Brief Historical Overview
In 1987 the Azerbaijani offensive against the Armenian populated village of Chardakhlu in Northern Artsakh caused the issue of Artsakh, raised back in the 1960s, to grow into a pan-national movement in Armenia and Artsakh in 1988. The claim was the reunification of Nagorno Karabakh (NKAR), then an autonomous region with a majority Armenian population within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan, with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia, in line with the principle of people’s right to self-determination, as provided by the USSR Constitution.
During the autumn of 1991 and the spring of 1992, the Karabakh conflict grew into a full-scale war which lasted until May 1994 and concluded with a ceasefire at the signature of which the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh (AR) controlled 7 regions beyond the original borders of NKAR. The second war was launched on April 1, 2016, and was over 4 days later, with a ceasefire. The third Artsakh war started on September 27, 2020, and lasted 44 days, concluding with an agreement, signed on November 10, which resulted in the AR’s loss of the 7 regions under its control along with the regions of Hadrut and Shushi which were in the territory of NKAR per se.
These narratives testify that for the citizens of Artsakh the dawn of September 27 was a bolt from the blue.
Anahit, 29, a mother of three from Martakert, tells: “My child turned two-months-old on September 26. We heard a bang in the morning, this is something usual for us. But then I saw the neighbor’s house destroy, the neighbor’s sister-in-law was killed. We all got into the car to flee to Vaghuhas. We drove some 4 kilometers and remembered that our brothers-in-law and their children were still in Martakert, we were that lost-minded. We drove back, took the children of 2 brothers-in-law with us. We arrived at Drmbon, to see that my youngest brother-in-law was on his way. He said he was going to fetch his brothers and their wives over. The children of my two brothers-in-law said they did not want to let their uncle travel alone, got into my youngest brother-in-law’s car, drove back, and moved back to get to us. On halfway the Smerch struck and threw their car into the gorge. We arrived in Vaghuhas. And then we were told: “Your family got hit, no one remained alive.” But later we learned that the ambulance had taken them to Stepanakert. My brother-in-law was in coma for 7 days, the children and their mother were all wounded. My youngest brother-in-law’s wife is pregnant, and we keep this news secret from her. But she is suspicious. We have started to explain to her that her husband is in hospital, but he is OK, though he cannot talk to her, he is unconscious.”
Anaida, 34, a mother of three, now pregnant tells: “When the war broke in the morning, I was in hospital, I had been operated on my gallbladder, and I was supposed to be discharged on Sunday morning. The situation was terrible: they hit Askeran, we had to stay in the basement of the hospital for a few hours. When it calmed down a bit, my husband drove our children and me to Shushi, to my mother’s place, and we stayed there for 5 days. We came to Yerevan on October 2.”
Lilit, a mother of 2 (and a choreographer) from Hadrut, tells: “We went down to the basement on the 27th. I thought it was all over when I saw not everyone had come down. Later I learnt that whoever could, they fled. On the next day, a female neighbor came and asked whether we wanted to join them as they were leaving. We got to Shushi. The alarm never stopped. This woman was afraid, and we almost got into an accident. And when they started hitting Shushi, she did not want to continue driving. She said she was afraid. My husband called a friend in Goris and asked to get us, his family, out. I got to Lachin into a terrible jam, and we were asked to turn the lights off so that we would be invisible. That man found our car in a 5 km long platoon. They constantly shot. We ran for 5 kilometers, with the children in our arms, to get to that man’s car, and we arrived in Goris at night.”
And though the last war was frozen only 4 years ago, and the third war was preceded by clashes on the Tavush border in the north-east of the RA in July, the society was psychologically unprepared for the upcoming war. The degree of unpreparedness was manifested not only by the fact that the population, for decades residing in the zone of a frozen and periodically heated war, did not expect a war, but by the fact that mostly it did not have proper training in civilian mobilization and did not master serious knowledge of action at war, should hostilities resume.
“At the beginning when the men were there, we felt somehow protected, because they fought in the past, they know what to expect. When we remained all alone later, we realized that we did not know anything of the war at all, we did not know what weapons they were using, whether I could run to get some water or not”, Lilit (from Hadrut) mentioned.
