, unshaped state of mind reacts very painfully to the wild, regularly repeated rumble of bombs. As a result, there are many stammering children with psychological deviations in Nagorno Karabakh.
The heads of the families trying to keep “the honor of the regiment” just like true gentlemen let all the family members go first and then step on the ladder with straight face. As a rule, they never reach the destination, and gathering at the doorway of the first floor, quickly find a common topic for conversation and disputes, concerning prices, politics or harvest prospects (...).
After the shelling is over, everyone in the reverse sequence return to their apartments. Here, of course, quick as lightning vanishes away the earlier quickness of the elderly: cursing in retro style and groaning unhappily, they hardly walk to the doorsteps of their apartments, and for a while their tedious and grouchy maledictions towards the “neighbors” will not leave the family members in peace.
On second thought everything is much more serious. Misfortune does not always pass by. There was this tragic case: a group of men falsely orienting on the primary explosion, did not want to hide in a secure shelter, they went to the back side of the shed, where the bomb directly flew...
Death is cunning and unpredictable. It does not tolerate frivolous and scornful attitude towards itself.
War is to Blame for Everything
The door was flung open before we could reach the bell button and a thick bearded man with red eyes, apparently from sleepless nights said:
— Every time I hear solid male steps on the stairs, I open the door to see whether Andranik has returned.
His son Andranik is gone missing. Breaking the dense encirclement, the remains of small Karabakh detachment made it all the way to a narrow path, that was going up the mountains. It was the only way to salvation. Physically exhausted from heat and droughty, guys could hardly drag Meruzh who was wounded in the feet. One could feel the enemy approaching. At the insistence of Meruzh the guys hid him in the ravine, putting over branches and promised to come back for him at the earliest opportunity...
A minute later Andranik returned to the wounded: inseparable childhood friend. He returned to kill him – as with the captives the enemy will not be soft. But his hand shivered...
— I cannot kill you, — said Andranik handing Meruzh a grenade. — Take it, when they come too close, blow yourself up with them.
Not far off one could hear the enemy’s speech. Kissing his friend Andranik went away...
Next morning combing the area of battles, the Armenian troops found barely alive Meruzh. Andranik was nowhere to be found. Last time he was seen in the evening of that luckless day in one of the troops. From there he was trying to contact the headquarters through a radio set to report about the location of the wounded.
After some time, Andranik together with the troop entered a battle. After the battle nobody saw him.
Andranik’s name is not put down in the list of wounded and dead. His father does everything possible in pursuit of son. Even among the Azerbaijanis he found old friends and acquaintances ready to help the desperate father.
— I will look for him, just as I would do for my son, — promised one of them.
Why did he undertake to help a man whose son would probably kill his own son if they met on the path of war without even thinking? Maybe he realized that a man is not a man’s enemy. That war is to blame for everything — it puts people on different sides of the barricade.
And moreover: War does not ask for last names and nationalities.
Who are these men, who are often called with a severe word “fighter”?
Let’s get acquainted closer.
If not the war, 23-year-old Daniel would be the driver of the public transport bus and as they say would not thumb his nose. Now he and his two elder brothers are protecting their country.
Armen is a dental technician. He is married and has two children. He struggles for their happy, peaceful future.
Movses is from the village of Pokr Areni, Ararat region, Armenia. In “civilian life” he was a gardener. As a volunteer he went to protect the land of Karabakh. Movses sincerely considers Karabakh as his homeland and loves it not just in principle.
There are also women among the fighters of the self-defense of Artsakh. Gayane believes that war is by no means a woman’s business. But she is a refugee from Kirovabad, who has seen a lot in her 20-year long lifetime, that is why she could not resist the voice of her heart and conscience. It has been a year and a half since Gayane has been fighting on equal terms with men in one of the detachments of self-defense.
He was a happy, cheerful young man with perpetual smile on his lips.
Now he lays with a white bandage on his forehead, in a strange small coffin, breathless and wordless: so much unlike him.
