BY HASMIK PILIPOSYAN
The struggle is that much more meaningful when the fight is to protect an ancestral homeland. You feel the adrenaline in your veins as soon as you step foot on that sacred soil. Just gazing nostalgically at the mountainous terrain, your confusion eats you alive as you wonder why so many fight for land that belongs to them. But, meeting your fate on land that you love and dying brutally in the hands of the enemy, all hopes and dreams of being witness to a free nation are gone. The children left behind and the devastation of a family makes it not only tragic but sometimes, a death in vain.
While in Armenia, I had the privilege of interviewing Anoush Zohrabyan, a resident and student in Armenia as well as the daughter of an azatamartik named Suren Zohrabyan. Suren passed away at the age of twenty-seven in 1992 during the Nagorno-Karabagh war, leaving behind his twenty-two year old wife and two children, then 5 and 3 years old.
Anoush and I sat down at a café in Yerevan and she told me her story.
Like many others, the 1990s stole from Anoush the most important figure in her life: her father. “It was 1992 when I lost him. Now, I am twenty-six years old and realize I viewed the world with a different lens back then. While it is true that I lost my father, my forgiveness is so great; instead, the war has given me my homeland, an independent homeland,” Anoush says. At a time when the battlefields ran red and thousands gave their lives, Suren Zohrabyan died due to severe head injury in the Tavush region, Paravakar village near the Azerbaijani border. Anoush remembers weeping and her grandmother’s horrifying distress. Anoush has difficulty coming to terms with his death even till today. Sometimes, she misses her childhood doll; in other words, anything that is a reminder of her father. Through these objects she holds on to her memories in order to relive that past once again and try to forgive his absence in her life.
Anoush desires for the homeland to be a worthy place to live that she does not regret the loss of her father. It brings her grief to see a part of our historic Armenian land that he died for and created, like Getashen and Nakhijevan, in enemy hands. Anoush is “very patriotic and proud of our history” and Armenia’s historical significance. However, she deems the Armenian people “prisoners of the elite” where the government shows absolutely no appreciation for even the families of the freedom fighters. “One would think a simple ‘thank you’ is enough as most of these men fought and died voluntarily. There are many others like myself who received no assistance growing up. This government does not ensure its people with any resources and shows little care about how we live, what we eat and how we pay for our education. But, despite its flaws I still love my country,” says Anoush.
There are hundreds of azatamartiks and families in Armenia and Artsakh in demand of urgent medical and financial assistance that don’t receive proper judgment from the Armenian government. The bravery and boldness behind their pursuit contradicts the reality of the current Armenian state. Although, I firmly believe that there is always hope for our veterans and nation because of our youth. Anoush was not fully aware (like most citizens in Armenia) of diasporan efforts in providing a helping hand to our freedom fighters and nation. I commended our Armenian diaspora organizations, especially our youth organizations such as the UYA, ANCA youth activists, ASA, and the AYF (“With Our Soldiers” Campaign) in raising money to provide most of our azatamartiks with medical assistance and the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives.
Anoush thinks of her father every day and says that he gives her strength spiritually to always make the right decisions. She has constant flashbacks to the sound of shelling and gunshots and relives the time after her father’s death when their dog, hungry and weak, would walk to his gravesite each day and lay on the tombstone.
Today, Anoush is working towards a Master’s degree in literature and poetry at Yerevan State University and is also a script-write for the television series “Kyanqi Carousel”, while her brother studies at Yerevan State Medical University.