This is the reason why on the very first days of Azerbaijan’s attack on the border settlements women left their houses without any necessities, some left even without any documents. The women who left settlements, located not immediately at or along the border, were also convinced that the war would last a few days only, and they would return home, hence, there was no necessity of taking anything more than what they needed to get to Armenia.
Those, who did not leave Artsakh on the very first day, found shelter in the basement where they got together with residents from neighboring buildings and tried to find official or internal news on the developments of the war and figure out their future actions.
The most depressing and blocking thing was unawareness, the inability of telling the weapon used by its sound, and the lack of knowledge on how dangerous each kind was so that they could be better prepared for the organization of their routine when running back and forth between the basement and their apartment, as they had to get food and take care of young children.
However, everyday difficulties did not break their courage since the critical situation required the mobilization of all forces and taking charge of the children.
Gayane, 37, (a translator and professor), a mother of 3 from Shushi tells: “For two days I fed my youngest kid with my breastmilk only. Then I asked the Mayor to provide diapers and food for the children, because there were no open shops. They started providing us with these goods on the 3rd – 4th day. A woman I did not know at all, called a pharmacy, and asked to open it, she bought some baby nutrition and brought it to me. But we did not get depressed with these everyday difficulties because we were sure we were going to win. All our husbands were on the frontline. But no one whimpered.”
The women made the decision on leaving Artsakh for Armenia jointly with their husbands, their husbands urged them to leave, when the latter realized that it was not safe to stay in that settlement any longer, since civilian buildings and infrastructure were being bombed, too.
Lilit, 34, (a University instructor) a mother of two from Shushi who is currently pregnant, tells: “My backache was getting worse, but I wasn’t paying attention. And then my sister said we were moving to Yerevan. But I had told my husband I would stay. He kept saying: “Even if the whole of Shushi leaves, you should not leave.” My daughter is a bit sensitive, she said: “Mummy, you are not thinking about us, you are not saving us.” The children were constantly crying. We stayed there until November 3rd. And then I noticed in my husband’s demeanor that the situation was not good at all. My father came from the village’ and got angry with me on why I was staying there for that long. My doctor called and said I definitely had to go for an ultrasound examination. I left for Stepanakert, did the ultrasound examination, and they said I might deliver prematurely. Because the situation was very bad. And my father took us to Yerevan on the 4th.”
The civilian population left the settlements, relatively far from the war contact line in a more organized manner, since they had more time to pack, besides a number of private companies provided vehicles for transportation to Armenia.
The official Stepanakert, except for the cases, officially deemed necessary for evacuation, did not encourage the evacuation of the population to prevent settlements from emptying and deter panic.
The escape of the women, children and the elderly who were under the target of the fire on the very first days of the war was more chaotic and disastrous, when leaving the settlement was a matter of hours and sometimes even that of minutes.
Hripsime, 28, a mother of 4, from Nor Maragha, tells: “That was the first night in our new house. The children were asleep. We could not even assume that there would be a war. Our neighbor often sells timber, we assumed the noise was because of his loading the timber. We woke up to see that Martakert was in fog, they had hit it so hard that dust had gone up into the air. My daughter fainted, as she has a periodic disease. We brought her back to her senses. My husband drove me out to Kitchan intersection. He left me with my four children at the intersection, and he went back to his army service. You cannot even imagine how we fled: I found a pair of trousers from the floor and put it on. My children had no clothes on.”
When leaving these women had not managed to take anything with themselves, but for a few clothes and sometimes documents, but they were convinced that they would come back and find their houses intact.
“I had a bag, and I put my documents into it, a few sweets and got down. I locked my door, and thought I was coming back. I told a woman that if my husband came, she should tell him I had hidden the key in the kid’s stroller in the basement. I had no idea this is what it was going to be like. One day I told my husband that if he went home (we had a parrot and fish), to take the pets out, so that the children did not come back to find them like that. He said: “What house are you talking about? There is no house any more”. I did not believe him,” Lilit (from Hadrut) said.
In some cases, such a conviction was the reason for not even taking necessities from home.