Nairik a giant with a wet beard from crying, one of the survivors of the tank crew, was telling about Djivan: a brave fighter, an attentive senior officer, a true man and a friend.
I was listening and thinking of hundreds of other young, untimely passed guys, who loved life as much as we, the living ones. They are disinterested people, non-materialists, who did not seek any benefits in the war, who gave their lives for the sake of mere idea: liberation of their homeland.
They are heroes.
A Dispute On the Lawn
Children of Karabakh live in basement, they do not see sun, are deprived of the opportunity to play peacefully outdoors. They grow up fast. They are not nearly worried about their own infantine problems; their conversations are meaningful and serious just like adults.
Two kids argued on the lawn, where a thin cow was grazing on its own. The kid with prominent eyes tried to prove to the curly kid the advantages of assault rifle vs the cow.
— One can kill a Turk from the assault rifle.
— And one can cure a sick person with a cow’s milk. — came up with his own argument the kid with curly hair.
Maybe we, adults should listen more often and attentively to the conversations of children. One can draw out a lesson from them.
Father and Son
The bold mountain protected by Samvel and his comrades, was fired by the enemy all day long, from several places right away.
The third day came to an end, when finally, the long-awaited shift arrived. Samvel was almost going to give a good scolding to the newly arrived group for being late, but he was utterly speechless when he recognized the short stubby figure of his father among the newcomers.
— Why did you come? — the words came out inadvertently.
— There must be someone to replace you, son of a bitch, — answered his father in his energetic, half-joking manner.
Samvel was ready to stand on watch for months, if only his father returned to town. But he failed to persuade his parent. He returned home with a heavy heart.
Son’s heart forebodes disaster. It came that very evening...
Vladimir Nasibyan, a police major, was a dedicated and courageous man dutiful towards the homeland and his own death till the end of his days.
Parting with his father, lieutenant detective Samvel Nasibyan, swore to continue his affair.
“You Show Me the Paper First” ...
The tanned fellow in faded uniform was outraged...When after the tough battles, the enemy managed to come closer to the village, he and two of his friends ran to the warehouse for bombs and ammunition supplies. But the warehouse officer reacted very strangely:
— This is not your father’s office! You show me the invoice first!
The guys had to use force to take the ammunition supplies.
So, who are our guys fighting against: heavily armed enemy or their own swivel-chair warriors, bureaucrats or soulless ill-bred soldiers?
— What do you think is the worst thing in the war? — once I asked Marat and received a reply(...):
— Passing the end of semester exams.
Well, that was a joke, but if seriously?
Marat is a fourth-year student at Stepanakert Pedagogical Institute but in total he spent only a year in the lecture hall. For the last two-three academic years he has changed several detachments and has participated in the battles many times. When he was not engaged in the war he passed (better to say received) tests and exams. This way Marat killed…I wanted to say, “two birds with one stone”, but after thinking for a while, I realized that he did not kill the bird but the beaver: the second bird somehow flew away. Marat could not manage to grind away at his studies.
Well, a la guerre comme a la guerre. Lots of students were mobilized due to war, many were torn away from their permanent occupations.
The Future is for the Heroes
War tests people for endurance, solidity and humanity. The liberation struggle has united thousands of devoted, loyal to their homeland people. War has made up heroes. However not everyone can stand the ordeals of war and they cannot be blamed for that. Not everyone was born to fly, not everyone becomes a hero.
During the war the antiheros too fully approve themselves. They stab in the back of the homeland. But there are very few of them. They will never be able to cut off the wings of heroes.
People of Kelbadjar: Hostages of War
Stepanakert kindergarten N3. There is no liveliness and nonchalant rush that are typical for this kind of facilities. And indeed, my interlocutors are not children but old people...
An old Azerbaijani man of seventy years is sitting opposite them. The expression of his eyes was extinct, as if wrapped in thick smoke (...). His name is Mehti Babaev. He is from the village of Milli of Kelbadjar region. On September 2nd the self-defense forces of Artsakh captured them.
