By Vahe Sahakyan
The date was January 9, 2021. Many of my friends in Armenia gathered at St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Yeghvard to bid farewell to a dear friend of our childhood, Ashot Chobanyan. A huge crowd attended the memorial service at the church, despite the snow on the ground and the bitter cold, to pay tribute to their compatriot from Yeghvard, to the fallen hero of the second war in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh (September 27 – November 10, 2020).
Lieutenant-Colonel Ashot (Arshaluys) Chobanyan was killed in action on October 13, 2020, near the village of Sarinshen (Shahyeri), on the way from Jrakan (Jebrayil) to Hadrut in Nagorno-Karabakh — an area that remained under the Azerbaijani control following the Russia-brokered cease-fire on November 10, 2020. Ashot’s body was recovered only at the end of December, and was laid to rest at the Yerablur Military Pantheon in Yerevan, Armenia, on January 10, 2021.
Ashot was born in Orojalar (Orojalari), a village in the district of Bogdanovka (now Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti) in Soviet Georgia on September 3, 1978. He was very young when his family moved to Yeghvard, a small town in Armenia, some 10-15 miles north of the capital Yerevan, on the slopes of Mount Ara. I first met Ashot when he was 10 years old. My brother Hayk and Ashot were classmates at the No. 3 Secondary School in Yeghvard. My own family moved to Yeghvard from Armenia’s third largest city of Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) in the summer of 1988. This was the same year the Karabagh movement had started and the anti-Armenian sentiments in Azerbaijan and the pogroms in Sumgait had driven many refugees to Soviet Armenia. Hayk and Ashot became friends that same year, when Hayk joined their class. They studied in the same classes for seven years and graduated in 1995.
As two adventurous middle schoolers, Ashot and Hayk spent much time together, both at school and after school. Aspiring and curious, their ambitious projects of building a robot, an automatic coffee grinder and maker (not known at the time in Armenia), or discovering medicine to cure some illnesses made their friendship ever stronger. Ignoring my skepticism, they continued putting much time, effort and imagination into drawing up plans, finding appropriate materials, putting together some parts, and conducting experiments in the pursuit of their projects, until at some point a new interesting idea or project occupied their curious minds, energy and time. Those were the days of our happy and careless childhood.
We were teenagers when the first war in Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in the winter of 1991-1992. Armenia’s independence, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the economic blockade imposed by the neighboring Azerbaijan – all these events had disrupted the Soviet-era supply lines, infrastructure and transportation networks. The events that made news headlines in many countries had very tangible effects on our daily lives. The war, the devastated economy and hyperinflation, accompanied by the shortage of energy, water, natural gas, and food, left hundreds of thousands of Armenia’s inhabitants around or below the poverty line. The hardship of life, however, made our friendship and bonds even stronger.