“I thought I was leaving for a few days to return soon. I only took my passport to go to hospital, and I was wearing the clothes I was in while in the basement and the children were in their home clothes. We got into the car and left. I did not take any clothes with me,” Lilit (from Shushi) said.
Shelter in Armenia
It was comparatively easy to find shelter for the families from Artsakh who either had family in Armenia or were from Armenia by origin. Usually, when these women had family or relatives, they joined these families and started living together.
Besides, there were families that expressed a wish to rent an affordable apartment in the settlement they preferred.
However, the state organized the process of finding shelter for those families which could not join a relative or a friend or could not afford an apartment to rent.
The institutionalization of this process started with the volunteers. The listing of those who arrived from Artsakh and the creation of a database of families who were prepared to provide shelter were processes undertaken by a small group of volunteers which, jointly with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, established an organized headquarters – a hot line – in about a week, enlarged the scope of the staff, involved the relevant specialists in order to systematically deal with the matter of finding shelter for the families from Artsakh.
A database of shelters ready for provision to the evacuated children was created during the 2020 July Tavush events, which served as a basis for the expansion of the available shelter pool and the collection of information for accommodating the families from Artsakh.
“In the Tavush events in July we were involved in children’s evacuation. We had created a database of guesthouses, private houses and individuals who were ready to host these children. I was leading the process with the supervision of Marzpetaran. And that database was used already in the months of September and October. We would constantly get in touch with new guesthouses and new camps,” Kristine Asatryan (a volunteer and a staff member of the Hot line) said.
With time, along the regulation and settlement of the issue, the Youth House in Zeytun was turned into a triage center where the family, upon arrival in Armenia, would spend the night, and the Hot Line used that short duration to find a shelter because the newly-arrived family would spend the next night in the shelter already.
The staff of the Hot Line were also trying to stay in touch with volunteers, transporting people from Artsakh, so that they managed to organize the settlement of these people in the marzes before they arrived in Yerevan, thus avoiding waste of time. Private companies transporting people to the indicated destinations were also active, ensuring that the people from Artsakh would quickly get to their places of settlement. There were also organizations that volunteered to pay for the transportation services.
The choice of the settlement was done in line with the needs of those who arrived. In the course of time the following principles for the settlement in Yerevan were identified:
- They had a wounded soldier in the hospitals in Yerevan,
- They needed a medical intervention or supervision (for example, for the pregnant, for those who had just delivered, the newly operated on, as well as people with special needs and others).
Accommodation and supplies provision
After their settlement in Armenia, women had to face the problem of the organization of their accommodation that was accompanied by a number of specificities.
A) The procedure for the assessment of the families’ needs varied in different marzes and settlements. In consolidated groups (hotels, guesthouses, hostels and so on) the assessment was implemented by the Armenian Association of Social Workers, that had its own mobile groups to visit marzes. Whereas LSGs reacted to the issue of supplies provision to the families, sheltered in the citizens’ houses.
Several specialized psychological entities organized a psychological support initiative and a quick mobilization on voluntary basis, including the YSU Applied Psychological Center, “Yerkusov” center and so on.
B) In the assessment of the needs of those who arrived in Armenia and the provision of assistance the authorities were guided by the principle of providing aid to those who were in its urgent need, accordingly the families that found shelter in the houses of relatives were considered less vulnerable.
“We started visiting all those places where big groups arrived. We conducted an initial assessment. If there was an urgent need, we would start looking for resources. There were so many voluntary movements that we filtered who we should approach and for what,” Syuzanna Juharyan (Vice-President of the Armenian Association of Social Workers) mentioned.
Families accommodated in hostels and other, free-of-charge accommodations were considered more vulnerable, because they had neither food provision opportunities nor a source of income.
“At the very last minute a volunteer took out a very poor family from Hadrut, a mother with a 7-year-old child, with almost nothing on. We would refer the very socially vulnerable people to a place where they would be provided with everything – heating, food and so on,” Kristine Asatryan (a volunteer and a staff member on the Hot Line) said.
C) The issue of the urgent humanitarian aid was addressed in a more flexible and targeted manner due the self-mobilization and volunteerism of the society rather than the efforts of state entities, especially during the first days of the war. Women stated that the residents and volunteers located nearby quickly provided them with the basic necessities, including children’s warm clothes.