Let’s deviate from the topic for a little bit to clarify an important moment. The situation in which these people are, only conditionally can be called a “captivity”. They are treated kindly, all the conditions for normal life are created for them. For example, not every family in Artsakh can afford themselves to use sugar and butter daily. The “captives” are provided with the mentioned and other products in short supply. One young woman gave birth in the Karabakh “captivity”. It was a boy, weighing four kilograms, and the local doctors took care of the health conditions of the mother and the baby.
We are surrounded by some more old men. The women, as if not daring to come closer, listen to our conversation from deep of the room.
— What will happen to us? — asks Mehti Babaev, with anxiety and hope at one time and his glance is ready to brighten up.
— And do your highest-level leaders know where you are now? — I ask him back and realize that I treat him unfairly and brutally.
— Almost all my life I have worked in the collective farm, — Mehti Babaev shows his hands. — After the Great Patriotic War, I never took up any weapon. I was friends with Armenians, we sat and ate at the same table, drunk from the same jar, shared each other’s joy and grief... We are not enemies! Who needs this war?!
(...) the peaceful population of the warring sides: old people, women and children regardless of their nationalities should not become hostages of war. Highest-level leaders of Azerbaijan should ponder on this and take measures to return them to the homeland as soon as possible. At the end of the day there are many captive Armenians on the other side too, that have nothing to do with fighting. Why not come to terms with exchange of people?
War and People
In Stepanakert they offended an old woman devastated by grief enough already. The use of word “offended” is quite an understatement: someone took away the basket with artificial flowers from the grave of her only son, fallen in battle... Not very soon will this woman recover from this.
The war in Karabakh ran over. It pushed people into the corner, squeezed from every side. Browbeaten and exhausted, people have changed beyond recognition. And it is hard to judge them for that. (...)
Death coming to an arrangement with war takes away hundreds of young lives, puts out the scarcely flickered lights of family hearths, orphans the children. Many families are left without men. On the fragile shoulders of women lays not only the care for small children, but also for the dead relatives (...). To lay them to rest properly, to put a gravestone, they need huge material expenses, but not everyone can afford them (...).
Why do the heroes sacrifice their young lives? So that we, the ones are alive can proudly call ourselves people? And despite its anti-human nature the war must make us feel ourselves humans in a sharp or painful way or what. We should never forget even a second that heroes are dying nearby...
Zorik died on our hands. It was in August, last year, in the battle near village Drmbon. The bullet of the enemy sniper hit on his forehead. In the death struggle he was calling his mother and was asking her to forgive him. Zorik was the only support for his elderly mother and wife with two small children.
Leaving for another, perhaps a better world, they leave grieving mothers and desolate widows in our imperfect Earth, to whom we are forever indebted, for they are the ones who bring up heroes, the ones will bring up future heroes. There are many of them in Karabakh, among us, nearby. We should never forget about it, Never!
“Don’t Worry We Will Have a Boy…”
— Daddy Turks didn’t shoot you? — meeting his father, asked the youngest daughter Gayane.
— No, daughter, they did not get me — answered Alexander and to his own surprise he went on: — But next time, they will probably get me.
What was that? — inhumane wariness after a continuous two-month stay on the frontline, a nervous strain? (...)
— I will not come back, — he told his wife Anahit the next day, bidding good bye. — Don’t worry we will have a boy...
Anahit did not even try to stop her husband; the persuasions would be useless. Just like two years ago, when he and his wife with two small children were renting a small apartment in Stepanakert, he went to protect the village Karintak as a volunteer.
— This is our land, and somebody needs to protect it. — he told his wife back then.
For two months they have been waiting Alexander at home with excitement and anxiety. Finally, he is coming back, but only to say good bye to his relatives and try to calm his wife.
— Don’t worry we will have a boy, — that is all he could say at parting.
Six months later Anahit really had a son, who was named Alexander in honor of his father.
Published with the financial aid of Armen Hovhannisyan, the author of the idea of writing the book.
Under the general editorship of Anna Givargizyan,
Publishing house “ZHAM”.