Marina was making compote when the shots sounded. After sending her children to hide in the neighbor’s basement, Marina continued making the compote – she could not let the fruit go to waste.
“I just left the gas stove on and went to the basement. I did not think that, God forbid, a shell could strike our building and it would explode because of me. At that moment, I was thinking, I am making this for my family, I poured the water and the sugar, I did all the work… That is how the people of Artsakh think. I kept glancing at the clock in the basement, and my kids told me to sit still. The neighbor asked where I was going to go. I said: “Keep your voice down. Don’t let others know I’ve left the stove on.” And my neighbor said: “Marie, have you gone mad?”
When it was safe to leave, I went home and finished making the compote. I made plenty of other preserves too, did my grocery shopping, and now the Azeris have it all… They will enter my flat and say, “Ah, what a good home!”
Marina reminiscences about the silly compote story in the end of our lengthy conversation, when we have talked about her home in Shushi, lost homeland, hope, and uncertain future.
Marina sent her 3 children along with her sister and the sister’s children to Armenia at the dawn of September 29 and then went to her parents’ house in Stepanakert. Marina’s husband is in the military. Her father, Roma Grigoryan, holds Combat Cross award. He participated in the liberation of Shushi and served in Artsakh army for his entire life.
“Every time the situation got tense, I called him to ask where he was. He said he would call later. I knew he was on his way,” tells Marina.
64-year-old Roma Grigoryan was ready to serve on September 27. He applied for permission to join the active ranks and assist young soldiers in the places he knew very well, but the permission never came.
Marina and her mother recall that their family never left Stepanakert during the first Artsakh war, but this time the father insisted they left – something he had not done before.
“When dad said in the very first days of the war that it was different and we had to leave, I lost all hope. It felt like someone cut my wings. I always trusted my dad’s eyes. Whenever he said things were “getting thick”, I could see the expression change in his eyes. In that conversation, when he told us to pack, he didn’t lift his eyes from the ground. I knew what it meant,” tells Marina.
Marina’s mother, Lyuba, says that what was happening in Stepanakert seemed like a film: cars burning, streets empty, people hiding in basements… They left their house without knowing if they would be able to make it out.
“I went up to Shushi for the last time, collected a couple of things and left…” says Marina, unable to hold back tears. “I threw one last look at my home, thinking I might not return. Still, I did not think Shushi would be conceded. I just thought shelling would destroy my home.”
According to Marina, hardly anyone in Shushi thought the city would be conceded. She describes how impossible it seemed: “My husband even left his uniform with medals hanging in the wardrobe.”
The flat her husband received from the state is in a two-storey building near Kanach Zham. Marina describes her neighborhood and I suddenly remember that I made photos of Ghazanchetsots Cathedral from that spot, when I visited Shushi last year.
Photo: Lusine Gharibyan
“Yes, that’s right! One time a relative of my husband visited us and stayed the night. In the morning, when he opened the window, he saw the cathedral in all its glory and said: “If you ever decide to sell your flat, say it has a good view on Ghazanchetsots.” Here in Armenia, I know, people say the flat has a view on Ararat.
I show her the photo and Marine and her daughter Lia quickly find their building.
“My daughter says, think of it as if a Smerch rocket hit our home, but I tell her, I wish it were so, Isa, my darling. I wish it were so. At least, I would know the Azeris did not ransack the place. Unfortunately, our building was not hit by the rockets,” explains Marina.
She is certain Shushi was gifted to the adversary. Marina is also sure the army reported to Armenia’s Prime Minister on the 4th day of the war they resistance could not hold for long because the air space was not secure. Here come again the questions without answers: if Shushi was to be conceded, why wait for 45 days? If Shushi was to be lost, why let so many kids die?
“I lost my home of 20 years, but that does not pain me as much as the loss of Hadrut, because in the course of history, Hadrut has never been under the yoke of the enemy. Do you realize what we have lost?” asks Marina.
Marina, her mother and sister, and the children now live in Kharberd. They are thankful to the people who have supported them, grateful for the hospitality and kindness.
“We say “mother Armenia”, and Armenia indeed has been like a mother to us. We lived in a flat in the downtown for free for two months and received assistance from so many places. God bless you all, we are very grateful. I’m happy to have you all,” says Lyuba.
Marina adds they have not met bad attitude from anyone in Armenia – everyone helped in some way, however they could. She recalls that when a seller at Vernissage market in Yerevan found out her family is from Artsakh, she offered immediately: “If you have nowhere to live, come stay at my home.”
“We talked, got emotional. She told me her son was going to the front on the following day and she had no idea if he would come back. When I got home, I heard the news about the first ceasefire and prayed that her son would not have to go. One day I went to the market again to see her again and ask after he son, but she was not there. I was so upset. I worried the worst happened, but I didn’t dare ask other sellers why she did not come to work. To be honest, I couldn’t bear bad news. I went home thinking I’d rather not know,” recalls Marina.
“It’s in the past now, don’t cry,” Lyuba comforts her daughter.
Marina’s family is divided now: she is staying in Armenia with her son and younger daughter, and the elder daughter and Marina’s husband are in Artsakh. Isabella is a student and she does not want to move to Armenia for education. Marina’s parents-in-law have also returned to Artsakh. They went to take their belongings from their house in Badara village, Askeran region, and get back before Karvachar region would be surrendered on November 25. However, upon returning to Badara and reuniting with other villagers, they decided to stay.
Those who returned and those who stayed in Armenia are trying to get used to the new way of life. The children are filling the gaps in education: Lia attends classes at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies. She misses her friends. The girl finds it difficult to adapt to the new environment.
“Kids here are very different from me. I don’t feel free here. Back in Artsakh, I could go to another class and talk with the kids, but here, I can't do that. I’m friendly with some girls, but some others are so fickle: one day they say hi and other day they don’t notice you,” explains Isabella.
The Sargsyans have no idea yet what the future will be like for them. Marina cannot even think of returning to Artsakh and living side by side with the enemy. She says she has seen much hardship in life but never thought of emigrating. Now, unfortunately, she is considering it.
“On the other hand, we have to go back so that there is Artsakh, so that Artsakh continues to exist,” notes Lyuba.
While our crew speaks with the others, Marina leaves the room and returns with a bag of persimmons. Her father grew them, and she insists we take them.
“God willing, if I return to Artsakh, come visit us. Of course, it won’t be my home…”
“It will be yours again,” say at once Marina’s mother and sister.
Photos by Gayan Yenokyan
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