“We have a group of residents on Facebook, we write comments. We started posting announcements… and people started bringing in different goods, and they still are doing so. We separated summer clothes from winter ones. Yeva used the summer shirts to sew bed linen,” Anna Grigoryan (a volunteer) said.
Volunteers came together to find flexible solutions and access food, sanitary and hygiene items and other necessary goods, especially in cases when the arriving people were accommodated in hostels, provided free of charge by the state.
Private companies undertook various initiatives, too, receiving people in their guesthouses, hotels and at the initial stages, dealing with the accommodation and daily provision of the people from Artsakh themselves.
Private catering companies were also actively involved in supplying food to the hostels or other places with a concentrated Artsakh population.
“We have a family-owned café on the ground floor of our building, and they immediately agreed to feed those people 3 times a day. And then, a newly-established organization came over and proposed to bring in lunch boxes three times a day, because they had some external funding. It has been two months already that the driver from the hostel fetches those lunchboxes for 150 people,” Anna Grigoryan (a volunteer) said.
With time a collaboration was formed among volunteering initiatives, private companies and LSGs, which helped the state to attempt at a consolidation of the humanitarian aid provision within the LSGs, calling to inform LSGs about the aid provision opportunities or take the relief products directly to them.
“Individuals were invited to consider the municipality as the focal point. Then they started to write on Facebook that in the event of any issues, they should call the hotline of the municipality or MLSA. And some NGOs started collaboration with the municipality. And if I called the municipality and said, that we needed something, they responded they did not have it, but could refer me to an NGO to get what I needed,” Syuzanna Juharyan (Vice President of the Armenian Association of Social Workers) said.
D) Families could not always access humanitarian aid and information on the privileges they could enjoy. In general, information was mainly received through personal interactions and social networks rather than official channels and announcements.
E) On November 16, the Government passed a decree on allocating 68000 AMD per capita for the citizens of Artsakh who had moved to Armenia (including minors), and in case they owned no property in the RA they were entitled to 15000 AMD more (per capita) as compensation. The two main shortcomings of the given decree were stated to be as follows:
- Documents were necessary to fill in the form whereas a considerable part of the citizens had arrived in the RA without any, hence, they could not fill it in. That is why a possible option for the solution of the issue is considered the allocation of the sum based on oral testimony or certificates, issued by the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh.
- According to the decree, the compensation shall be allocated to those who had registration in the Republic of Artsakh, whereas there were people who had permanently settled in the Republic of Artsakh or worked there for quite a long time, yet did not change their Republic of Armenia registration, at the same time owning no property here. Hence, the allocation of a compensation based on factual registration is considered an important option for the solution of this issue.
Technical deficiencies of the system were recorded, too, since the hasty creation of the database (especially that of the minors) impacted on the accuracy of the data.
F) On October 1st the Government passed a decree according to which medical aid and healthcare services to the victims of the military and terrorist activities in the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh should be free of charge.
“I did not want to say about it, but I could not walk for 3 days, and the social worker found someone, who found a person to administer injections, and then they did an MRI, and all this was free of charge,” Hripsime (from Nor Maragha) said.
However, this decree was not widely publicized and was not known to all responsible and target entities. Hence, women who were supported by social workers aware of this governmental decree benefited more.
“After quite a lengthy research process, I learnt about this Governmental decree stating that all healthcare services should be free of charge. And almost no one knew about it. I went to all hospitals and polyclinics with the decree in my hands, I took it to the clinics and asked them to use it,” Syuzanna Juharyan (Vice-President of the Armenian Association of Social Workers) said.
G) Haypost was the channel through which they organized the receipt of income by the families that were entitled to it (salaries, benefits, pensions and so on) in the RA, hence in case of available income “my mom’s salary was transferred, my sister-in-law’s and my benefits, that is what we used to get by,” Anaida (from Askeran) said.
H) The financial security of the women was largely impacted on by the various loans they had, including for real estate and other property which they had not managed to own yet (for example, apartments on mortgage that were not even built yet) or had acquired very recently and had already managed to lose.
