“We thought they wanted to capture us”: the return of children to Artsakh - Mediamax.am

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“We thought they wanted to capture us”: the return of children to Artsakh


Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Ani Hayrapetyan
Ani Hayrapetyan

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Vladimir Margaryan
Vladimir Margaryan

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax


There was little good news during the siege of Artsakh. In the endless queues for eggs or soap, the people there console themselves and joke about “romantic” evenings reminding them the “dark and cold” years of the 21st century, about the supernatural ability of Artsakh women to slice the last potato as thin as possible, and even about “eco-activists” that keep them in blockade. And despite all the “darkness,” the last hope for good news never fades here.

 

One of these expected miracles was the sudden return of 19 Artsakh children to Stepanakert. They remained in Armenia because of the blockade. Of course, here as well our neighbors did not hesitate to show once again and remind us who we are dealing with.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

“It was around 4 when the deputy mayor of Goris phoned me and said that a car will come in an hour and take us to Stepanakert. He said the rest of the questions on the spot. I immediately told the children to get ready. When we saw the military equipment, we asked the deputy mayor who was organizing it. There was also a representative from the Syunik governor’s office. They said that Russian peacekeepers would take us safely to Stepanakert. I calmed down. I thought if the peacekeepers took over the transfer, everything would be all right,” recalls Aida Gyanjumyan, Artsakh Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, who was by the side of the children for the seemingly endless 37 days of waiting.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

She proudly shares how despite the painful feelings the children behaved very consciously and firmly.

 

“Miss Gyanjumyan after reaching Stepanakert I will get down and kiss the land”

 

The children, who had spent 37 days in Goris, already started going to the local school. The warm welcome was flattering, but this course of events somewhat discouraged the young Artsakh people. Is the way home so far away and unreal? The youngest of the children, who was away from their parents for more than a month, is 10, and the oldest is 20. Outside the blockade they managed to celebrate three birthdays.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

According to Gyanjumyan, during stops Russian peacekeepers usually knocked on the door and opened it from the inside. How it happened that the heavy door opened so easily and the Azerbaijani so-called “eco-activists” looking more like well-trained special forces entered, she has no idea.

 

“It was dark, but I could clearly see the camera lights, I saw that 10-15 cameras were trying to film us. Russian peacekeepers noticed, pushed them away and closed the door tightly. The girls, of course, were very frightened; one of the children fainted. But the boys were great, they stayed very strong. We talk so much, but forget one thing: these children are today’s real patriots, who returned to Artsakh despite everything. I am thankful to their parents for raising such children: despite the difficulties, they wanted to come back to their homeland. They put it firmly – they would come. It is clear that after the roads open, they all will come, but the ordeal these children have gone through… When the first lights of Stepanakert appeared, just a few, as the city was half dark...you cannot imagine how the children shouted “Hooray!”, how they cheered, clapped.... One of the boys said: “Miss Gyanjumyan, when we reach Stepanakert, I will get down and kiss the land.”

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

“We were saying if only there was a person to send at least one tangerine with”

 

Ani Hayrapetyan, 14, who came home through the world’s strangest crowd of “eco-activists,” confesses that she has not yet get adapted to the new reality of Artsakh – partly without light and gas, with empty shop windows, but “Still, people want to come to their homeland, there is no other way.”

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Ani recalls: they came to Yerevan for just two days, the very next day after the Junior Eurovision they hit the road back to Artsakh, which lasted 37 days…

Ani Hayrapetyan Ani Hayrapetyan

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

“We had already headed to Artsakh when reaching Yeghegnadzor, we read the news that the road was closed. We thought it would probably take a few hours. We reached Goris, waited in the car for about 6-7 hours, then they accommodated us in a hotel. And again, we said that it would probably be open in a few days. And so, we lived with hope every day from the beginning, then…We were already thinking that we definitely would not be in Artsakh for a few months. We thought we would be at home hardly in March. It was a big surprise... When we reached the city and saw our relatives... We were very excited, we missed them so much...”

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

This was not the first time she had seen Azerbaijanis. Now all the settlements in Artsakh are bordering, and Ani saw Azerbaijani positions very closely. She would prefer to erase those “meetings” from her memory and life, especially the last one.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

“Nobody prepared us for this, but we all understood everything... At first we did not see what they had in their hands. They wanted to enter into our car. The footage with our car has not appeared on the Internet, the footage of the other car appeared. We were scared... We did not know what they could do... You could tell we were imagining that those were our last moments. We were so scared...”

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

The situation in the car where Azerbaijanis took videos was more or less calm, while in the other car, of which there is no footage of the incident, the behavior of the Azerbaijani “eco-activists” was more unbridled and the children experienced more terrible feelings.

Vladimir Margaryan Vladimir Margaryan

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

“We had no idea they could act so. For example, in case of the first car they simply entered took video and left. But ours was not the case. One of them approached, opened the door, a Russian peacekeeper saw it and did not allow him to enter but he was pushing his way towards us. We all moved to the back of the car, the girls were crying. Then Ms. Aida came up to us with arms open and said: “Don’t be afraid.” We were really frightened. It was hard at that moment… It was dark which also contributed to it. They were adult men, I could see his hand… he was in a mask... We already thought that they were going to capture us. We thought of everything possible in just a few seconds. Nonetheless, we reached the city and showed them that we are here. Our Maxim wanted to hit the Turk and closed the door,” said Vladimir Margaryan, 17.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Now he remembers with a laugh that at first, when he was told that they were leaving for Stepanakert in half an hour, he did not believe. His friends had to call again and ask him to pack quickly.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

“We feared that they might not let us pass and sent us back. However, we kept hoping that we would eventually enter Stepanakert. I said if they had not let me go, I would run away, and reach there on foot. At first, when we heard about the blockade, we immediately remembered those days when we returned to Artsakh after the war and there was no electricity and no gas. We thought people did not know what to do. We tried to send something here. We were saying if only there was one person to send a tangerine with. We had many thoughts from afar. Now when I am here... I think, no, we can, we certainly can. I said there and I say here too: only Artsakh water is enough for me. In Goris I was saying - take me to Karabakh, even if I do not eat anything, our sweet air is enough, if only to be in Artsakh.

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

The blockade also gave me a second family. We became very close with the children we stayed in Goris with. And there was also a desire to always be in Artsakh. I did not even think for a moment that one day I might leave here. When we saw the first lights of Stepanakert, I said: Oh, my God…We all screamed. Then we got there, came out, there was a stranger there, I went over and hugged him. And I started hugging everybody, both those I know and those I do not. Now I do not stay at home, I am always outside, I enjoy my Artsakh, my nostalgia...”

Photo: Davit Ghahramanyan/Mediamax

Sofia Hakobyan

 

Photos by Davit Ghahramanyan

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