Siranush Sargsian in Artsakh

Displaced But Never Broken: The Continuing Fight for Peace of the Women of Artsakh

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[Editor’s Note: This article was written several days before the fall of Shushi and the November 10, 2020 ceasefire.]

YEREVAN – Siranush Sargsian is from Sos village in Martuni, Artsakh. She has no news about the state of her home. She heard a lot about Azerbaijanis entering her friend’s homes, burning and destroying them. The village was shelled several times already. “The only thought, that they could enter my house, disgrace my father’s portrait, doesn’t abandon me,” Siranush is crying. She is crying during almost the entire interview. But through the tears, the signs of resilience never leave her eyes.

She remembers how her mother was rushing her and her siblings to safety during the first war in Artsakh, when her father was fighting in the frontline, and how her mother was looking at her home thinking that it would be the last time she would see it. It wasn’t.

Siranush and her family were back when the war was over. Her hopes are the same this time again.

Siranush is the Chief Specialist (adviser) of the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sports of the National Assembly of Republic of Artsakh.  With her mother, two sisters and their children she moved to Armenia when it wasn’t safe anymore to stay in Artsakh. Her two brothers-in-law are on the frontline defending their motherland. With many women from Artsakh. Siranush created the “Artsakh’s Voice Matters” movement. It organizes demonstrations, writes letters and meets with different international organizations and consuls and ambassadors to raise the voice of the people, the mothers and wives of Artsakh, to recognize their right to live in their motherland and to condemn the atrocities committed by Azerbaijani soldiers and Syrian mercenaries.

“We are not asking them to fight instead of us: we can take care of our enemy. We are asking them to understand that these terrorists that are now fighting with our fathers, brothers and sons, tomorrow will go to stand at their doorsteps. We need to work together to end this. We want international society to understand that our movement is not political. We are women of Artsakh. We are mothers and sisters and daughters and telling what we witnessed,” explains Siranush.

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Siranush’s father was wounded during the first war in Artsakh. He died after an illness caused by the war. She lost her uncle in the same war. Now her cousin fights his own fight, continuing his father’s legacy.

“I keep seeing the parallels; we’re constantly coming to the same circle. For me the war has one face and it’s horrible,” Siranush says. The apartment she was renting in Stepanakert was next to a military station. On September 27, when the war started, she left the apartment without anything. When two days later she went back to get her clothes, she saw cluster bombs only 100 meters distant.

“We never saw anything like that. It was a new type of a munition. They were evacuating the military hospital, where a lot of wounded soldiers were being treated. Now part of it is destroyed,” Siranush said, remembering her first impressions of the war.

Siranush’s generation witnessed three wars. They grew up in Artsakh under the threat of an unfinished battle that could resume every moment. That threat was taken into consideration every time when someone wanted to start a project, develop a business, or build a future. But there was no fear. They were never afraid.

“We knew that the war will start one day, but subconsciously we were always hoping for peace. Even when the war started this time, we didn’t believe that it was for real,” says Siranush.

Artsakh is not recognized internationally as an independent republic. Even though this never affected directly the lives of its citizens, it played a major role when it came to collaborating with international societies and building relations with them. Siranush often had issues participating in educational programs abroad, often being rejected just because she was from Artsakh.

“However, we were just living our lives. We were looking at it only as obstacles. We created our reality and were trying to live in peace.” In that same reality, always remembering the horror of the last war, Siranush and others were trying not to make it the inheritance of the new generation.

“As a child I was always having a dream about war,” she declared. “In that dream, I was taking the wrong plane and instead of Artsakh, I ended up in Azerbaijan. I never wanted our children to be raised with that horror. In every family in Artsakh, there is at least one serviceman who fights for his fatherland. The child sees this already and there is no need for him to get more information. We don’t raise our children with hate speech. They see the patriotism every day.”

In Armenia, many displaced children from Artsakh participated in regular classes at the schools. But the rapidly raising numbers of the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to be closed. The Republic of Artsakh is now developing a system to create small classrooms for 24,000 students to continue their education in Armenia. Currently, according to the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Artsakh, there are 100,000 displaced citizens from Artsakh in Armenia. Many were sheltered in homes with other families in different cities. Some of them were placed in hotels. Siranush notices a lot of support coming from individuals through quick mobilization on social media. But this is not a short-term problem.

These families will need help even when the war is over. Siranush is hoping to get support from different organizations working in Armenia and abroad for everyday items, but mostly for education. “I was a student doing my homework under the shelling when I was a child. It’s very important that this new generation, who unfortunately witnesses war too, will have the possibility to have a proper education,” Siranush said, expressing her hopes.

Siranush in a shelter in Artsakh

Like almost everyone from Artsakh, Siranush want to return to her homeland. Of course, there will be families who will stay in Armenia, but the majority will go back. Siranush herself goes back to Artsakh  every three or four days. She wants to see, to feel every second of life there, even under the shelling. She is dreaming of buying an apartment in Stepanakert, to go to Shushi, be in the midst of nature with her friends, to have her coffee in the balcony at her workplace, to walk free in the streets of the city…

Eight hours after our interview, Siranush informed me that her brother-in-law fell in the battlefield.

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