“We have a lot of loans, because we just renovated and bought furniture and appliances only 2 months ago. Even the TV set that we just bought was on credit. We had not even managed to get to know its functionalities,” Lilit (from Shushi) laughs.
Part of these loans and credits was not frozen during the war, hence seizures, fines and simply payments continued to apply.
“My husband works at Drmbon. I took a loan and bought a refrigerator and a TV set. They did not freeze the loan. They seized the whole salary of my wounded brother-in-law, but only half of my husband’s salary,” Anahit (from Martakert) said.
I) Frequently in this critical situation the state system failed to provide flexible solutions, it did not simplify or amend the established procedures, failing to consider the specificities of the situation (mainly the fact that the people from Artsakh did not have their documents on them), which created a lot of additional hassle in the lives of the women, up to the point when sometimes issues remained unresolved.
“Ever since the husband came back from the military defense positions, he has been in Avan mental hospital. He came back and beat his wife. They used to have a neighbor, a woman, who had died. And he said: “The neighbor’s soul has settled in my wife, that is why I am beating her.” The ambulance took him away, but the hospital said they could not hospitalize him because he had no passport. Then he lost his mind again and broke everything. I turned to the social security bodies and everyone else, they mediated, and took him away without the document, while we are waiting for the ID reference to be issued.
There is a woman with a locomotor disorder, she asked for an elbow crutch. I made an inquiry, and they described a complicated scheme, who I should turn to, where I should take the woman, how long I had to wait for some paper which I would use to get the crutch. I felt I neither had the time nor could take the woman to so many places with me. I spread the word among my friends, one of them transferred the necessary sum and I just bought it. She was on cloud nine,” Anna Grigoryan (a volunteer) said.
Ever since settling in Armenia, life was about the solution of daily problems, the solution of the half-solved health issues of family members, the organization of pregnancy control, as well as the hassle of finding necessary information on the matters above. However, above all, the greatest stress for the women was the concern about the situation on the battlefield and the wait for a call from their husband or relatives.
The war impacted on the mental state of children, too. All women testify to, and all volunteers and specialists confirm that the start of the war and the flight, as well as the absence of the fathers and their fighting on the frontline has been traumatic for the children. Women said that they firstly informed the responsible entities and volunteers who got in touch with them about the psychological traumas that they and especially their children had and reported on the disturbing phenomena.
“Once, when we were asleep at night, my 7-year-old son got up and started crying. He had imagined his father was dead. I called the social worker in the night. A psychologist called back, talked to the child, calmed him down. In the morning, Hayk, a volunteering psychologist came over, he was helping people from Artsakh. He is still working with my son. He said that even if we returned to Artsakh, he would continue talking to him online,” Hripsime (from Nor Maragha) said.
However, not everyone’s experience was positive in this regard.
“The child does not attend the kindergarten because refuses to be without me. They came from the social security bodies and asked if we needed a psychologist. My mom said all three did. They came to us from an organization. And that was more of a psychological pressure, as they asked ‘Is your house still standing or not? How did you get here? You should not feel sad because your state influences that of the child.’ Then they called back and said: ‘Do you still need this kind of support?’ I told them they could come if they had something concrete to tell me to improve my children’s and my state, if not, if they were going to just talk and leave, I felt more oppressed. By the way, no one talked to the children at all,” Lilit (from Hadrut) wonders.
Whereas Gayane was concerned that the hosts or the elder generation would not perceive the visit of the psychologist properly and refused.
“To tell the truth, Armine did propose to arrange a psychologist for me, but I thought that my mother-in-law or the host would not understand it right. And I turned the offer down. But my son was very scared of the blasts. He was a bit aggressive in this period. We do not have sufficient culture to perceive psychological support, whenever you turn to a psychologist, people think you go to a psychiatrist, they cannot tell the difference. For quite a long time my children would startle at the sound of the door or gate… there were frequent plane flights, and every time they would freeze to see what happens.”
The interesting thing, however, is that they also insist that children perceive the situation more soberly than adults.
Meanwhile, those involved in the solution of women’s issues state that they mostly witnessed an amazing mental endurance, an ability to find the right solution in a critical situation and a high degree of sobriety when confronting material and human losses.
“Sometimes I would even feel surprised to hear them say very calmly that their husband fell in battle. And the impression is not that they are just indifferent, rather they are in a very calm and ready state: “yes, we lived there and he could die.” It was also surprising to see that pregnant women, too, were very tough, in such a stressful situation, and would not deliver prematurely,” Kristine Asatryan (a volunteer and a staff member of the Hot Line) said.
Integration and Life
Even though women assured that the hosting families, the residents around, and the volunteers concerned with their problems did everything to return their lives back to normal, create entertainment and pastime opportunities for the children and alleviate the psychological state they were all in, there were a number of unpleasant incidents when individuals were not very favorable to them.
However, in general, these narratives prove that they enjoyed a kind and caring attitude.
“All we needed was to have my husband with us, because he never was away from us and never let us face any need. But due to the people who were next to us and did not leave us alone, we can say we very seldom felt the need of anything,” Hripsime (from Nor Maragha) said.
Regardless of all difficulties, it could be noted that women focused on ensuring the regular course of life for their children and tried to be stronger and better organized for their sake.
“My children did not go to school, but I taught them every day. I was in touch with the class curator in Martakert, she assigned the tasks, and the children did them here. Otherwise, children would remain illiterate,” Anahit (from Martakert) said.
Those women who sent their school-aged children to school stated that in this manner children felt better, and they felt sorry that in some cases children had to stop attending school because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But those, who did not manage to send their children to school because of the pandemic, felt convinced that it would positively influence the psychological state of the children.
To forget the difficulties of their life and feel helpful, some of the women were involved in initiatives to ease the burden of others and acted as volunteers to support groups that were more vulnerable.
“I am a volunteer already. New wounded men came in, the guard gave me the keys to take care of them. I brought them here, assigned places to them. Now I am going down to get their dinner,” Anahit (from Martakert) said with a lot of enthusiasm.
There are many examples showing that to improve the financial situation of the women Armenian volunteers initiated the creation of vending points to sell the dishes or handicrafts made by the women from Artsakh. They would take orders, too. Information about such orders and vending points was largely circulated on the social media and spread as word of mouth. It was obvious that the society had mobilized with high solidarity also to support, and one could notice long lines in the streets waiting to buy the famously delicious “zhinglayov hats” of the Artsakh cuisine.
However, the women stated that nothing could calm their anxiety and excessive focus on the situation on the battlefield.
“My children had never been to Yerevan before, and I did not take them anywhere. Because we were so focused on the war that going to sights in Yerevan was out of the question. We did not even want to go to the shop, I thought that my mental energy and my thoughts should only be about the front,” Gayane (from Shushi) said.
Loss and Grief
In terms of the loss incurred, the women who lived in the regions controlled by Artsakh and depending on the intensity of the bombing, lost some or all the property that they accumulated over the years, but some of them continue to pay back the loans and the debts they borrowed to buy the material boon (the house, the appliances, the furniture and so on) they had not even used.
The women who were from the regions left under the control of Azerbaijan lost their houses and property, too. But they have also lost the opportunity to return to their motherland.
Nevertheless, they mention the material loss on the go and are convinced that it is all restorable and they, for the sake of their children, will find all necessary strength to start their lives from scratch. Yet, the real loss is that of memory – the photos of their own childhood and their children, the handicrafts, the certificates and medals and all the rest that was impossible to retrieve and part of their spiritual life.
“A home is not just 4 walls, a home is the memory of the years you live. Wherever I went, I took my memories with me… My dad has passed away, and I do not have any photos from him now. I had a few volumes of handwritten books I made for my younger daughter, relaying facts from her life, with her photos. I do not want the property, I want my memories, things I cannot buy for millions. My heart aches for the handicrafts and artefacts left behind at our cultural center. And how I see that they have completely burnt them down. They may have seen the images of Virgin Mary and Armenian patterns…and they set them all to fire. But this is what those people had lived for and through,” Lilit (from Hadrut) tells with tears in her eyes.
Having enumerated the irretrievable losses, however, women compare themselves with those who had lost more and realize that they could be in a worse position or not exist at all, hence they find comfort in what is left. In comparison to the loss of a relative, a husband or one’s own child, all the other kinds of loss, including all material property, the loss of recollections and native land seem bearable.
“I hit my child the other day. I told him “Why do you cry out ‘Mom, come over, it’s Dad calling!’” before the other kid. That kid has no father, his father is dead, and he misses him”, Anahit (from Martakert) tells.
“I consider myself a happy woman, as God spared my husband who fought in Hadrut and was saved from death twice. I am happy not to have graves of relatives in Hadrut,” Lilit (from Hadrut) said.
The war has changed their value system, too, and has forced them to reevaluate the importance of time. They have acquired a more acute sense of the importance of life and recollections.
“Now the future has become a relative notion to me. Whatever I thought to be a priority back then, I am not sure they are such any more. The most serious challenge I had was to come to terms with the realization that I have lost. We must live for one day and be happy for that one day,” Gayane (from Shushi) said.
The outcome of the war has left the women’s perceptions of the future uncertain and has led to many open questions which the potential scenarios of the future depend on. However, even the lost territories have not deeply broken the desire of the large majority to return to the regions under the control of Artsakh and settle down in a new place. Whether this desire will be realized or not depends on material and security guarantees. In case of the provision of an accommodation, compensation of material loss, state (as well as non-state) programs on financial, property and any other kind of stability and development, the majority of women definitely intend to return to Artsakh.
“My dad was killed in the April war. My brother lost his house in Hovtashen. My husband is from Maragha by birth. Then, they resettled in Nor Maragha. Now he is losing his home for the second time… Nor Maragha does not exist any longer. But husband is a military serviceman, I have to return. I have no house, but I assume they will provide us with accommodation. The conditions are not luxurious, but they place beds in the school gym, and people find shelter there, before they are able to find some housing. I only thank God, my husband is alive, my brothers were spared, my children are next to me. All I want is support for us to build just a small place to live in,” Hripsime said.
We can say that the issue of resettling in Artsakh starts from the opposite conviction: there is a decision to return, however the existence of assistance programs, especially cancellation of outstanding loans for lost property, along with the provision of some kind of accommodation, is considered an additional stimulus and a desirable scenario.
“My child will be born in a month. I have not seen my husband for about 80 days already. That is why I cannot tell him: “you go and work there, and I shall stay in Yerevan.” But for me to be there, close to my husband, I need the state to intervene and support, so that people can stand up to their feet again, starting from scratch. No matter what the conditions are like, I will go there. My child will be my guiding beacon after this war. I have decided that it shall be born in Stepanakert, and my husband and I shall walk out of the maternity hospital, holding it in our arms,” said Lilit (from Shushi), cherishing the moment.
Some of them are already in Artsakh to be reunited with their husbands who are continuing their army service.
“Children give you strength. That is why I wanted to come back sooner, so that I could recover to my senses quicker, to see the reality sooner. How long can I stay in Yerevan, how long can I wait? I wanted my family to reunite. I am deeply convinced that I will return to my town one day,” Gayane (from Shushi) said.
And regardless of possible plans and convictions that are growing clearer, it is almost unequivocal that the outcome of the war has driven them into a greater psychological stress and uncertainty than the difficulties that they had overcome during the war. Hence, in the post-war period the need for a more serious psychological support is more evident, to help overcome the loss, the traumas, the panic and the uncertainty, as well as the anxiety for the family and especially the future of the children.
In the crisis of the war, the gaps caused by the bureaucratic burden of the state apparatus were filled in due to the rapid and effective pubic and civil mobilization, allowing the state apparatus to organize or re-profile the crisis response units in one way or another. In this respect, a high level of public solidarity has been observed with an environment of common values, targeting an effective response to the various problems caused by the war, even at the individual level.
After the end of the war, there is a need for clear decisions and programs by the state to effectively mitigate its effects, compensate the loss and ensure that life is back on the normal track. These programs will largely determine how effectively Artsakh families will overcome the uncertainty of the future and their loss, how effectively they will restore their mental health and move on to create a new life.